It’s a story likely to make some readers queasy. Several British libraries have begun working with a direct marketing firm to stuff inserts into books at check out. “They’re going to be inserted right next to the panel with the return date on it, which means that everyone will look at them at least once,” said Mark Jackson of direct marketing company Jackson Howse. However, Guy Daines, the director of policy at the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, however, is concerned about the “creeping commercialisation of library services.” I’ll second that.
It’s no secret that newspaper book sections are endangered. Earlier this month, the Atlanta Journal Constitution eliminated its book editor position, placing the fate of the paper’s well regarded book section in question. Many are assuming the worst, that the newspaper will eliminate the section entirely. There’s even a petition to protect the AJC book review.With newspapers increasingly under fire from investors as once robust profit margins sag due to unprecedented competition from the Web and other forms of media and entertainment, many of these companies are looking to trim their operations in order to cut down on the costs of newsprint and personnel. Viewed in this light, book sections are dead weight.The problem is that the book section business model is broken. As The Wall Street Journal reported (sub. req.) last month, publishers, the natural advertisers for book sections, don’t spend much on ads because they find the ads to be too expensive or ineffective. This fact puts book sections at a big disadvantage as compared to other parts of the newspaper, all of which must pull their weight. Business sections, for example, do well because the financial profile of their readers inspires a willingness among advertisers to spend big bucks to reach them.The broken business model of book sections has led a number of newspapers to take drastic steps. To this end, the LA Times recently unveiled a combined books/opinion section. The Chicago Tribune, the LA Times’ sister paper, has taken a different tack, announcing that it will move its book section from Sunday to Saturday. The Tribune says that this move will “usher in a new era of the Tribune’s coverage of books, expanding our coverage of books, ideas and the written word throughout the newspaper and across the week.” In addition, “moving the section to Saturday will separate it from the Sunday newspaper, which already is bursting at the seams with essential reading, and make a prominent place for it on a new day of the week.” This is all well and good – and certainly better than eliminating the book section altogether – but as the Chicago Reader noted over a year ago, when the book section switch was originally floated, “Saturday’s press run is some 400,000 copies smaller than Sunday’s. The annual savings in newsprint alone would reach half a million dollars.” When the Tribune realized that stuffing an extra section into the Saturday paper would require them to pay their distributors more, they backed off, and converted the section to tabloid format, another newsprint saver. Seventeen months later, the paper appears to have realized that a switch to Saturday makes financial sense after all.Ultimately, however, none of these measures will be satisfying to book section readers, and the fact is, except perhaps at the New York Times, there is little future for book sections showing up with our Sunday papers. The future of newspapers isn’t in paper, and the same is doubly so for book sections.I’ve been surprised that the many blogs that have decried the disappearance of book sections are the same ones that point out the obsolescence of newspapers – particularly their cultural coverage – in the face of a wealth of online alternatives. If our newspapers are going to be obsolete, our book sections will become obsolete as well. The tricky solution to all of this, of course, is the very medium that continues to beguile newspapers: online. There are still challenges here – as yet online ads don’t pay nearly as well as print – but as book blogs have in some respects shown, there is a big audience for online book coverage, and online allows the discussion of books to break out of the “review” mold that may be contributing to the decline in the viability of newspaper book sections. The important thing to remember, I think, is that the disappearance of book sections isn’t a book section problem, it’s a newspaper industry problem, and the solution to book section woes will come with the solutions to the larger newspaper industry problems.
On Friday, as you may or may not have noticed, Amazon went down for about two hours. These days, we’re used to 100% uptime from the internet’s supersites – Google, Yahoo, Wikipedia, et al – but the Amazon outage reminded me of the late 1990s when even the biggest dot-coms, struggling to scale to the explosive growth of the Web, suffered routine and sometimes prolonged outages. (Of course, some more recent start-ups still experience such growing pains).As Amazon returned to service on Friday afternoon, speculation kicked into high gear about just how much revenue the world’s largest Internet retailer had lost during the two-hour outage. A little back-of-the-envelope math gives a rough idea. When the company reported its first quarter numbers, it estimated that it would have net sales of between $3.875 billion and $4.075 billion in the second quarter of this year. The midpoint of that is $3.975 billion: $43,681,319 per day or $1,820,054 per hour. So, theoretically, the outage lost the company $3,640,109, with the caveat that this is just averaging the numbers out and not taking to account how busy mid-day Friday is, as opposed to other times of the week. Regardless, a decent chunk of change.Of course, as Silicon Alley Insider pointed out, “When customers who wanted to buy something from Amazon went to the site and found it down, the majority of them likely figured the glitch was temporary and decided to check back later this afternoon. And lo and behold–it was temporary. So they’re probably placing their orders right now.” So, in reality, the likely damage is probably minimal. It would take repeated outages for Amazon to start feeling the impact from downtime.
