Saturday, March 12, 2011

on ebooks and ownership

Here's a philosophical question - Do I own the ebooks that I have purchased?

This question came to me after performing a mundane task - compiling my annual "What I Read This Year List." I was performing my recordkeeping in a Facebook service. The Facebook service included a datapoint whether the book was owned or borrowed. This was easy, as I bought books or borrowed them from a library. I didn't track this in my LibraryThing account because I felt strongly that LT was where I managed my personal library, and never made any notations about books that I'd borrowed.

Then, in fall 2010, I bought a Nook. I travel a lot, and I an a pretty speedy reader, so my trips often require that 3-6 books accompany me. As I was due to make a trip that would require 10 hour of travel time each way, bracketing a 5-day stay, I was looking at taking 8 books. This would have been at least 1/4 of my suitcase. So I researched and decided on a Nook because I could expand its memory, swap out batteries, load my own pdbs, epubs and pdfs, and use the cool "loan" feature to trade some title with other Nook owners (even though I only knew 1 such person at the time). Its eInk screen is very easy to read. I got to travel with clothes and leave room for souvenirs.

I still buy books. I love books. I still frequent public libraries. I cannot say enough about the quality of the Alexandria Public Library. But I cannot deny that I have bought more ebooks that print books over the past 8 months. At least one a week.

I first considered the concept of ownership when I attended a reading by William Gibson. I loved his most recent book, Zero History. I took a number of my older Gibson paperbacks with me for him to sign, as I hadn't been to one of his signings since 1984.

But not Zero History, because you can't get an ebook inscribed. That saddened me.

I had a related moment when I bought ebooks that the latest n two different series. I owned the others in paperback. This felt wrong, like I really owned the earlier ones but not these. I couldn't see them next to each other on my shelves. No one perusing my shelves would know I had them. But when I was reading the ebook I wanted to refer back to something in an earlier volume, which I did not have on the reader. Might I buy physical copies out of a sense of completeness and the ebook for mobile access and searchability?

Then, when I was updating my year-end reading list in Facebook, I found myself puzzling over the "owned" or "borrowed" column. Did I really own my ebooks?

In one sense I do. I have files on my Nook. I can access them using Adobe Digital Editions or the Nook PC App. I can preserve them to some extent. I have some sense of control over the files.

In the legal sense I do not. I have actually licensed the use of that file for use on one or more devices. The Nook legal notice says that I cannot "copy, transfer, sublicense, assign, rent, lease, lend, resell or in any way transfer any rights to, all or any portion of the Digital Content to any third party, except in connection with the normal use of the lending feature available through the Service, or as expressly permitted by the Terms of Use or applicable third-party license agreement." So, I can only lend using the Lend feature, and I can' resell my ebooks like I could sell my paperbacks.

I don't really own them. How confortable am I with that? Moderately, but not entirely. How much do I miss the physicality? It depends on the time of day. When I'm on the Metro hauling things to and from work, or rushing through an airport, I do not miss books at all. When I'm standing in front of my bookcases, I want to see all my books on those shelves, not on a device charging in my living room.

So, I'm conflicted. I suspect I will sometimes end up buying both.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

My year in reading

I pulled together my list of books read in 2010, which comes to 84 books. It's not actually all the books that I read, but all the new books I read, not the re-reads. There were at least a dozen of those. I have a lot of time on my Metro ride to and from work. Also - no judging, please. As a colleague noted this year, I have "unexpected depths of shallowness" in some of my reading. I read horror and science fiction and mysteries. Live with it.

I need a new way to do this. I was using Visual Bookshelf in Facebook, but its export does not include the data from lists, as in "Read in 2010." I also had a custom filed if I own or borrowed the book -- also lost. I don't do this in LibraryThing because I borrow so many of my books and don't want to include them there. I'm open to suggestions.

Here's the list:

“Yellow Blue Tibia” by Adam Roberts

“Polystom” by Adam Roberts

“Gradisil” by Adam Roberts

“God of Clocks” by Alan Campbell

“Iron Angel” by Alan Campbell

“Scar Night” by Alan Campbell

“Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America” by Barbara Ehrenreich

