Monday, September 30, 2013

E-Books and Paper books in today's linked world

During the summer, I was invited to participate in one of SFU's Philosophers' Cafés, to discuss e-books versus traditional paper based books, and ponder whether the former will replace the latter.

Below is an expanded account of our discussion, along with some links that provide more food for though.

A Dead Tree crowd

Out of 9 persons in attendance, only 3 owned e-readers --two Kobos and one iPad.

One of the Kobos is virtually unused, the owner citing difficulty of finding and loading books as the main reason.  The other one is used as a repository for PDFs the owner assembles out of articles that interest him.

The iPad is used heavily for e-book and other content consumption, such as web browsing, watching videos and listening to podcasts.

Photo © Devon Christopher Adams, Flickr

e-Readers are cool but they don't have that smell

Consider: George R.R. Martin's immensely popular Song of Ice and Fire books (aka Game of Thrones) each run between 700 and 1,000 pages on paperback, and there will eventually be 7 books in the series.

Paper books are bulky and heavy. Having read some of the series in electronic and others in paper, I prefer the former, especially with such a vast number of characters, where it is easy to lose track of who is who and doing what to whom.  The ability to look up a character by clicking on his/her name and searching online definitely enriched my experience. Having said that, I look forward to purchasing and rereading the whole dead tree set once Mr. Martin completes it, space, budget and spouse permitting.

Harry Potter on my iPad is great when travelling, but each physical book in my collection was obtained under different circumstances, which makes it so special to me, especially considering that moving to Canada meant letting go of almost all my physical library.  My sister owns a Kindle, which she uses on long trips, and has bought paper versions of books purchased earlier in electronic form.

In conclusion, the e-reader may be more practical and efficient, but the tactile and olfactory experience of opening up a new or old book brings about a sensation of ownership that is not there for bits and bytes.

Do you really own your e-books?

There was a lengthy discussion on piracy and Digital Rights Management (DRM).  Some vendors (i.e., Amazon) licence the e-book to you, which means you can't copy the book from a Kindle to a Kobo, and they can erase your purchase from your device if they decide you violated the licensing terms.

In contrast to Amazon's licensing scheme, Tor Books, a leading publisher of science fiction books, announced in April 2012 it would retail its books in DRM-free format.  Customers applauded this move, since they can copy their books between devices without restriction.  Apparently this move has not hurt their business.

Somehow, passing an e-book from one generation to the next does not have much of an allure.

The situation is in flux - just look at the music and cinema industries; the lawsuits have only recently begun in the publishing business.  For two excellent summaries, take a look here and here.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife recently ordered a paper book from Dogwise Publishing a small independent Norwegian publisher, and was pleasantly surprised when she discovered the price included a DRM free download of the book.  I hope more publishers follow their lead.

Do e-Readers really save all those trees?

Conventional wisdom says that e-readers benefit the environment, because of all the trees that are saved by having the books set in bits and bytes as opposed to paper.

One attendee asked what happens when we upgrade our device to the latest and greatest new gadget? If the device is not properly disposed of or recycled, and ends up in a landfill, does the ecological footprint outweigh all the trees it "saved"?

This is a concern, given our consumer society's appetite for the latest and snazziest devices.  The verdict is still out on this one.

In several countries, paper currency is increasingly made out of polymer materials.  I wonder what research, if any, is being done on sustainable eco-friendly paper-like materials.  After all, the written word has gone on a journey through cave walls, wet clay, wax, sheepskin, parchment, paper and now silicone chips; who knows what the next stage is going to be like?

Can an e-Book be as beautiful as the paper version?

E-readers cannot compete with coffee table books as decoration items or conversation pieces -yes, books are also frequently an ornamental (vanity?) statement.

Apps like Flipboard and photograph slideshows bring some of that experience to the more powerful gadgets, but it is not as powerful as a coffee table book.


e-Books: Nice and practical, but paper is here to stay (for the time being)

As a whole, the group leaned towards the traditional paper books, but recognized the convenience of e-readers.

The media for writing and reading has been evolving ever since man first etched signs on wet clay or wax tablets, all the way through the Gutenberg press and modern electronic printing systems.  From a historical perspective, it is very recent that books are massively available.

Electronic reading devices -in e-reader or tablet form- are not for everybody, for reasons of tradition or functionality.

The e-book publishing model lags behind the music and film publishing industries, which are still developing.

Fortunately the ability to carry thousands of books to read on the go, does not preclude cuddling up by the fireside with a paper edition of your favourite book, with a handwritten dedication from somebody special.


I want to give special thanks to Randall McKinnon for inviting me to participate in this exercise, and to Simon Fraser University for supporting the Philosopher's Cafés.

To learn more about SFU's Philosopher’s Cafés, visit their page at SFU page, and on Facebook.

A brief summary of this post was originally published in their Fall brochure, you can find it here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mis Lecturas de 2010

Esta es una idea fusilada del Diario de la Pelusa.  Se lo agradezco mucho

  1. La Amenaza del Caballo Oscuro - Marcus Sedgwick
  2. Cometas en el cielo - Khaled Hosseini
  3. Corazón de Tinta - Cornelia Funke
  4. La costa Más lejana - Ursula K. LeGuin
  5. El Rey del Invierno - Bernard Cornwell
  6. Starwars: Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina - varios
  7. The Sandman: Endless Nights - Neil Gaiman
  8. High Five! - Ken Blanchard & Sheldon Bowles
  9. Starship Troopers - Robert A. Heinlein (reread)
  10. The Forever War -  Joe Haldeman (reread)
  11. Old Man's War - John Scalzi (reread)
  12. The Ghost Brigades - John Scalzi (reread)
  13. The Last Colony - John Scalzi (reread)
  14. Zoe's Tale -  John Scalzi  (reread)
  15. World War Z: An oral history of the Zombie war - Max Brooks
  16. La Puta de Babilonia - Fernando Vallejo
  17. Cómo Ganar Amigos e Influir sobre las Personas - Dale Carnegie (reread)
  18. The Zombie Survival Guide - Max Brooks
  19. The Secret Handshake - Kathleen Kelly Reardon (no terminado aún)
  20. Breathless - Dean Koontz (muy malo)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Books about Books

This is a translation from my original post over at the Cave.

