Reading Rage: Your Ableist Real-Book Snobbery is Tiresome AF

19 February 2016 by 37 Comments

Semi-recently, a very good friend of mine (okay, it was Susie) shared this video on Facebook showing a gorgeous book being handcrafted.  Her comment when sharing was only “WOW,” which I totally agree with.  The original sharer, though (who currently has more than twenty two MILLION views on this particular video, so I don’t feel all that bad about denying him the page views he’d get from anyone reading this) made a comment about how this wasn’t something you could do to a Kindle.

Which, okay, made me a little mad as it always does when I see people dismissing ereading technology, but whatever.  He was trying to make a point and that tag was likely why the video was so widely shared.  Clickbait works, y’all.

What really bothered me were the comments.  I know, I know, we should never read the comments.  BUT I ALWAYS DO.  Always.  I blogged for many years and I replied to almost every comment I received, even the assholes.  Wait, no.  ESPECIALLY the assholes.

Wonka strike that reverse it

So I see that the top voted comment (with over 3,000 likes as of this writing) is calling books – “REAL” BOOKS – works of art.  Which is fine, I guess. And then all of the replies to that, and the rest of the replies talking shit about ereaders and it got to the place it always does…where only REAL READERS understand the love of a new/old/never read/read a billion times BOOK.  REAL READERS, you guys.  BOOKS, not Kindles, not Nooks, not reading apps on your iPads or your phones, ONLY THE REAL FUCKING DEAL.  OTHERWISE YOU ARE NOT A “REAL READER.”

And that’s where I threw my hands up in the air and screamed “ZOMFG, FUCK YOU GUYS.” (I legit did this.  It scared my husband.)

I’m in my late 30s, y’all.  I’ve suffered from eczema over 80% of my body for most of my life, and I’ve suffered from arthritis in my hands and knees since I was in my teens.  Holding a real book is fucking painful as shit, if not imfuckingpossible most of the time.  I’m also super allergic to mold and dust, so most library books and used books are not something I can handle.  Like, at all.

But for realsies, you guys.  Even if I didn’t have eczema or allergies or arthritis…what the fuck of it?  Are the words I’m taking into my brainspace any less “real” because they’re delivered via an electronic medium?  If I read an article online, and the same article in a newspaper, does only one of them count as having been read?  If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to witness it, is some douchebalrog going to come along to argue that there was no tree in the first place?  Have I really only “read” a handful of books since 2009?!

It saddens me to hear that my proclivity for ereading makes me less of a “real reader.”  That the fact that I’ve been reading since I was four counts for nothing.  That the two hundred forty six books I read in 2014, the three hundred thirty four books I read the year before and the hundred sixty seven I read the year before that (the first year I actively kept track) don’t count because they weren’t all REAL BOOKS and I am NOT A REAL READER.

Let me tell you something about real readers.  Real readers read whatever the fuck they can get their hands on. Real readers read books, they read ebooks, they LISTEN TO BOOKS, they read labels on things sitting on the table, they NEVER leave their homes without something to read.  Real readers read cereal boxes, they read comics, they read trashy erotica and they read SOOPER SRS LITRUCHOOR.  They read mysteries and they read zombie novels, they read YA and they read Classics.

A real reader fucking reads.  Period.

Readers gonna read 2

[mic drop]


sj (never SJ) hates everything. Except books and music. Sometimes she hates those too. Ask her about drinkalongs.

37 thoughts on “Reading Rage: Your Ableist Real-Book Snobbery is Tiresome AF

  1. I read this while I was trying not to wake up this morning, and I wanted to comment but was too lazy to. I’m glad I didn’t because now I have so much more to say.

    First, the ranty bit about reading cereal boxes reminded me of The Twilight Zone episode (which I have since learned was based on a short story) Time Enough At Last about the guy Henry Bemis who wanted to read all the things and no one let him. SPOILER ALERT: then there was a nuclear apocalypse and then he had time to read. In his case, I think he would have preferred physical books to ebooks because there was no electricity to charge his Kindle. Good thing we don’t live in a post-apocalyptic world, amirite? Because that’s really the only advantage I can see of physical books over ebooks.