You may have heard. Google has just launched a service called Google Print. Like Amazon, Google’s service allows people to search through books. Google announced at the Frankfurt Book Fair that are adding a lot of major publishers and they will be adding many titles. As with Amazon, there is a limit to how many pages you can view. And, at this stage anyway, it’s not possible to search the book database exclusively. I’ve found that the best way to get a Google Print result to show up is to type the word “book” and then whatever it is you’re searching for. It’ll be interesting to see if this develops further.
More than a few times, my father has waxed lyrical about my future appearance on David Letterman. “You’ll tell him how your dear dad is your greatest influence.” In this fantasy, I’m not an movie star, or even someone with a talented pet. I’m a novelist. “Dad,” I say, “why would Letterman have me — a writer — on his show?” My father doesn’t have an answer. He just shrugs, as if to say, Why not? My father also believes Oprah would take his call. And that he can hand-sell a thousand copies of my (as yet unpublished) novel to people who owe him favors. “Make it ten thousand,” he says. “Show those numbers to your agent.” Sure, Dad. Okay.
But wait. If my father can make good on his promise, and actually sell a decent number of copies of my book — over the phone, from the trunk of his car — then why not do what so many other writers have done recently, and self-publish?
In August, droves of self-published authors commented on my essay, “Shutting the Drawer: What Happens When a Book Doesn’t Sell?” about the death of my first book. There was that clichéd rallying cry: “Traditional publishing is on its last legs,” as well as cheerful exhortations for me to take matters into my own hands. E-publishing and print-on-demand, commenters assured me, has made D.I.Y. publishing affordable and easy.
After receiving all this feedback, I decided to talk with a few self-published authors to find out why they went that route, and what its benefits and drawbacks have been. I first corresponded with two of my high school English teachers who have used CreateSpace, Amazon’s self-publishing wing. Daniel D. Victor self-published his novel A Study in Synchronicity after he’d queried agents for some time without success. Victor has already published one novel; in 1992, St. Martin’s put out The Seventh Bullet, which was recently re-released in England by Titan Books. Both of Victor’s novels are inspired by the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; the former is a “Sherlock Holmes pastiche” while the new one intertwines a Victorian-era whodunit with a modern-day mystery — it’s a clever tale of fiction-coming-to-life. Victor told me he’s been very happy with CreateSpace, both in the process and the results. “People have told me how great my book looks, how professional. And the procedures, once I got the hang of them, were straightforward.” When I asked him about readers’ response, he said, “People have been very receptive and complimentary. Of course, most all of the books have been bought by people I know. What else would I expect them to say?”
Victor’s colleague and friend, Barry Smolin, has self-published two manuscripts: Wake Up in the Dream House, an image-driven book of prose, and Always Be Madly in Love, a poetry collection. Aside from teaching high school, Smolin hosts a radio show on KPFK and makes music under the moniker Mr. Smolin. After self-producing albums for so long, self-publishing made sense. He didn’t even attempt the traditional route. Like Victor, he found CreateSpace user-friendly. (Or, in Smolin-parlance: “I ended up digging it.”) When I asked how readers had responded, he said he hasn’t received any feedback. “But, then again,” he added, “I didn’t publish them for feedback.”
Smolin later sent me a second email, in which he described his life as an artist:
I… have spent the last 35 years making art (music, poetry, fiction) that absolutely nobody cares about. For whatever reason, it just doesn’t resonate with folks. It saddened me more when I was younger; now I just accept it. That reality has had no effect on my creative output whatsoever. I can’t stop doing it. It’s just a burning need in me. It’s who I am. I am an artist even if nobody else on earth thinks so. I’d be miserable if I was not sitting down each night to write or make music. So, I’ve learned to create without the need for any kind of audience. It has just been a survival mechanism I guess. I can’t NOT write, I can’t NOT compose and record music, but I also can’t just create all this stuff 24/7 and stick it in a drawer… I like knowing it’s “out there” whatever that means, that it’s in the cosmos and available to be received if any are interested.
