Last week, I hit the ‘Buy’ button on Amazon.com, completing my purchase of a book titled The Inconvenient Mistress of an Italian (not the precise name, but very close). Now, under normal circumstances and in my right mind, I would never consider buying an actual hard copy book with such a title. But it was an e-book, AND free, so I consummated the “purchase” and put it in my Kindle collection entitled “Trashy Romances” (not to be confused with my also burgeoning collection of “Trashy Romantic Erotica”). By trashy, I don’t mean that it uses “naughty” words; naughty words are important and fun, and I use them frequently in my own writing. By trashy, I mean that these books are like candy: pleasant to taste but with no nutritive value whatsoever. In this case, however, it is not my body, but my brain that may be malnourished. When I go to Goodreads and peruse the books I’ve read, I’ll be honest, I feel a little self-satisfied. All of the so-called classics are there, many Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and more than a few obscure but stunningly talented writers. And when I buy books by authors such as these, I tend to want the hard copy. I like the feel of the pages between my fingers, the quiet whisper they give as I turn them. And perhaps most of all, I like later looking at the book on my shelves and having a memory of how it felt to discover it and enjoy it. It is as comforting a ritual as visiting old friends.
The e-books on my Kindle are different. They are like my dirty little secrets; books about women who “surrender” to something or “succumb” or “give in” which is curious because women who “give in” are a particular pet peeve of mine in real life. On my e-reader, I also have a fair number of books about monsters and vampires, killers and miscreants of various stripes. And lately, I have been devouring all of these genres, sometimes at a rate of three per week because they are so easy to consume. In fact, Amazon sells about one and a half times more e-books than they do hard copies, according to 2010 figures. But if my personal experience is any indication (and it may not be) I don’t think we should take this as evidence that we have a more literate society or anything. If anything, I’ve learned that men in erotic fiction are as likely to “growl” as they are to speak, and that the women will “squeal” and “whimper” quite a bit. I’ve also learned that there are many, many euphemisms for the female anatomy that I would never have even considered.
And most of all, I’ve learned that there is a fair chance that when you pay $0.99 for a book, that’s about all it’s worth. But as a self-pubbed writer myself who hesitates to charge more than $4.99, I don’t knock it. I love that publishing has become a super-democratic process where readers get to make their own choices about the value of someone’s writing, and that mammoth publishing houses no longer get to be the arbiters of what the reading public should have access to, because for sure I’ve discovered a few gems, countless diamonds still in the rough and one or two writers whose lack of a six-figure book deal is a travesty.
Still, there is that part of me drawn to the illicit hunt specifically for corny, poorly-written fiction which I devour at 3 a.m. both fascinated and repulsed. Oh, it’s all in good fun I tell myself. But I wonder, ultimately, is my Kindle making me stupid?