    Another thing to mention was that Henry Bemis wore very thick glasses. My guess is that he would have preferred an ereader to physical books because he could adjust the font size to make it easier for him to read. (Especially after his glasses broke! And assuming no nuclear apocalypse, of course.)

    Ok, so physical books as a work of art. Sure, some physical books are pretty. But we have the phrase “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” for this very reason. Some books don’t have the most attractive cover (or it’s a movie tie-in cover, the horror!), but we should be more impressed by the work of art within the pages. Saying that ebooks aren’t real books (or, even worse, aren’t art) craps all over the work of the author, editor, typesetter, et al.

    Also, digital photography. Would we say that a picture taken with a digital camera is not a real picture? No. And this analogy is crap because with film camera, there is skill involved in developing the film and processing the image. There is not a lot of skill needed to turn a page.

    I’m packing to move again. This will be my 9th address in 10 years (if I counted right because seriously?). I am so freaking sick of packing my books. I’m happy for the handful that I have in ebooks. That’s one less box.

    I have read that we read or process information differently on a computer than we do when we read things in hard copy. But I’m pretty sure we can overcome that. It’s not like reading it a natural thing that we never had to learn to do.

    • I totally had a Henry Bemis moment a few years ago when some steam while cooking fucket up the anti-glare coating on my glasses. I actually shouted “BUT THERE WAS TIIIIIIIIIIIME, NOW!”

      HOWEVER, I was able to adjust the font size on my reader to that size that only fits, like, 10 words on the page and I KEPT READING.

  2. Frankly, I don’t care what anyone else thinks about what I read, how much I read, or in what way my reading material is delivered.

    They can waste all the time they like disparaging anything but *real* books, I’m too busy reading to worry about it. P~

  3. One example why I like reading on my iPad:

    I recently read “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer. When I came upon words I wanted more information on — like crampon or sherpa — I could easily get the definition by just touching the screen.

    When he made reference to places on Everest like the Khumbu Icefall, or the Hillary Step, I could easily switch to a browser and see pictures and learn more about them.

    I could see pictures of the people he talked about in the book, and watch videos that enriched my reading experience even more.

    I could do all that with a physical book, but the chances of me actually putting it down so I can pick up a dictionary or go to my computer are very slim, especially if the urge hits somewhere inconvenient (like on the subway). Reading on the iPad is, for me, a rich and multi-leveled reading experience that I miss when I’m reading a physical book (which is very rare these days).

    P.S. I need to mention reading on the iPad is a pleasure for the aging eyes of a 40+ year old. With a simple touch I can enlarge the font size, and the backlit screen means not having to seek brightly lit seating or leaning towards a light source. I currently have a 700+ page book on the Russian Revolution (not available in ebook format) that I desperately want to continue reading, but the heft of it and its small print makes it a not-so-pleasurable reading experience.

    • Can we also talk about how amazing it is for books with end/footnotes? Infinite Jest needn’t scare people off anymore! And when I read the Annotated Lolita a few years ago, it was A GODSEND!

    • Ebooks have been a godsend to foreign-language students for the same reason. For one thing, the selection’s way better than most communities have at the bookstore. Also, as in your situation, student can load a Spanish-English dictionary to her Kindle and when she comes across a word she doesn’t know, she can just tap for a translation. What would take 10-15 seconds with paper is reduced on one second on a Kindle.

      That makes for a smoother, more comfortable, more rewarding reading process, and it also makes it a lot easier to at least try a book that’s more challenging than they’re used to.

    • I have the Kindle app on my desktop, my laptop, my phone, and my 12.2″ tablet. I read almost no dead-tree books anymore. I’ve had terrible eyesight for years, and the Kindle’s been a real godsend. When I was still reading dead-tree books, my husband frequently complained that the light from my nightstand lamp kept him awake. We recently took a trip, and I had my tablet with me. I was able to read in bed for a while after he fell asleep, and it didn’t bother him at all.

