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I read an article in the Washington Post a few days ago about the nature of books and content as it exists today. He talked about how you no longer “own” a book or a music file anymore—that it exists in this place in the sky, you borrow it from a virtual shelf, and put it back. If you lose your music file—it’s gone. If the company you bought your book from goes under in bankruptcy—gone.

He discussed that, in turn, this means you no longer “own” that book, that you cannot hold it in your hands and turn the pages, that it’s much easier to lose that electronic book as time passes than if you owned something tangible. A real book can be destroyed by water, fire, tearing the pages out. An electronic one only needs to get deleted by accident, Borders needs to go under, your reading device just has to stop working.

(Mind you, this was in an article discussing the ability to actually ban books—it’s nearly impossible to ban a book when you can jump on the internet and read it anyway. Just because the local bookstore and library don’t have a copy no longer means that you can’t find one.)

But this discussion of owning a book intrigues me. It seems he looks down on e-books, on mp3s, on any piece of writing or sound that you can’t hold in your hands before giving it a read or hearing the notes.

Isn’t that the nature of evolution? Well, evolution of technology.

There was a long time where you couldn’t own music, anyway—you had to create it. You couldn’t rewind a cassette tape or readjust the needle on a record. If you wanted to hear a song again, you had to go to someone else who could play it. You’d listen, you’d enjoy it, and you’d leave. A piece of it would leave with you, yes, but unless you had the money to own an instrument, you were done. There were no recording devices, just live acts.

Same for books. Stories are, first and foremost, an oral tradition. Poetry is often something that needs to be heard many times and many different ways. Fairy tales were told through the countryside. And then, even when books began, they were restricted to the religious in society. Later, the elite.

It’s only in recent times that literature has become accessible to everyone.

So what is this problem with electronic files and media?

Suddenly, everyone can hear a song. Suddenly, everyone can read a book, if they so choose.

No, I don’t think anything can replace a solid book in my hands, that smell of dust and old paper. Trust me, I love books.

But since when did loving a book meaning loving the object and not the content inside?

E-books and e-book readers are a great thing. Suddenly, you can read almost anything anywhere. Soon, I’ll be able to bring my entire Harry Potter collection with me wherever I go, without carrying an extra 20 pounds in weight.

I still give friends real, physical, books. I still like to own my favorite stories and place them on a shelf. I still have a stack two-feet high on my nightstand. I have five in my office at work, and usually at least one in the car.

But I have over 100 on my e-reader. Some were free, like the classics and like fairy tales. Some are books and stories that friends have written. Some are brand new, only came out two weeks ago.

Do I hold them in my hands? No. Not in the way everyone seems obsessed with doing. But the content is still there for me to enjoy, and I can still come tell you what happened, even if my copy is electronic and not made out of paper.

Again, I ask, since when did loving a book mean loving the object and not the content inside?


People write for different reasons. Of course, foremost, it’s for yourself. Some authors describe it as an itch, a disease, a compulsion. Whatever it is, it drives you. It consumes you, it is you, though sometimes it leaves you behind for a while.

But there are also the people and events you write for. For me, that would be my grandmother.

The first poem I remember writing I wrote for my grandmother’s funeral when I was 11. It wasn’t a particularly good poem, and I drew pictures of frogs and flowers all over the sheet and printed it out by hand in the best handwriting I could muster. I still have it folded away in a pile of old writings somewhere. Perhaps somewhere more precious than that, even. It’s kept safe.

The first story I remember writing and being proud of was a story about her. It was of feeding the koi fish in her pond, of how her house was gutted and rebuilt to something prettier, but entirely unlike her. It was about her flowers and how I’ve never seen a garden like hers since.

That story, looking back and reading it, isn’t particularly good either. But it sure beat the story about a group of kids who travelled to an alternate universe to save the magical unicorn, and the story about mismatched high school romances, and the story about a mermaid who comes to live with her true love—and then leaves him for the ocean.

I wrote it around the time that I learned that writing was a passion. That poem, and that story, were for my grandmother. Many stories after that were for her, too, though from a more subtle angle.

Shortly after writing that story (I was 15 at the time), I found a book of poetry among my grandmother’s things. It’s not a particularly good book of poetry—think’s printed anthology. But I found a poem she wrote in there, and I connected to it. I can’t tell you now what it is about, but I’m sure it was about flowers and living life to the next day. It rhymed. It was asymmetrical down the page.

It wasn’t the best poem in the world.

But it was hers, and for the first time in years I realized that we were similar. That we had something in common that the young me didn’t know.

Every day when I was a kid (think between the ages of 3 and 6) I went home to my grandmother’s house. She let me take my shoes off as soon as I got in the house, because she knew I hated them. She taped Nick Jr. for me, because I loved David the Gnome. We sat at the back window of her room and looked out at her pond and her flowers and the white birch trees. We drew together, we played with the dollhouse she made me, we wore jewelry. She let me bang the keys on her old typewriter. We caught turtles and frogs and crayfish. We dug for worms. She smelled like lipstick and powder and dirt.

