Turning Over a (Digital) Leaf

by Michael P. Murphy on January 1, 2007 - 1:32pm

QUEST Vol. 14, No. 1

For more than 20 years, I've read with the aid of a page turner, which is basically an easel upon which a book/magazine rests. By pressing a switch, a mechanical arm swings across, presses a lump of putty into the right-hand page, swings back and (hopefully) turns the page.

When a page turner works, it's a miracle. When it doesn't work, it's a source of anger and frustration. If the putty doesn't stick, the page won't turn at all. If the putty sticks too well, the page is torn instead of turned. At times like this, a steady stream of expletives coming from my room informs everyone that my page turner isn't working!

In order to preserve my sanity - not to mention my happy home - I recently took the plunge and tried an electronic book - or e-book. I ended up reading six of them in one month.

Understand, I love technology. Whether it's the ventilator that keeps me breathing, the computer that allows me to work, do research and correspond, or the air conditioning that helps me through the hot, muggy summers, technological tools have made my life as a person with a disability not only possible, but enjoyable.

Nevertheless, I was reluctant to sample digital media. I've loved books all my life - not just reading, but admiring the craftsmanship of leather-bound volumes and the fun (often garish) cover art from pulp paperbacks. And if you're as big a comic book fan as I am, you'll know that the very smell of old newsprint can be downright intoxicating.

E-books have none of these qualities. They do, however, possess one advantage over their paper ancestors:

They work.

Handicapped people have always used new technology to improve their lives, and I hope that this will be no different. Expense should be no great obstacle. Most online retailers sell e-books at prices equal to, or slightly less than, their hard-copy counterparts. For instance, I recently read a nonfiction e-book that sells in bookstores, in hardcover, for around $30, while I only paid $18.

As for the software needed to read on your PC or Palm pilot, many (but not all) retailers provide it free of charge - probably thinking that once you sign up with one of the online e-book services, they'll make more money in the long term by feeding your e-book addiction.

Earlier this year, I let my subscription to Playboy magazine expire, and signed up for the digital version instead. Rather than arrive in my mailbox every month, each issue is now downloaded right onto my computer. It's probably the greatest invention since the Mounds bar.

I'm not about to trash my page turner, mainly because I have several shelves groaning under the weight of unread books and magazines. Also, some rarer and more obscure titles aren't (yet) available electronically. Nevertheless, reading is such a vital source of education, enlightenment and entertainment that it'd be ridiculous not to take advantage of this new medium. After all, it's the content that's important, not the method of conveyance. Enjoy!

Michael P. Murphy, who has spinal muscular atrophy, is the author of two science fiction novels and one mystery/thriller, available in both paperback and e-book format at authorhouse.com. Some of his other favorite e-book sites include ebooks.com, fictionwise.com and ereader.com

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