      I’ve been reading since roughly age 3. I switched to Kindle format because I was born with terrible eyesight, which has only gotten worse as I’ve aged (I’m 44 now). I defy anyone to tell me to my face that I’m not a “real reader.”

  4. I blogged about this, too. It is titled “Dear Haters” if anyone wants to click over and look for it. It’s embarrassingly angry, and I should look to editing it one day soon. Long story short, I was one of THEM for a long time. Not the “you’re not a real reader if you read e-books” bit, but the “I only love tree books, so I am the best reader” kind of way. Please forgive me.

    And i would argue that most of my books are not works of art. My new illustrated Harry Potter? Oh, yes. It is lovely. But my trade paperback of “Flowers In the Attic?” Uh, no. Do I love it and appreciate it? Of course. But I wouldn’t hang it on a wall and call it art. Actually, I’d hide it at the back of the closet because it’s VC Andrews.

    I don’t even get mad anymore. I laugh a little, shake my head, and I think “Your conversion might be around the corner.

    My husband bought me a back lit reader for Christmas. It is touch screen, and it is heaven. I’m having a flare-up of a chronic issue, and my hands are weak. Holding a book for any length of time causes cramping and fatigue. I can’t hold a book, but my pointer finger (or thumb, or nose if it comes right down to it) can turn a page with just a poke.

    So I say to those who sneer at e-readers, that’s like pointing to someone in a racing wheelchair and saying “Your marathon doesn’t count because you have wheels.”

    • I remember watching your conversion with glee. And not just because it meant I could buy books for you and just have them delivered instantly via email. “Oh, hey, Heather. You can’t read that book cos you can’t find it? BAM, JUST BOUGHT IT FOR YOU!”

      • This comment showed up in my notifications oddly, and it won’t let me comment from there. Numerous “comment failed” messages. I don’t know if CNN installed an insidious cookie (that’s my Sith name, by the way), or if my computer is old, or if it’s because this blog is self-hosted. ARRGGGH!

        Anyway, the comment I tried to post a crap-ton of times was “Because you’re the best.” You are patient with me when I am arrogant and stupid, and you teach me great things.

  5. I read both. I think there’s a purpose and a place for both. I don’t want paper books to go away, because they’re beautiful and wonderful and I’m a goddamn bookbinder and there are certain times I want no electricity and I’m an archaeologist and can’t stand the idea of losing texts to format incompatibilities in a millennium.

    HOWEVER…I own five different e-readers. I use them all the time. I love that I’ll still be able to read easily when my hands and eyes aren’t cooperating.

    The STORIES are real, people, and they’re what matters. The medium is, in fact, important and there are tricks that are really hard to do on an e-reader that are easy in print, but you know what? 90% of the time or better, it don’t matter. Get over it.

    (which is to say, preach it, sistah)

  6. I’ve had the reading slump to end all reading slumps the last year and a half. I find it incredibly difficult lately to read without falling asleep or drifting away. The only thing which has helped over this time period has been audiobooks. I’ve actually always been a fan of them (I used to have a big commute and it helped keep me sane), but whenever i talk to people about a book and they find out I listened to it, I tend to get weird looks, like I’m not really reading books or that I am lazy. I never got this! I love the storytelling aspect and I love it when the reader is fantastic and totally draws you in. Audiobooks have helped me get through some really tough patches and I dont know why I ten to get scoffs about them, especially from people who don’t even read. Whether its eBook, paper, audio; reading or listening to someone read is sharing in the experience of reading, and it is at least helping me hold on to one of my passions while my brain seems to fight against me otherwise.

    • The majority of my non-work-related reading is via audiobook and has been been for years. Some people seem to view audio as a shortcut or somehow easier than “real” reading. In my opinion, it is quite the opposite: audiobooks take far more concentration than print. With a printed book (hard copy or electronic), it is easy to skim back and remember where you are or what event a character may reference or even who a character has been revealed to be thus far. If you space out or get confused with an audiobook, it is much more difficult to find info you’ve already covered, so you learn to pay much closer attention over longer periods of time.

