I Am An E-book Convert

The image shows a pair of hands holding an ereader with a remote sandy beach, rocky hills, and a turquoise sea and hazy blue sky in the background.

By Alan S.

I am a recent convert to the pleasures of an e-book. I appropriately played the T-Rex who needed help in a recent Facebook video. I have always preferred physical books over eBooks, enjoying the feel of holding a book in my hand more than the feel of a tablet or phone. I resisted the call of eBooks for a while. Working in a library, all of those printed books were right in front of me. Why choose to look at a screen? What would ever make me choose to read a book on a device?

The first thing that changed my feelings about the electronic version was packing for trips, especially those requiring plane travel. When taking a road trip, it is easy to fill a bag with books and throw them in the trunk. This is not so simple when you are packing for a plane ride. I started packing one or two physical books, then downloading a few e-books as a backup. I still usually take at least one physical book on a trip, but tend more toward eBooks when traveling. I’m sure my family likes the extra space to pack other things.

An increase in the number of audiobooks I listened to also led to an increased use of eBooks. My car is still equipped with a CD player, so a book on CD is an option, but there are benefits to an eAudiobook. The biggest is the lack of a need to change CDs. I hated listening to a book in the car and getting to the end of a CD with no safe way to change to continue the book. With eAudio, the book continues without your help. I have also learned the joy of increasing the speed on some books. When reading for an assignment, or if the reader reads very slowly, I can listen at a faster speed and still enjoy the book (I might also be a tad impatient).

If you are ready to join me as an eBook convert, see HCLS’ resources.

If you need help accessing your eBooks or with any of our other online resources, please join us for live Online Tech Time Wednesday, July 22 at 11:30 am. Other sessions of this useful class will be offered in the future.

Alan has worked for HCLS for just under 25 years, currently at the Savage Branch. He enjoys reading, television, and most sports.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang

The cover shows a dark background with the title and author's name in slate blue graphics. The letters look like they are dissolving into stars, with the dark background as outer space.

By Eric L.

Ted Chiang is not only a writer, he’s a computer scientist who is employed as a technical writer, as far as I know. This is Chiang’s second short story collection (a story from his previous collection, Stories of Your Life and Otherswas adapted into the movie Arrival). 

Frankly, I was rather surprised that Exhalation was selected by The New York Times Book Review as one of the best fictional books of 2019, but it’s well deserved. That said, I’d implore you to give this collection a read even you’re not into sci-fi. These stories, like all great science fiction, are only superficially about science and the future.  

Although Chiang alludes to the technical aspects of whatever he’s describing, it’s all just the backdrop. Like all the great sci-fi writers, he uses imagined technological advancements of the future as the setting to tell beautiful existential tales. His stories concern how societies employ technology and, subsequently, how it changes individuals in profound ways.

There is a story about “raising” a computer program/avatar that not only interacts in virtual reality, but also actual reality. One story concerns a rigid time travel portal; another is about the perils of a robot nanny; an interesting one is about a mechanism attached to the eye that can record every moment (you can share the footage with your friends). My favorite features a machine that gives users the ability to communicate with a version of themselves that has made different life choices. 

I hope these descriptions will not scare readers away. It seems odd to even contemplate how rapid technological advancement could not change us. Some of the stories are better than others but they’re all worth a read, and I don’t think they’re overly melancholy. Recurring themes include acceptance, free will, masculinity, and control.  

I find Chiang’s work similar to that of Philip K. Dick. Chiang even describes how one of the stories included was inspired by an old Dick short story. Although I wanted to interpret the stories myself, I couldn’t resist reading the story notes at the end of the collection.

Special thanks to my book discussion group for helping me think through some of these ideas through a conversation over the internet.

Exhalation is also available as an eaudiobook through OverDrive/Libby and CloudLibrary, and as an ebook through OverDrive/Libby

Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the Elkridge branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside and people.