It’s an intriguing contradiction: the desire to publish a book without an expectation for readers. Neither Victor nor Smolin seemed to anticipate an audience when they decided to self-publish — at least not a large one. Unlike many other self-published authors, they haven’t been tirelessly (some might even say obnoxiously) promoting their work. And yet, both Victor and Smolin maintain a hope for readership. In this regard, self-publishing provides the manuscript with a liminal existence — it’s technically available to the world, even if hardly anyone in the world is aware of it. There is potential, and that’s what matters. Neither of my former-teachers approached the topic of self-publishing from the perspective of platform-building or money-earning, as I’ve seen other self-published writers do. They were both quite noble about the process, actually, and their quiet belief in their own work made me want to read their books. I realized, talking to them, that self-publishing provided a conclusion to their artistic projects. Victor and Smolin are writing other books now; their previous ones have been brought to the world, and are thus finished.
Okay, I’m just going to go ahead and say it: At this point in time, self-publishing lacks the cool factor. It’s… dorky. Go ahead, call me a snob (check), call me the mean girl (check). You can also call me someone who loves a well-made, beautifully designed book that makes me shiver with desire. To me, a good-looking book implies an understanding of the marketplace and how to maneuver within it. Most (though not all) self-published novels look, well, self-published. I’ve met enough self-published authors at festivals and conferences to know most of them aren’t doing things right. Don’t wear a baggy T-shirt with the cover of your book screen-printed across the chest. Don’t wear a cape made of crushed velvet. Don’t refer to your “fiction-novel.” And don’t pay some questionable publicity company to spam staff writers of The Millions with press releases.
There are, of course, self-published authors who actively market themselves, and do it well. Two of my peers — Los Angeles-based writer Matthew Allard, and my former classmate at Iowa, Jason Lewis — have both published their own fiction, and made it seem hip to do so. I’ve actually never met Allard; he and I are friends on Tumblr, where he maintains a thoughtful and amusing blog. Last year, he self-published a collection of short stories, To Slow Down the Time, illustrated by the artist Ian Dingman. Allard produced two versions of the book: a limited edition hand-bound hardcover, and a print-on-demand paperback (published by CreateSpace), and made them both available for pre-order. The limited edition sold out in a week, and these sales financed the production costs. “To be honest, we had profit immediately,” Allard told me. “I didn’t make enough money to quit my day job, but I made more than drinking money. I used some of my money to buy a nice new MacBook Pro (to write another book with). I was very surprised.” I own the paperback version of Allard’s book, and it’s lovely. Many a visitor has picked it up and asked me about it, which proves that you don’t need the letters FSG on your book’s spine to woo a reader. Allard did not submit To Slow Down the Time to agents and traditional publishers. “I am impatient,” he said, “and I liked the idea of turning it around and of having full control over our project.” He will most likely self-publish a second collection of stories, which are notoriously difficult to sell these days. Again, he mentioned the swift turn-around time between finishing the manuscript, and presenting it to readers. Clearly, this aspect of self-publishing is seductive: readers get your work while you’re still passionate about it. After meeting a handful of writers who can’t stand their books by the time they’re released, I can understand the appeal of a faster timeline. However, I worry what that acceleration might do to my own work. For instance, there’s a difference between this blog post and the novel I’m writing now, and that difference is time: to ponder, to revise, and to receive feedback. Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat.
When I asked Allard about his self-publishing experience, he said:
I learned that this is absolutely a viable option for intrepid, Internet-savvy authors. Self-publishing levels the playing field a bit. There is certainly not the same kind of cachet attached to self-publishing as the traditional route. Maybe there’s no pleasure of saying, “Random House is publishing my book in the fall,” but self-publishing does offer the same quality product (providing your product is quality to begin with) and you get to be in charge. The absence of a marketing budget is the other drawback. You made a book! It’s real! Getting it into readers’ hands is a whole other ballgame. In my case, I was lucky to have amassed a decent Internet following that was interested in what I was working on.
Self-publishing is simply cutting a corner and taking charge of your work from start to finish. You don’t have to sit around waiting for a publisher or agent to notice you and believe in your project. If you believe in it, you can make it. There’s less glamour or paycheck attached, though.