“Dead in the Family “ by Charlaine Harris

“How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe” by Charles Yu

“Dreadnought” by Cherie Priest

“Boneshaker” by Cherie Priest

“Kraken” by China Mieville

“The Love We Share Without Knowing” by Christopher Barzak

“Bryant & May off the Rails” by Christopher Fowler

“Bryant and May on the Loose” by Christopher Fowler

“Seventy-Seven Clocks” by Christopher Fowler

“Ten Second Staircase” by Christopher Fowler

“Full Dark House” by Christopher Fowler

“White Corridor” by Christopher Fowler

“The Victoria Vanishes” by Christopher Fowler

“Rune” by Christopher Fowler

“Seventy-Seven Clocks” by Christopher Fowler

“The Water Room” by Christopher Fowler

“The Tears of the Furies” by Christopher Golden

“Bite Me: A Love Story” by Christopher Moore

“Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa” by Dambisa Moyo

“The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York” by Deborah Blum

“The Alchemy Of Stone” by Ekaterina Sedia

“The Half-Made World” by Felix Gilman

“Blameless” by Gail Carriger

“Changeless” by Gail Carriger

“Soulless” by Gail Carriger

“Andy Warhol and the Can That Sold the World” by Gary Indiana

"House of Fallen Trees" by Gina Ranalli

“Basilisk” by Graham Masterton

“The Fall” by Guillermo del Toro

“The Man from Beijing” by Henning Mankell

“Parasite Eve” by Hideaki Sena

“Stone's Fall: A Novel” by Iain Pears

“The Secret of Crickley Hall” by James Herbert

“O Gentle Death” by Janet Neel

“You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto” by Jaron Lanier

“The Bellini Card” by Jason Goodwin

“The Snake Stone: A Novel” by Jason Goodwin

“The Janissary Tree: A Novel” by Jason Goodwin

“Shades of Grey: A Novel” by Jasper Fforde

“Aurorarama” by Jean-Christophe Valtat

“The Burning Wire” by Jeffery Deaver

“Changes: A Novel of the Dresden Files” by Jim Butcher

“Johannes Cabal the Detective” by Jonathan L. Howard

“Something to Declare: Essays on France and French Culture” by Julian Barnes

“The Passage” by Justin Cronin

“Beautiful Creatures” by Kami Garcia

“The Indian Bride” by Karin Fossum

“He Who Fears the Wolf ” by Karin Fossum

“When the Devil Holds the Candle” by Karin Fossum

“Black Magic Sanction” by Kim Harrison

“Monument Wars: Washington, D.C., the National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape” by Kirk Savage

“Paradise” by Koji Suzuki

“The Betrayal of the Blood Lily” by Lauren Willig

“Fever Dream” by Lincoln Child

“Far North: A Novel” by Marcel Theroux

“Bad Monkeys” by Matt Ruff

“Critique of Criminal Reason” by Michael Gregorio

“The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“In Light of India” by Octavio Paz

“The Windup Girl” by Paolo Bacigalupi

“Skippy Dies” by Paul Murray

“The Mao Case” by Qiu Xiaolong

“Kill the Dead” by Richard Kadrey

“2666: A Novel” by Roberto Bolano

“Whitechapel Gods” by S.M. Peters

“The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements” by Sam Kean

“The Little Stranger” by Sarah Waters

“Daemons Are Forever” by Simon R. Green

“The Kingdom Beyond the Waves” by Stephen Hunt

“The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest” by Stieg Larsson

“The Slynx: A Novel” by Tatyana Tolstaya

“The Better Mousetrap” by Tom Holt

“You Don't Have to Be Evil to Work Here, But it Helps” by Tom Holt

“In Your Dreams” by Tom Holt

“The Portable Door” by Tom Holt

“Earth, Air, Fire and Custard” by Tom Holt

“Big Machine: A Novel” by Victor LaValle

“Zero History” by William Gibson

My favorites:

"Zero History." I love the story arc of the characters through his recent books, and his take on international marketing culture.

"The Kraken." I am a fan of novels where someone discovers a destiny that they were unaware of, and unknown societies just hidden from our own. Of course, I also love everything that China Mieville writes.

"Monument Wars." I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of urban planning, or the history of Washington D.C.

"The Alchemy of Stone." I loved this lyrical novel about what it means to wish to be human.

"Kill the Dead." I cannot recommend the Sandman Slim books enough for their gritty portrayal of Los Angeles, by way of Hell. That said, these books are not for everyone, as there is some extreme violence. Not gratuitous violence in my estimation, but more than some might be able to handle.

"Bad Monkeys." I am still not sure I know what the truth is.

Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century novels. Novels that make the steampunk aesthetic make sense, and feature the south and the pioneer west. I also had the pleasure of meeting her this year, and she's a gracious woman with a fabulous sense of humor.

"The Half-Made World." A steampunk western. I was extremely annoyed when it ended and it seems that there will be another book, because I wanted to find out what happened right away. But hooray, there will be another book.

"The Windup Girl." One of the most lauded SF novels of the year, which was highly deserved.

"The Disappearing Spoon." Fascinating personal stories from the history of science, framed through the discovery of elements.

"Aurorarama." I keep having to add that word to spellcheck dictionaries. An amazing concept where a decadent utopia in the arctic is poised for cultural revolution.

Alan Campbell's Deepgate Codex books. I don't know how I missed these intriguing books about a city chained in the sky over a gateway to Hell, and the wars between the gods when Hell opens up.

"Bright-Sided." I am not a fan of the self-esteem movement, especially in education. This book discusses the positive thinking movement, which I find equally fuzzy-headed.

Some of my surprises:

The Christopher Fowler Bryant and May books. I love quirky, and these English mysteries are full of that. I was particularly amused to read "Rune," one of Fowler's horror novels, to find that an earlier version of the characters were featured.

Tom Holt's J.W. Wells & Co books. I read a Tom Holt book some years ago and just didn't like it, even with its quirkiness. For some reason I picked up one of the Wells, book, and it struck the right note with me. The concept of taking the firm from Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Sorcerer" and bringing it into present day with clueless employees is a lot of fun.

Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate books. Supernatural historical romance-y fantasies. Silly, yes, but fun.

"2666." This book seems right up my alley -- academics, missing scholars, serial killers. And yet, I just could not finish it. If my friend Mike -- who is in the same boat -- ever finishes it, I have sworn to try it again.

"You are Not a Gadget." I agreed with some of its positions, but vehemently disagreed with others.