Have you ever rented a cottage or stayed in an inn or hostel where owners and past guests have left books on the shelves for your reading pleasure? It is usually a mixed bag of thrillers, mysteries, romance novels, maybe some history, sometimes some real wildcards and surprises. You don’t have a lot of choice, but you do get this strange snapshot of what people read when they’re on vacation.
Getting books for the Reader at the Sony Connect store had a similar feeling. As I browsed around looking for titles, I realized that I was seeing a composite picture of the consumers that publishers believe are reading digital books. At the moment, they appear to be a group of randomly selected airport travellers. Lots of thrillers, mysteries and romance novels. Some science-fiction. Plenty of business books and sports titles.
I had a few titles in mind when I went in. I thought that Against the Day, the latest Thomas Pynchon, would be great to have in eBook form. I could never bring the hardcover on the trip—it’s a 1000-page, four-pound doorstop. Wouldn’t it be better to have the whole thing on my little 8oz reader? No luck. Against the Day isn’t available as an eBook, nor is anything else by Pynchon. Neither is DeLillo’s Underworld, a hefty paperback that I keep leaving at home. On the other hand, there is Fantasyland, which has been described as Heart of Darkness meets Rotisserie League baseball. OK, it isn’t Gravity’s Rainbow, but maybe that’s a good thing. Click, purchase, download, and there it is on the Reader.
The literary fiction piece was tough. I was hoping for something from a new author, but I haven’t been keeping up with the US first novel scene since leaving bookselling and Canadian first authors are nowhere to be found (naturally, since the Reader isn’t available in Canada). In the end, I happily settled on Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. Pulp was easier: China Mieville and Max Berry (where I had the surreal experience of being offered both the “hardcover” and “paperback” versions at two different prices). A quick trip to Project Gutenberg netted me some Kipling and Jane Austen. A jump to Cory Doctorow’s site got me his three most recent books in text format. Some Word .docs and pdfs from work.
Some quick notes on the shopping experience: Sony isn’t at the cutting edge of online merchandising. Searches can be slow and the results a bit odd. On the other hand, eBooks are cheap. A trade paperback that lists at $15.95 (US) has an eBook price of $9.95 and is discounted by Sony for another 20% to $7.95. Once the book is purchased, a quick click-and-drag gets it on the Reader.
Time to travel!