I’m struck by how clear-eyed Allard is about the process. He understood self-publishing’s limitations, and the work required of him to render the book a success. He’ll be in fine shape if he sells a book to a publishing house down the line. The publicity budget for a traditional published book usually isn’t huge, and nowadays the writer is expected not only to be an artist, but also a talented promoter of that art. Allard already knows how to tap-dance for his dinner, and to do it gracefully.
Like Allard, Jason Lewis has published an atypical book. His novel, The Fourteenth Colony, comes with an album of songs written from the perspective of John Martin, the book’s main character, a musician who returns to his hometown in West Virginia to try to put his life back together. Lewis wrote and produced all the music, and funded the project via Kickstarter. As with Allard’s, Lewis’s book was financed by readers, and he has a guarantee of an audience, however modest, by the time the book goes to press this month. Any copies he sells on top of this will be profit. This is in contrast to the traditional publishing model which puts money up front in the form of an advance, and sets about building an audience for a work that’s already created. It’s not hard to see which model offers greater risk.
Lewis used to have an agent, but she left the business a few years ago, and he had trouble finding representation for The Fourteenth Colony. He began writing new work as he sent out the manuscript to agencies, but he couldn’t get his first novel out of his head. “In another era, that might just have been the itch I couldn’t scratch while I moved on,” he said. “But in this era, indie publishing has really very quickly become a viable option.” Notice that Lewis uses the phrase “indie publishing” — a smart move, in this fraught moment in books.
Although Lewis has enjoyed the outpouring of support from family and friends, and from strangers who are simply enthusiastic about his unique project, he admits, “It would still be great to have someone else to take care of a lot of what I’m doing for myself.” Allard, too, envisions publishing a novel traditionally some day. “For me and my career as an author, it is a goal to have a publisher take interest in my work and back it. There is a different sense of accomplishment in selling a book that way, obviously. I want that.”
This intrigued me, though I wasn’t surprised. Even writers who self-publish well, who successfully produce books that don’t fit into the publishing industry’s rubric of what’s marketable, let alone categorizable, still want entrance into the established world they initially turned away from. If only for assistance with production. If only to say, “My book’s for sale on the front table at Barnes and Noble.”
Even in 2011 that value can’t be denied.
For some self-published authors, the traditional industry may be dying, superfluous to their needs and success as authors. But many of the self-published authors who commented on my initial essay suggested that I publish my own book as a means to get the industry’s attention. They seem to be saying: Screw the industry… that is, until they recognize my genius!
Matthew Allard self-published a book that probably couldn’t have been produced by a large house, but the story of that book, and the attention it’s received, could no doubt help him get representation and sell another book down the road. Daniel D. Victor might amass a following for his second novel, proving to those gun-shy agents that his subject matter is indeed of interest to a wide readership. In my estimate, self-publishing won’t replace traditional publishing, but it might supplement and influence it. There’s another trajectory for an author’s success; alongside the debut novelist who’s an MFA graduate with publishing credits in The Missouri Review and Your Mom’s Journal, there’s the writer who proved herself with self-publishing and now has a book deal with Random House. But to think every self-published author makes it big is as foolish as thinking every MFA grad does.
In a recent New York Times article, Amazon executive Russell Grandinetti said, “The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader. Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.” It’s a good point. Self-publishers essentially cut out the middle man (except, of course, outfits like Amazon…), and in shouldering the burdens of editing, design, publicity, and so on, they stand to reap all the benefits of that work. It’s how Amanda Hocking made her millions. It’s also how many, many other self-published writers spent a lot of time (if not money) putting out a book that no one bought. With my first novel, I suffered rejection from editors. The writer who self-publishes sidesteps that rejection, only to face possible rejection in the form of readers’ silence.
If you self-publish a book and it doesn’t do as well as you’d hoped, does it hurt your chances to sell a novel to a traditional publisher in the future? Maybe in an industry that’s changing so rapidly, it’s too early to answer that question. Talking to these self-published writers certainly opened my eyes to the various reasons why one might try it, and how gratifying it can be. These are writers I admire; how their books came to me doesn’t matter. That was an important lesson for me to learn.
Even so, I’m not running to the press with my first book. In a second essay, I’ll further explore why not. I’ll also examine what self-publishing means for readers, and what traditionally published authors think of all these D.I.Y. developments.
