I have always loved books. I learned to read at the age of roughly 3 years old, give or take a few months, and have spent the rest of my life devouring books. As a child, I loved Beatrix Potter books, as well as the Golden Books, and most of all, my big books of short stories that were mostly Fairy Tales. I can still remember the wall of my room that was entirely covered in a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf, which was entirely full of books. I still have a few of those precious books.
Later, I had a much larger wall of floor to ceiling bookshelves at my home in Alaska, containing everything from books on photography and comic books to Asimov, McCaffrey, and Ellery Queen. I treasured each one, and often made trips to Title Wave, the ginormous local book store, in search of more. The sadness I felt at leaving the majority of my collection behind when I moved back to California 5 years ago was profound.
Books have always provided me with a way to travel, escape to imaginary worlds, learn new skills, meet new and wonderful characters, and broaden my vision of the world. These days I am faced with two major challenges in re-building my library.
First, I no longer have the space to store very many physical books. Second, funds are often low, and acquiring books can be expensive. So, in my ever present quest for reading material, I’ve made extensive use of my local library and have been researching forms of books which don’t take up so much shelf space. Part of the challenge is also that I tend to figuratively devour books. I found this quote on one of the websites I recently researched:
The average reader gets through 5 books per year, but the average AudibleListener completes 16 books a year.
The quote completely blew me away. The average person only reads FIVE books a year?! What?! When I am on a reading binge, I might read five books in a single week! Uh… I guess I’m way ahead of the curve.
My local library is wonderful, but doesn’t always have all the books I’d like to read. Still, it’s a really good place to try out new authors, look for new releases by popular authors, or find classics. It’s also a great place to hang out on a too-warm summer day and, with free wi-fi, makes an excellent location for study and research. My library also has a small collection of audio-books, which I’ve been getting into more recently. More on these below.
E-books seem like the obvious choice for someone with a lack of storage space for paper books. They don’t take up any physical space and sometimes the books are even less expensive in e-book form than they are in paper form (though not as inexpensive as a used book). Additionally, some books (read: Infinite Jest) are almost easier to read in e-book form. Instant links to footnotes at the end of the book, and not needing to carry a 2lb book around, can certainly make reading easier.
I’ve been watching e-readers for a while now. Last year, I tried out a friend’s Kindle, but found that I didn’t like the e-ink very much. I think it had too little contrast for me or something. I looked at other e-readers, but so far as devices designed specifically for reading e-books go, Kindle gets the best reviews, hands down.
A month ago, I probably would have said that it seemed like the best thing would simply be to get an iPad eventually. The most common complaint I’ve heard about all e-readers is that they lock you into a single service, and with an iPad, I’d be able to access any book service I chose. This still seems like a good choice, really, especially if you want something that will be more versatile than a device designed only for reading e-books. I note, however, that e-ink is still better for your eyes than any device with a back-lit screen.
Recently, I got an e-mail about the Kindle3, and became convinced that I wanted one. (Have one now!) The higher contrast eliminated my previous complaints about not liking e-ink. It’s so much easier to make sure I have reading material on hand by bringing along my Kindle, rather than relying on my iPhone battery or needing to bring along a paper book, which might be damaged.
Also nice, Amazon has thousands of classics available for free in e-book form, and there are many other sources of free e-books. (If you follow the Amazon link, it contains links to several free e-book archive sites with millions of free e-books.) I actually already have a few hundred e-books on my new Kindle though I’ve only paid for a handful. Books in the public domain include things like: All the original Oz books by Frank Lindbaum, Lewis Carroll books, HP Lovecraft, etc. It may take me time, some searching, and some funds to collect all my favorite books in e-book format, but I will certainly never be short of reading material, despite my lack of storage space.
Audiobooks were another form of books recommended to me by various friends when I lamented my lack of storage space for books.
Audiobooks have become my latest treasured discovery.
My largest challenge most recently has been finding something to distract and occupy my mind while driving. These days, I commute 45 minutes to work in the morning, and another 45 minutes home each weekday evening, and have been finding the drive tedious and relentless and oppressive. At work also, I have been finding the need for something to occupy the two ‘brain-tracks’ not in use for my work, with something that will still allow me to focus on that work. For both of these purposes, music sometimes worked, but only for so long. Audiobooks have proven far more effective.
The challenge in obtaining audiobooks is two-fold. Cost is a large prohibitive factor, since most audiobooks cost more than the actual books that they originate from. After all, paying someone to read costs more than setting ink to paper. Given that they can be fairly expensive, it isn’t surprising that the other problem is availability. Most books aren’t available in audio-book format.
Enter my local library again. While they don’t have audio-books for most of the books I would prefer, they do have a sprinkling of just about everything. Romance novels seem popular in audiobooks, as do mysteries. Science Fiction and Fantasy, alas, seem very poorly represented. I suspect that most of us who are into those genres prefer to read our books rather than listen to them. Still, many classic literature novels are represented, like Dracula, and I’m looking forward to listening to a few Dean Koontz novels as well.
For increasing my stock of audiobooks that are actually owned, I chose Audible. Audible is, not surprisingly, run by Amazon. It doesn’t allow me to instantly acquire a ton of audiobooks, but it does allow me to purchase at least one audiobook per month for a highly discounted ‘credit’ price, and I get access to other discounted audiobooks. Acquiring audio-books is something I expect to be a slow process, given the expense, so this seemed the logical choice for me.
Another possibility, for those more interested in listening than owning, is Simply Audiobooks. I opted not to go sign up for their service, but it seems pretty nifty. If I had more funds available, I’d definitely give them a try. They seem like ‘Netflix for audiobooks’.
The discovery that allowed me to pass up Simply Audiobooks, since I have no hope of my meagre collection of owned audio-books and my local library being able to keep up with my need for 50+ hours of audiobooks per week, was Librivox. Librivox is basically a crowd-sourced project for making audio recordings of public domain books. As it says on their site:
Our goal is to make all public domain books available as free audio books.
While they don’t have the millions of books that are on the e-book archive sites that Amazon links to, they certainly have thousands of free audio-books, and are constantly adding more. They even have a Wiki, with a handy catalog page which lists a few hundred audiobooks that have been handily converted to M4b file format, the iTunes recognized format for audiobooks.
Between Librivox and my Kindle, I shall never again lack reading or listening material. No physical storage space required!