Let’s not be lit snobs

Illuminae

Recently, I borrowed Illuminae from the library and found this note inside: “So cool! But is it literature? Is this the future of novels?”

I promptly took a photo and then crumpled the note into a ball and threw it away.

Because ugh. Who cares about these things? I doubt that authors Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff were writing the book and thinking to themselves, “Gosh, is this literature? Are we writing literature right now?” and patting themselves on the back.

My fiancée and I rolled our eyes. We started making jokes. We pointed at our cats and said, “So cool! But is this cat? Is this the future of cat?”

The future of cat

The note has a tone of condescension that basically says, “Gee, I see why you like this. Space is nifty, especially to teens like you! But let’s think seriously now. Is this good? Is this actually worth our time?”

Because literature = good and non-literature = bad, obviously.

As for the “future of novels” jab, that’s in reference to Illuminae’s unique format. It’s a story told through emails, interview transcripts, diary entries, Wikipedia articles, etc. These resources 1) make you feel like you’re right there, living through this cataclysmic space event with the survivors, and 2) create the intentional feeling of a historical record. It’s an objective collection of very subjective witness accounts.

So look. Whoever wrote this, I have a message for you: Stop patronizing teens (and oh hey, adults too) for what they want to read. Stop acting like the content and the format is so inferior that you have to question, “Golly, is this going to be our standards for novels now?” because you’re not reading Dickens or Twain or Joyce. No one is worried about this except for you.

I threw your note in the trash as a favor to the readers that matter — the readers who love to read, the teens who read, the adults who read, and who shouldn’t have to feel bad about that no matter what books they choose.

Please don’t be a lit snob.

Why I’m rethinking how I buy books in 2016

bookshelves

Every book lover wishes they had beautiful, wall-to-ceiling bookshelves stacked with glossy hardcovers and pristine paperbacks. Another book haul from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, another five or six novels for the shelf.

I’ve not any different, especially when I watch my favorite Booktubers and wonder, “How the heck can they afford this many books?”

Like most people, I’m on a budget. That’s why last year, when my boyfriend and I moved to a new house conveniently located a few blocks from a library, we both invested in library cards. This means I can request books on my phone and then walk five minutes to pick them up once they arrive. This was probably the best decision I made in 2015 financially. (Total, I read 39 books in 2015, and a lot of those I obtained through my local library.)

Borrowing books means I save a lot of money. That also means that I don’t need to scrimp by purchasing books on Amazon for super cheap instead of better institutions, like neighborhood bookstores or other, less dominant online retailers — which tend to sell books for twice the cost but are better alternatives. I don’t have to buy books at all if I don’t want to (although every now and then I cave and pick up a couple, especially when I trek out to Half Price Books).

But never buying books doesn’t sit well with me because then I’m not supporting my favorite authors. That’s why, in 2016 and on, I plan to change how I buy books altogether and how I fill my bookshelves. With the exception of books I can’t find in my local library, I’m only going to buy books on one of two conditions: 1) I already know I love the author and want to support them by purchasing their work, or 2) I’ve read the book previously and adored it.

This works especially well for me because, for one, I don’t have a lot of money to spend on books, and I only own a couple of bookshelves anyway — so space is limited. This way, I can also give back to my favorite authors and cultivate a home library of my absolute favorites. I don’t re-read books very often, but I like to admire the ones on my shelves and maybe pass them on to my future kids for them to enjoy. A lot of books I tend to keep also possess sentimental importance to me, so there’s that, too.

How do you determine what books you buy? Are you making any changes to your purchasing habits this year?

Why the new ‘Netflix for books’ is useless to me

tree readingMaybe you heard that Smashwords has partnered with Scribd to deliver a “Netflix for books” service. For $9 a month, you can read as much as you want.

That’s a good price — $9 easily covers one book or 40 — but to me, it’s a useless deal. Here’s why:

I just upgraded to a Kindle Paperwhite because I wanted to experience the comfort of reading on a brightly lit screen and the speed of near-instant flipping between pages, like I get on my iPad. But I also wanted to eliminate the glare of LCD and the distraction of apps, push-notifications, and the Internet.

As wonderful as Scribd sounds (it offers access to more than 40 million books — a giant library for digital reading), you can only use it on web-enabled devices like iOS and Android phones, tablets, and desktop computers. The Kindle Fire and Nook HD support Scribd, but the Paperwhite — or any other e-ink reader — does not.

That’s probably not Scribd’s fault. Amazon can control its content on its own e-readers, for examples, whereas other devices allow for third-party apps (including the Kindle Fire, which is only semi-closed and based on Android’s open platform). That could be a contributing reason.

Regardless, Scribd is still useless to me — for now, anyway. But I’m curious what effect its emergence could have on libraries across the country. As more people convert to e-readers and more of them seek digital books, how many will resort to a single, convenient source like Scribd, which, as long as you maintain an ongoing subscription, enforces no limits on the length of time you can read books (unlike library rentals)? I find that e-book loaning from local libraries can be both complicated and slow. I doubt Scribd would be nearly as grueling.

Does a “Netflix for books” interest you even if you have to read on LCD screens to get it? Do you think it could threaten local libraries?

A return to the library that was long overdue

Yesterday I did something I haven’t done in a long time: registered for a library card.

I know, I’m terrible! How could I have loved books all these years and not frequented libraries?

I confess, I’ve always liked the atmosphere of a bookstore more, a place where you can sit down with a pristine copy of a new release and order an overpriced coffee in a building that seems to be entirely constructed of books. Exaggerations aside, they look nice (check out these beautiful bookstores), smell good, and have an overwhelming selection.

Maybe it differs where you live, but libraries near me are small and kind of dinky. And at college no one hung out at libraries for fun (that’s some sort of unwritten rule). Now I’m all for the idea behind libraries (why can’t we have free and considerate borrowing services for everything else?), and I think being a librarian is one of the best professions out there, but I’ve always associated libraries with hush-hush quiet, those ugly plastic book jackets, unavailability, waiting lists, etc. And I’m facing those problems at my local library now.

But I owned a library card long ago (seriously, it’s been floating around my Mom’s wallet since I was a kid), and I think it’s about time I had one again. At least the years were kind (I didn’t amass any forgotten late fees).

I met a wonderful elderly lady who helped me sign out my card, check out a book, and reserve a couple more. She was delightful to talk with and is my favorite person there already, and seeing a friendly face goes a long way in welcoming me and other patrons.

They now offer e-books, which makes acquiring hot titles a lot easier, and the nice librarian also told me that they also host programs now and then, a feature that makes the library experience sound active and involved as opposed to quiet and snooty.

And oh—it was busy. That’s a word people hardly associate with libraries: “busy.” It was great and very expectation-breaking.

I still prefer shopping at a bookstore, mainly because of the inventory, but I’m happy to support something that’s much more engaged in literacy than bookstores are. When it comes down to it, bookstores want your business. Yes, they can have attractive atmospheres and decor, loyalty discounts and exciting events, but they don’t have the positive energy and encouragement that libraries do: Libraries just want to share the love of reading with you, your children, your friends and family. Stopping by there was a much more personable and interactive experience than visiting a bookstore normally is.

That’s more than enough to bring me back again.

Are you a library person? What’s your favorite thing about them?