Lately, critics have been swift to announce the death of print culture, and thus pronounce the end of literacy. Even two technology critics whose opinions usually reside on opposite ends of the spectrum – Kevin Kelly of Wired and Christine Rosen of The New Atlantis – agree that culturally, we are now “people of the screen.” True to Kelly’s technocrat leanings, he embraces the screen’s omnipresence in his recent essay in the Screen Issue of The New York Times Magazine. In Kelly’s opinion, the hegemony of the screen will oust the word from its dominance and replace it with the visual image. He contends, “We are now in the middle of the second Gutenberg shift – from book fluency to screen fluency, from literacy to visuality.” Rosen agrees with Kelly, though where he celebrates a new visual literacy, she laments. Rosen’s New Atlantis essay “People of the Screen” admonishes Kelly’s enthusiasm in a previous Times Magazine essay for the possibilities of mashing up and remixing texts (a glorified cut and paste), but she ends by echoing his recent sentiments and committing literacy to its deathbed, “Literacy, the most empowering achievement of our civilization, is to be replaced by a vague and ill-defined screen-savvy. The paper book, the tool that built modernity, is to be phased out in favor of fractured, unfixed information.”What’s most audacious about their prediction that a screen-based society will stifle literacy, is that they equate a redefinition of form with an end, and in doing so discount the ways that the screen could expand the possibilities of disseminating literature, providing greater access and a more portable form, as well as saving a few trees, to boot. If reading is in decline, then writing is experiencing a resurgence – emails, IMs, and text messages, however inglorious their usual state, show that people are writing prolifically. And the text message, whose condensation would seem a more apt medium for poetry, is now being used to write cell phone novels, which are wildly popular in Japan (an excerpt of one was translated here by Ben last year). There’s no dearth of writers and aspiring writers, either, proven by the increasing number of MFA applicants, who are often willing to pay high fees for instruction, and don’t even mention the millions of blogs, this one included. I have never heard a literary magazine wax nostalgic for the days when they were overwhelmed by submissions. The point is, even if reading long-form narratives or poetry is in decline, writing is robust and print will linger regardless.Will screen culture redefine literacy? Of course. But does this merit the doomsday proclamations issued by Rosen and Kelly? I think not. Rosen writes of her experience reading Dickens on a Kindle, and the inherent difficulties, including her “restless” eyes that “jumped around,” which is the way many people read on a screen, scanning for nuggets of information in an F-shaped pattern. But is this a reaction to the screen itself or to the material that we most frequently find online? If problems with focus and concentration are related to the characteristics of the screen, then perhaps there are ways to make future versions more reader friendly. Surely, the users of the first generation of personal computers could have made similar arguments about portability if arguing against word processing. But modifications and improvements have made the three-pound laptop a reality. And as for complaints about slower reading, you have to take into account habit and custom, and the ways we are educated. Perhaps it’s impossible for some thirty-five year olds to feel as comfortable with reading text on a screen as young children who are now growing up reading online. I, personally, despised attempting to comprehend and analyze the GRE’s reading comprehension passages online and I still prefer to print out long articles, and I find the heft of a book in my hand pleasurable, but children who grow up with e-books and online reading may think nothing of it. Which is much of Rosen’s issue – that screen fluency will end reading as we know it. Rosen seems more preoccupied with the changing conventions and how this will shape culture than technology hastening the true end of reading. The shift from the book to the digital file is more akin to the shift from the LP to the MP3, and although a shift may not be free of consequence, it’s not the great erosion that Rosen and Kelly presage. And such is the predicament for many types of long-form artistic work: the novel, the film, the album. Digital culture allows for greater plasticity and user interaction, while providing a platform for an unprecedented number of voices. The fear that the background noise will make it more difficult to pinpoint specific voices, and that we will become lost in information a la Oedipa Maas, may be more warranted. If we can agree that the future of reading is onscreen, instead of sullenly balking or calling this the end of literacy, we should consider and plan for the possibilities.
In order to promote its Google Book Search at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the search engine released a list of the most viewed books on the service from September 17th through 23rd, and it doesn’t much resemble the bestseller lists that commonly appear in newspapers. The titles range from Diversity and Evolutionary Biology of Tropical Flowers to a translation of the Holy Qur’an to Build Your Own All-Terrain Robot.The quirky titles on the list highlight the different ways we interact with books. The New York Times and Amazon create lists based on books we buy, LibraryThing, as I mentioned yesterday, creates lists based on what we own, while Google’s list is based on books we look at. I think these different ways in which we interact with books are sometimes forgotten by publishers who assume that books exist only to be part of a commercial transaction. In reality, our relationship with books is much more varied and complex than that.
