I thoroughly enjoyed Kent Anderson’s blog post ‘It’s the End of the Book As We Know It – and I Feel Fine’ over at the Scholarly Kitchen blog. It sums up a lot of my own feelings about ebooks and literacy. These paragraphs, in particular, resonated with me:
But will book reading actually suffer? I doubt it. My kids would love to have Kindles so that they could read spontaneously. They get addicted to a series (don’t get me going about “Pretty Little Liars” right now), and once one book is polished off, they want to start the next one. But the scarcity model of book publishing means having to wait days between reading events if ordering a book from an online retailer; calling around town to find a book and often failing; or checking the library which often doesn’t have the latest materials. Does waiting, calling around, or getting frustrated help the reading experience? Not at all.
The new era of books may actually see more authors, more reading, and more books being bought and sold.
There is a lot of complaining about standards of content in ebooks (particularly from professional editors, I’ve noticed…). Not just in those that have been self-published, but in books purchased from mainstream publishers, too. Usually it is standards of literacy that are criticised in the former and formatting problems in the latter. I agree that it’s irritating if a book is badly put together. I also agree that it is difficult for highly literate people to read a book if they are spotting spelling or grammatical errors every five sentences. What I would argue here, though, is that this doesn’t matter for every reader.
To illustrate my point I’d like to introduce a twelve-year-old would-be-author. She is three chapters into her first book and is happy to admit that:
I might make a few mistakes in spelling and grammer.
She loves writing and is spending a fair part of her spare time working on her book. Yes, it’s littered with errors, but she’s learning her craft and is committed to improving. Would you sneer at her for her mistakes? I hope not (especially as she’s my daughter).
This trainee author loves to share her work and get feedback on it. I think that a lot of self-published authors have a lot in common with my twelve-year-old. They have given up on the old publishing model and are anxious to share their stories with the rest of the world. Since many ebook retailers offer the opportunity to download a sample of a book before purchase, it is easy for you, as a reader, to assess its quality before you make a purchase. If you’re bothered by bad grammar and spelling, you won’t buy a book that offends your sensibilities. If your literacy levels are low, you probably won’t notice and you might buy the book and enjoy it anyway.
So what? Surely it’s better for someone with low literacy levels to be reading something than reading nothing? If a story is very good but the spelling and grammar are bad, then it isn’t too late to do something about it, when the book is still only in electronic format. Self-published ebooks are quite often works in progress, in this respect, as I’ve argued before.
In lowering the barriers to book publishing we are also lowering the barriers to book purchasing and opening up the written word to people who might have been too intimidated to walk through the doors of a library or a bookshop. It’s never too late to discover a love of reading. I agree with Kent: the availability of books in electronic form can only be a good thing for readers and for authors of all calibres.