Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
The sig other and I entered the twenty-first century this holiday season: we received a stand mixer and a Nexus 7 tablet. In less than a week, I have gone from using “device” as a four-letter word to excitedly searching the Google Play store for sample chapters and my next big read.
Initially, my delight with the stand mixer eclipsed all consideration of the tablet on my part. I had also received both volumes of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and was engrossed, for most of the holiday, in the sections on cooking pigeons and sweetbreads and calf brains, disjointing geese, and making aspics (my favorite parts of cookbooks being the parts I never, ever intend to use). I gazed at the stand mixer and fantasized about choux pastry. I largely ignored the tablet.
For him, it was a different story. He gleefully pulled the tablet from its wrappings and spent the next forty-eight hours customizing all the settings, choosing wallpaper, downloading apps, and gorging on his usual news websites. After the rest of our families went to sleep, we propped up the tablet and watched episode after episode of bad 80s TV on Netflix. I kind of expected to like the tablet as an alternative to my laptop or my iPhone—devices that I use every day, but never for reading. Once I gave reading a shot on the tablet, I was dismayed to discover I kind of liked it.The tablet came with a free digital copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Because I’m cheap, I tried to read that first. I do love that book—but mostly I love my beautiful 1994 print edition of the book with the calligraphied title chapters and illustrations in the margins. In the ebook, the illustrations are present, but they look more like interruptions, appearing to the left of the screen instead of centered as they are in the book. The bright white screen hurt my eyes, so I turned the brightness all the way down, and was able to read with only the black text on a gray background. I also like to be able to riffle through the print book’s pages to find the section or illustration I want, which is near impossible in the ebook unless you already know the needed chapter. I set the tablet aside and reached for the paperback I had just bought at Target.
However, the temptation of the Google Play store quickly became too much to resist, especially with the advertised collections of cheap mysteries and romance novels to choose from. So I eventually broke down and tried a free sample chapter. Because, as I said, I’m cheap, I started with the section of $1.99 romances, quickly discovering why they were $1.99. The writing was awful. I couldn’t take it. But it wasn’t the ebook format that I objected to—it was the writing itself. I tried a book that I’ve been meaning to purchase in print form and was quickly hooked.
That is not to say that I’m going solely digital now. I still miss having the book cover readily available, and those books that have especially cool jackets—like the ones that are partially clear to show the actual cover underneath—can’t be replicated on your tablet screen.
I also can’t imagine cooking with a tablet, unless the ebook incorporated, say, a video tutorial on how to perform some chopping or folding technique. My use of cookbooks depends too much on the ability to open to multiple recipes (even across multiple books) when I’m cooking dinner, and Play Books wouldn’t allow me to switch between them without navigating several screens in the process—which could be fatal to a complicated dish.
Usually, though, this isn’t the way I read. And despite all my reluctance to purchase an ereader, my first experience with ebooks was intoxicating. The ease of searching, the instantaneous reward, and the seamless download have all combined into something that could quickly get dangerous for my bank account. I’ll always love printed books… but this tablet might be too tempting to resist.