      As an example, George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series has a complexity of characters, and similarity of names between characters, that going in cold (i.e. no tv series, no print preread) and audiobook-ing the full series is, in my opinion, an exercise in concentration and staying present that is much more difficult than a visual reading.

      • I have a hard time with audiobooks for this exact reason. Without the tether of words on the “page,” my attention wanders and I get lost REALLY quickly.

  7. I can’t fathom people who are so medium-loyal they dismiss the convenience of the ebook for the usefulness and (sometimes) art of print. I have friends who are heavily on one side or the other–I’m a multimedia reader myself. Always have an iPad in my purse, a stack of books at my bedside, and an audiobook in my car. The content is the real prize, not how you access it! Everyone’s entitled to their preference, but there’s no reason that preference should really matter to anyone else.

  8. I love my sister dearly, but she is like that too. She’ll not ever get an e-reader because then you’ll miss out on all other aspects of reading than the words themselves. Excuse me for thinking that reading was about words lol.
    My mother finally got herself an e-reader and really likes it, but she maintains that books have personalities, and an e-reader does not. In a way she is right, but with the books I read… don’t make any difference.

    And then I have the additional handicap of reading ‘escape’ books. Never mind that I get depressed by literature, they are the only ‘real books’. Sigh.

  9. Every time I see a blog with a “I pledge to read the printed word” badge I vomit a little bit in my mouth, and I say that as someone who really likes printed books. Fun fact, you can like whatever the fuck you like without being a sanctimonious prick about it!

    • Yeah, the idea that words you read don’t actually change from medium to medium and that people shouldn’t be judgmental pricks is super duper troll-y.

    • “painful if completely or even slightly serious”

      Am a bit baffled by this unless you, yourself, are a troll. The author highlights significant physical difficulties that she has with printed books and you respond as a dismissive and entitled snot?

  10. For the most part, I have no difficulties reading print books (although trying to manage INFINITE JEST and its end-notes in the tub with one dry hand is rather difficult). I buy scores of print books, particularly from a few smaller presses that always have amazing covers and production value. Some of these also put in the interior design effort to elevate their print offerings over what can be offered in a convenient e-package (I have heard talk of one of them moving to a CBR format for e-offerings).
    BUT I also have a lot of e-books (including an ebook subscription to one of the aforementioned presses). It would be unmanageable to do otherwise (don’t have room for physical copies of those 2500 ebooks).
    AND there are a lot of fucking fantabulous stories out there that don’t make it to the printed page or are no longer available (tried to find a reasonably-priced copy of THE GIRL NEXT DOOR recently?). Decent litmags would have gone the way of the ghost if they short-sightedly limited themselves to print.
    In fact, if I were to do should a priggishly elitist thing like shame readers, I would shame people who aren’t consuming anything other than printed books because of the amazing writing that they are willfully blind to.
    But I wouldn’t do that. The only important choice is to consume art. Your method of consumption doesn’t fucking matter.

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  12. Just found this via r/writing – I think I want to get into a long term, non-committed relationship with this website. I am in lesbians with this site.

    Anyway, I want to throw down a bit of my perspective on this. (Well, a long ass rant)

    I work in a used book store, and I suppose that the real fear is that in the LONG TERM (read: well past my life time) my current trade MIGHT be a little difficult to go about doin’ for much more than the love of curating shelves for oddly specific, possibly devious reasons a la Mr. Penumbra, but for the moment, brother, business happens to be booming for us.