Those are the memories of my grandmother I have when she was alive. Even later, when I was 9 and 10 and 11, she lived in our house for a while. So I remember coming home and talking to her. I don’t remember what we talked about, but that she sat in the gray chair with pink threads–we still have it at my parents’ house.

So, here I was at 15, and I found something else we had in common. It took a few years for my mother to tell me that she wrote a book. That my uncle had found it and wanted to keep it.

Trust me–I threw a fit. I was 18 and threw a tantrum. I’m not proud of it, but I don’t regret it either.

In a drawer I have her draft copies of this novel, and I have the bound copy she sent for review. It was never published and I can understand why–it’s long. It needs to be pared down. It needs to be edited. I wish I had been there to edit it for her. That’s a goal of mine, on my bucket list: edit her book to what it could be. Who knows if it will ever be published or if it will just be for me and her. But I will finish it. I have the first few chapters typed up already.

She is who I write for. For frogs and azaleas and the smell of old lipstick at the bottom of a purse. For vintage jewelry and flower-patterned sweatshirts, for digging in the dirt for worms and catching turtles only to set them free. For letting the garden snake live in her bushes, for feeding the koi in her pond. For being everything I didn’t know she was until it was too late: a chemist, a woman who loved her son a bit too much, a writer.

I’ve always wanted a typewriter of my own. I like the old ones, the fat ones, the tall ones, the short ones, the pink ones, the heavy black ones. I love them all. But I never thought about going out and finding one. I look for them in antique stores but they’re expensive and I don’t know if they work. I looked again online and, eventually, I want to buy a nice one. A pretty one.

Except I found hers. It doesn’t work, the carriage sticks, and the ribbon is torn. Some keys are loose and it’s too heavy to reasonably move, but it is hers.

Tomorrow I am going to bring it to a Typewriter man, who will fix it for me.

I hope this beast will come back to life.

With the ability to self-publish on places like Amazon and Barnes and Noble and Smashwords, there is a lot of variety in what you can find and read. If you’re like me, you love a cheap book or a free read–with the amount of indie authors publishing out there, getting a good book for pennies isn’t out of the question. But when you take a risk on that .99 cent book, you’re rolling the dice in terms of finding something that was edited till it shined, written in a way that sends shivers up your spine, and loved by its author past the day they decided they wanted to make a dime on the internet.

There is a vast mixture of indie writers out there. And with people like Amanda Hocking getting success–if you haven’t heard of her, you can’t have heard of anything from the indie writer world–it’s hard to believe that this is all bad. Or all good.

Amanda Hocking, as she herself has said and as many others will admit, is an anomaly. She hit the market with the right content at the right time. She hit the jackpot, and good for her. She worked hard for it.

There is a misconception that publishing as an indie author is easy. Even the people who have less-than-great novels had to work hard for it. You have to have a nice enough cover. You have to get an ISBN number. You have to write a blurb, you have to advertise, you have to convince people that their .99 cents is best spent on you.

Still, I have found that among my friends the prevailing thought is that indie authors aren’t worth the risk.

Trust me–I have read my fair share of awful indie writers. I’ve read books and series of books thinking, “At some point, I need to put this down and walk away.” I’ve tried reaching out to the authors of fairly good books to try to help their book become better. (The reasons why they probably don’t respond, why they’re stubborn and believe there is no room for improvement–that is another story for another day.) But I have read the books that make my eyes hurt and make me forget how a sentence could sound when it is beautiful. They make me forget that Mary Sue and Gary Stu are not what we want to be. They break my writing soul and yet, honestly, sometimes I just read them. My brain shuts down and I wonder how easy life can be when these people can sell books.

Admittedly, that is a problem in this world. People like me–worse, people who leave reviews of 5 stars for a 1-star book–reward people who should step back. Let their skills develop or understand that they have strengths in other places, that someone can help. The filter in traditional publishing doesn’t exist in this virtual world.

However, I have also read published books, at $10.99 or more, that shouldn’t exist, either. The world isn’t a perfect place.

But, still, aside from the bad–there is the good. There is so much good. There is good that people won’t look at because it doesn’t have Ballentine or Thor or Scholastic or a New York Times review plastered on the back. There are books that people brush off, because this person had to “self-publish,” as if it were an unforgivable sin. There are books that people cannot believe can be good, just because someone important didn’t read them.

If that is the case–how is anything going to change?

I want to tell you that there is a lot of bad in indie publishing. There are authors who are publishing before their time, who are editing 70000+-word books in 30 days. There are plots that don’t add up, and characters that never talk to you.

But more importantly, I want to tell you that there is a lot of good. I enjoy Amanda Hocking–she does well for what she does. I love JL Bryan–he came out around the same time as Amanda Hocking, did the same amount of work, and yet… he remains under the radar. But he has books that chill the marrow in my bones and circulate charged blood through my heart. His stories, his characters–they’re beautiful.

And he’s not the only indie author who can do this.

Give it a chance.

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