Sunday, February 8, 2009

Gutenberg revisited

Every once in a while I head on over to Gutenberg.org to see what new books they've uploaded. It's not something I do all too often, but every once in a while I get itchy fingers and click on over. Every single time I remember why I rarely visit the theoretically perfect site. Probably because it isn't so... perfect.

Much as I love Gutenberg (the man, the website, and the whole idea), I realized that there's one fatal flaw to the whole eBooks idea: they're really uncomfortable. I mentioned this way back when, in my first ever attempt at being clever (also known as my first ever post), but it didn't hit me quite so hard until last week. I was thinking of a couple books I wanted to recommend to a friend when I remembered that there were a few more Zola novels I really wanted to read (he is a genius, by the way... just making sure we're on the same page). The paperbacks weren't actually that expensive, but frugality and curiosity led me to download the eBook instead of a standard purchase. And what do I get?

I keep forgetting this is how Gutenberg works, but the crappy font, the bunched together lines, the needless scrolling is really uncomfortable. I did my usual thing: cut and paste into word. But nope, that doesn't help the font or the bunched-together aspect. So I change the font to the easy-to-read Verdana. Okay, but now everything is shining red and green. "Spelling mistake! Grammar mistake! Oh, who cares that this is a French name and that's a British spelling? Who cares that this is literary license? Not Word, no siree!" That, by the way, was all sarcasm. Imagine the little paperclip guy singing that in a really high-pitched voice. That's what I'm picturing right about now. Okay, canceled the grammar/spelling check for this document. Can this get any worse? Well, yes. It turns out that I have no desire to read a book just like that out of a word document.

I'm guilty of not owning an eReader (when they're cheaper we'll chat again). Still, Gutenberg is doing this great thing here and I just can't appreciate it. It's not even that I hate the way they do their thing, I get it. It's just that I guess eBooks don't do it for me. It's no different than the book in my hand... except in every way. So what now? How hypocritical is this moment? Maybe not as much as I think. It's been talked to death, but the tech revolution is hitting books a little late and awkwardly, though the awkwardness is not that unlike the music world's reaction. And just as things have been working themselves out there over the last few years, books will probably learn to adapt and coexist with eBooks. eReader-less people will settle for classic paper and ink; the technically adept and cheerful will remind us of how many trees we're killing.

1 comment:

  1. I use Gutenberg to get searchable texts, and to avoid typing out passages that some other kind soul has already typed for me. I can't quite imagine trying to read more than a few pages of one of those Gutenberg files, God love 'em.

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