    We also sell new books from publishers, and I never fail to be astonished by how much and how fast we sell physical, brand spanking new copies – hardbacks, no less! – to our customers. The advent of ebooks is killing the physical book industry? Hell no! If anyone’s harming the book publishing industry, then they don’t need to look anywhere else but themselves. Their ridiculous price points for hard backs and their inability to swim with the speed of not just technology but the growth of human consciousness and creativity is a millstone of their own creation wrapped around their necks. On a personal note, I also say this to the ones that have failed to foster talent and have turned down amazing work to chase trends desperately – it’s sink or swim time, and repeating the same formula time and again isn’t going to work, especially when these retreads of old stuff sucks, in the age of GoodReads. You audience is only growing smarter, in spite of what you may have heard about the deadening effects of television and video games. Trust me, I work with these people every day – they know what they want, they want it at the best price and they’re increasingly better read. It’s a far harder sell to these people, who would oftentimes rather have five good books than pay for one book.

    Here’s a truth – the internet and ereaders/tablets/phones have opened up a whole world for people who might never have been interested much in reading to begin with. People without a book budget, who don’t have the space for physical books, people who for whatever reason cannot bring the books that they want to read home or with them for fear of being shamed for their reading choices. These people can now carry much of the collective wealth that human civilization has been able to commit to the world – on their phones.

    I speak, mostly, of those under the age of 18. The most crucial time for a reader, my theory, at least, is in middle and high school. The ability to read a variety of material, mostly off of the school cirriculum, builds tastes that will hopefully be built upon as they go through the bulk of their life. Those phones they carry in their pockets are amazing devices that offer a whole world of perspective of the outside world – and more than a few insular worlds as well, as long as they know what they can do with them.

    The internet offers an amazing chance for readers, an endless sea of opportunity that makes the once singular activity of reading a chance to connect with other people – hell, to make reading and fandom an interactive experience. Just look at the phenomenon that I myself grew up with, which is Harry Potter.

    I don’t think that it’s incidental that Harry Potter became such an unquestionable influence on all of fiction as it was written and published along with, while not the advent of it, surely the popularization and the opening of the doors of the internet to the mass. The internet afforded, and continues to afford its fans a chance to create a global community, the likes of which has never before been able to be realized. I’m sorry, guys, but if that doesn’t stir something in you at least, then I don’t know if even a hug from Mr. Rogers would be able to fix you.

    And, for those Harry Potter fans, imagine having to carry all 8 books with you if you wanted to read them all! I speak as someone with an overabundance and then some of books, but if I were to have to drastically downsize, I would weep at losing my old Harry Potters right along with my Phillip K. Dick extra-awesomesauce box set, but those books are available to me if I want them to – and all readable on my crap-tastic G Vista, if I so wanted.

    A lot of libraries now loan ebooks out via an app called Overdrive, and anyone with a library card has a growing selection of books to choose from for their reading pleasure. Ebooks are also far preferrable in price to new hard backs, and ebooks are a better deal for both the consumer and the writer, especially with less middle man between both to take a cut of the writer + possible illustrator’s money. Ebooks also allow for a wider variety of things to be published than would ever see the light of day – what a publisher would turn their nose up at for fear of it never being profitable can become the next overnight bestseller – and much cheaper than how they would sell it. Yes, I am purposefully forgetting those Bigfoot eroticas that really show why publishers remain good gatekeeps of quality, for the most part, but how can I help but grin at the idea of what “self-published” used to mean twenty years ago, and what it CAN mean, now? This is not even going into the already well-stated point of how ereaders especially can make reading accessible to those that physical books offer trouble, increasing font sizes/changing the fonts.

    Mind you, I am being optimistic, so forgive me for my effusive joy here, but I cannot help but see amazing things headed for readers in the future. Unknown and strange, yes, but I myself am a connesieur of the Weird, so I can’t wait for the day when I eventually go out and get myself another eReader. As a writer, ebooks afford me a chance that I would have never had back when I was learning about the process of publishing in high school. Now I can (and probably will) take the manuscripts I am currently working on and sell them myself in ebook format.

    For all of these reasons, I see someone who sees the future of books in a digital format as a dire and fearful thing as, in all likelihood, more than a little… ignorant of the effects of technology on the acts of reading, writing and publishing. I am not telling you to throw your physical books out – far from it, sell them to me and then buy some more, while we’re at it! – but you do you, I do me, everybody else can do themselves, and then maybe later we can all do each other. If you’re into that, that is.

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