After reading Ivanius' beautiful article about Ivanius about libraries, I went on a small recursive loop that resulted in a short list of books where books are main characters or motors of the story.
  • The Name of the Rose
    By Umberto Eco: During the XIV century, an eery benedictine monastery is silent witness to a rash of murders related to a misterious book hidden within its library.
    The Name of the Rose
  • The Dumas Club
    By Arturo Pérez-Reverte: An antique book hunter gets into grave trouble while researching an original manuscript of The Three Musketeers and an ancient book supposedly written by devil worshippers.
    El Club Dumas
  • The Neverending Story
    By Michael Ende: An introverted boy finds a book called the Neverending Story; reading it, he finds himself one of the characters involved in the rescue of Fantasia from the Nothing.
  • The Necronomicon and other stories
    This "terrible and forbidden" book comes from the imagination of HP Lovecraft and is a main character in many of his horror stories.
  • The Myst novels: The Book of Atrus, The Book of D'ni and the Book of Ti'ana
    By Robyn and Rand Miller in collaboration with David Wingrove: Prequels to the videogame where the books literally transport the reader to different worlds with subtly different natural laws
    The Myst novels
  • The Spiderwick Chronicles
    The first one of this series of books tells the tale of two children who move to a weird country house, where they find a field guide about the supernatural beings that inhabit the region.
Dear reader, if you think of another title, please add it to the list. I am not including anthologies nor textbooks nor reference works, although I was tempted to include Adler's and Van Doren's famous "How to read a book" for purely sentimental reasons.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Plures Libri suspendido / Taking a break from Plures Libri

No publicaré más reseñas de libros en Plures Libri.
Esto es debido a obligaciones que han absorbido el tiempo disponible para leer y bloguear.
Si hay que escoger, prefiero leer antes que bloguear.
Sin embargo, seguiré escribiendo en La Cueva y esporádicamente en SesoLibre.


I will no longer post book reviews on Plures Libri.
This is due to obligations that have eaten into what little time I have available for reading and blogging.
Having to make a choice, I'd rather read than blog.
I will however, continue posting at The Cave and sporadically at SesoLibre.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

El Maestro del Mal

El Maestro del Mal - Jim Hougan

El maestro del malEl reportero Alex Callahan está viviendo la peor pesadilla imaginable: Sus hijos gemelos de 6 años han sido secuestrados. No hay nota ni llamada exigiendo rescate, y la policía no avanza con las extrañas pistas dejadas por el secuestrador en la misma casa de Callahan: Una camisa manchada con sangre, unas monedas, una pecera con un extraño líquido, y una pieza de Origami.

Callahan comienza una investigación que abarcará las ferias medievales, el vudú y la historia de la magia para rescatar a sus hijos antes de que sea demasiado tarde.

Hay tres problemas principales con esta novela:
  • El primero es con la traducción al castellano (español de España), que en algunos puntos es demasiado literal y te saca de la narrativa al tratar de descifrar qué quiso decir originalmente el autor.
  • El segundo es con la ejecución: Aunque el tema es fuerte, la trama se desarrolla a mi gusto algo lenta, y se apoya demasiado en coincidencias.
Breve spoiler a continuación:
  • El tercero es con esta maldita obsesión del malo del cuento por dejar pistas, si se supone que es brillante y no quiere que lo agarren. Me cuesta trabajo suspender la realidad con ello.

Entretenida lectura si no tienes otra cosa mejor que leer

ISBN - 84-08-05831-2

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Oryx and Crake

Oryx and CrakeOryx and Crake - By Margaret Atwood

In a post apocalyptic world populated by strange hybrid creatures like wolvogs, pigoons and rakunks, a character we initially know as Snowman is slowly starving to death.

Through flashbacks we learn about a society run by corporations specializing mainly in genetic engineering, creators of the aforementioned hybrid creatures. We also learn about Snowman's obsession with a Oryx, a young girl he saw on a porn website. His best friend, a genius who goes by the nickname of Crake eventually locates and hires this girl as a teacher/prostitute.

Eventually everything goes to hell on a basket, and Snowman is apparently the only human being left, and is charged with looking after the Crakers, a new human species designed by his friend.

I must confess that I had difficulty finishing this one, and the end is too open ended for my taste.

Your mileage may vary.

ISBN 0-385-72167-6

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Ghost Brigades

The Ghost Brigades - John ScalziOld Man's War - John Scalzi

This is the second part in John Scalzi's Heinlenesque Old Man's War books, and delves into the Special Forces of the CDF, better known as the Ghost Brigades.

In an interesting counterpoint to Old Man's War old mind in young body, Scalzi explores the young mind in an adult body, and describes in some detail the hardware and software that make possible both CDF regular and special forces, namely the BrainPal and SmartBlood technologies.

Charles Boutin, a human scientist has betrayed humanity and is working for the Obin, who are really really nasty aliens, and have crafted an alliance with other hostile species. Boutin's conciousness had been recorded and has been transferred to the body of a new Special Forces soldier named Jared Dirac. The transfer appears to have failed and Dirac is transferred to the Ghost Brigades. But Boutin's memories start to surface, and Jared races against time to understand why his "father" turned against mankind.

Highly recommended, although for more enjoyment, read Old Man first.

ISBN-10: 0765354063
ISBN-13: 978-0765354068