I.The other day, while looking for books to buy my future nephew, I recalled The Real Mother Goose, a classic I had loved as a kid. I could conjure the cover, with its illustration of a witch and a baby, riding a giant, flying bird (a goose, I guess). And the border was checkered – the squares were black and white. I remembered the size of the book in my small hands, and the texture of its cover, and the thickness of the pages inside. It thrilled me to think that my sister’s son might hold this book, and love it, like I had.For a period, novelist Katherine Taylor brought The Mystery Guest by Gregoire Bouillier to dinner parties. “Wine is boring,” she told me. “Books last longer.” Later, she took to giving everyone Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk, which, she said, “is not as dinner-party appropriate, but it was a gorgeous and largely overlooked book I thought my clever friends should read.” Now Ms. Taylor has moved onto handing out Maurice Sendak’s The Nutshell Library.My husband and I met and became friends in the summer of 2000 as coworkers at Book Soup. At the end of the summer, when I was due to return to Oberlin College in Ohio, he gave me a copy of Goodbye Columbus. On the first page, he had written a note: “Edan – For the summer. Thanks. Patrick.” Of course we got married.I love giving and getting books as gifts, and I’ve been wondering lately how the digital age will alter this ritual. Don’t get me wrong: I am not against the electronic book. As others have pointed out, ebooks will most likely inspire consumers to be more adventurous in their reading tastes. Nothing will go out of print, and the convenience is obvious. (I kind of want to read Infinite Jest on my iPhone – imagine how light it would be. Wait a minute… I don’t have an iPhone!) Once DRM goes away, and it will, the pass-it-on aspect of books will just explode. Book as mp3. Book as gossip. (If only that sexual astrology paperback we passed around in ninth grade had been digital…) In general, the ebook is a good thing for readers and writers. I prefer reading paperback novels, but if someone wants to read the book I’m writing on a fancy device, that sounds okay.So, let me make this clear: I’m not announcing the purity of print books over their digital brethren. I don’t want to wax poetic (not too much, anyway) about the sensual pleasures of print books, how they feel and smell, the weight of them – although that must account for something, because what fun will it be to receive an ebook for your birthday? Will anyone even bother? The emergence of a new technology implies the death of another, and the rise of the ebook could mean that no one will ever again give you a novel for hosting a dinner party. I think I’m in mourning.II.Why do people give books as gifts, anyway? I don’t mean just any book, but a specific book. Why did Patrick give me that copy of Philip Roth’s first novel? What did it imply?Last week, a woman came into the bookstore to get a copy of A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter. She said she always gives it as a gift to people she’s getting to know. Those who love the novel as much as she does become her friends for life.I have a friend who likes to give Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being to women he’s interested in romantically. I told him he shouldn’t be dating anyone who hasn’t already read it.For many of us, books are cultural signifiers: if you like this, you will like that, and I will like you. A book serves as an aesthetic litmus test, a conversation starter, a way to understand one another through a third party. The act of giving someone a book is an important performance; it’s not just the book, but the exchange itself, and that’s why a digital copy won’t mean as much. You could email someone a love letter, but if you write it by hand… Well then.So, this: Reading is both a public and private act. It’s private in the sense that no amount of discourse can mirror or capture the intimate experience a reader has with a book and its author. But that discourse is precisely why it’s public – the blog posts, the reviews, the conversations over coffee, all of that affects and informs your reading experience. When you give someone a book you love, you’re inviting them to understand a private encounter you had with a text. It’s the fusing of the public and the private, the social and the intimate.III.I’ve recently realized that I’m also mourning reading in public, because e-readers will change that game as well. If a book is a cultural signifier, then the act of reading a book in public conveys important information to other readers. I always check out what people are reading: in coffee houses, at the beach, in bars, on airplanes. I am taking note, I am building a reader’s identity. It’s like – what kind of jeans is your soul wearing? It saddens me deeply to think about how this kind of signal will be lost with the popularity of ebook devices. What can an anonymous Kindle tell me about your inner life, and about what entertains you?Of course, the privacy of an e-reader is appealing, too. There are times when I want my private experience of reading to be just that – private. With a Kindle, I could read Stephenie Meyer on the bus without embarrassment. When I’m reading David Foster Wallace on my (nonexistent) iPhone, I won’t have to worry about some geeky douchebag hitting on me.Again, I see the value of this new technology. I get it. I just can’t seem to let go of what will be lost…