Lighter Fare

Don’t think there’s anything about “screen reading” that prevents you from digesting weighty books, but I’m not surprised that it’s the “disposable” books that have proliferated on e-readers. With literary fiction and more substantial nonfiction, people like to be able to share books, make notes in them, and just generally have them around the house as durable objects. For the same reason, people will oftentimes buy a book they’re borrowed from the library, if it means enough to them. This is much less so with romance fiction, which readers basically see as something they’re going to plow through the leave in a bus stop somewhere, more or less like a copy of Us magazine.

From the start, e-book purchases have skewed disproportionately toward fiction, with novels representing close to two-thirds of sales. Digital best-seller lists are dominated in particular by genre novels, like thrillers and romances. Screen reading seems particularly well-suited to the kind of light entertainments that have traditionally been sold in supermarkets and airports as mass-market paperbacks.

These are, by design, the most disposable of books. We read them quickly and have no desire to hang onto them after we’ve turned the last page. We may even be a little embarrassed to be seen reading them, which makes anonymous digital versions all the more appealing. The “Fifty Shades of Grey” phenomenon probably wouldn’t have happened if e-books didn’t exist.

Readers of weightier fare, including literary fiction and narrative nonfiction, have been less inclined to go digital. They seem to prefer the heft and durability, the tactile pleasures, of what we still call “real books”—the kind you can set on a shelf.

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I don’t know about “preventing” one from reading a difficult book, but typically when I’m working on a tougher, more serious work I’m doing a lot of flipping back to previous sections and so on to remind myself of the context. I find this to be a bit of a pain on some e-readers.

I find e-ink readers the most organic way to read among other devices, better in fact than dead-tree books in terms of annotations and dissecting difficult passages where the dictionary embedded plus the wiki adjunct are very helpful and improve literacy but at times border on information overload. Actually Literary Fiction was the reason I switched to electronic reading: lit in translation, for example, remains to be seen in my bookstore in which one keeps trash literature at arm’s length, and what with the bootleg u find online, including some of those exquisite titles reviewed at QC. It’s a kind of portal if u will.

Lots of literature, including translations, aren’t available in e-book format. Dalkey, Pushkin, Open Letter, New Directions and many university presses have few if any of their books in ebook format.

That’s what u think. In some parts of the world the dupes are more accessible than the books themselves. Most of the ebooks I’m reading are from new directions, if not all. If only the purveyors of good literary fiction promote e-ink reading it would be financially renumerative for them, despite piracy, and possibly bring back the eminence of literary fiction.

The Latin American Mixtape

5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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