List of Reading Posts
UPDATED March 27, 9:36 AM: New information about Clean Reader’s status as a book reseller has come to light … see footnote.
UPDATED AGAIN March 27, 10:43 AM: The point has been raised that Clean Reader is marketed as a way to censor books for kids, which raises a lot of thorny issues … see footnote.
A lot of online ink has already been spilled over a controversial new app called Clean Reader. It aims to get naughty words out of your eBooks, and it works by substituting these words with “cleaner” alternatives. “Fuck,” for example, gets replaced by “freak,” which would make Freaks and Geeks a totally different TV show if this were reversed. It also replaces “Jesus Christ,” apparently, which would probably make The Bible a confusing read, especially with all the “damns” and “hells” in there.
In response to the existence of this absurd thing, authors are sharpening their pitchforks en masse. Nothing gets an author’s back up quite like censorship, to the point that even the insinuation of it causes blood to boil. Some are corresponding with Clean Reader, ripping the app developer a new one and demanding to have their books de-listed (Clean Reader, for the record, seems to be taking these requests seriously and acting on them). Others are posting persuasive legal arguments on why Clean Reader’s actions are against the spirit of the law, if not the letter. Here’s a good summary by Chuck Wendig, a man whose books would be rendered completely illegible by the app.
I’ll summarize my view right off the bat: I think Clean Reader is fucking stupid (yes, the wording there is intentional). And of course I am opposed to censorship of creative works. But what Clean Reader does is not illegal, immoral, or any of the other hyperbole being thrown around right now. Continue Reading
Last night, my wife was reading her new Kobo Arc 7 with a frown on her face.
“Something wrong with your Kobo?” I asked.
“The Kobo’s fine,” she said. “It’s just that there’s a book I want to read, and it’s thirteen bucks on the Kobo Store. I don’t get it. How can an eBook possibly cost that much? It makes me wonder why anyone would even bother owning an e-Reader!”
As an author publishing in the eBook domain, I am acutely familiar with the many facets of this problem. My first foray into publishing, the eBook edition of Winterwakers Part 1, was released into the world on October 28, 2014. I priced it at $2.99, and it will likely remain at that price for a while yet.
By pure coincidence, one of the other books released on October 28 was Yes Please by Amy Poehler. She is one of the most talented comedians in existence, and by all accounts a fantastic human being. I’m kind of proud that we both published our debut books on the same day. Plus, it means that if I ever meet her in person, we can have the following conversation:
ME: “Amy Poehler, hi … I’m Matt Perkins, and my first book came out on the same day as your first book! Isn’t that amazing?”
AMY POEHLER: (engulfs me in a cloud of pepper spray and runs away)
The eBook edition of Yes Please is currently priced at $17.28. For the price of Ms. Poehler’s book, you could buy five copies of my book and ride the Paris Metro. Or, interestingly, you could pay an extra $1.33 (not including shipping) to get the hardcover edition of her book.
Do these prices seem out of whack to you? You, and my wife, are not alone.
The idea of an eBook and a hardcover being even close to the same price doesn’t make intuitive sense. A hardcover book is a physical product. It costs money to print and bind. It takes up space in a warehouse, space in a delivery truck, and space on a bookstore’s shelves. A sizable percentage of a hardcover book’s retail price reflects all that. It’s incorrect to say that an eBook has no manufacturing, storage, or delivery costs, but when compared to the hardcover format, said costs are effectively nil.
So where’s all that money going? And why are some eBooks, like mine, priced far lower than a typical hardcover book?
You may not know this (truthfully, I didn’t until I did some research on this topic), but last week was Banned Books Week. Ironically, you may have heard that this was also the week when a very popular book was banned by a California school district. The Fault in Our Stars, John Green’s tragic young adult romance novel about teens dying of cancer, was banned from middle schools in Riverside.
This is, of course, only the most recent and most public example of a book ban. The American Library Association keeps a list of what they call “Frequently Challenged Books”; the implication being that book bans – successful or attempted – are a regular enough occurrence that there is a substantial catalog of them. A quick glance at the top 100 banned/challenged books from 2000-2009 reveals a surprising array of blockbuster hits, literary classics, and critical darlings.
Given that so many people seem to want to ban so many books, you’d think there must be some kind of slightly reasonable justification for the practice. Sure, there are always reasons given for particular bans – inevitably there is some kind of offensive material or subject matter in the book – but I’ve never seen a justification for book banning as a concept. I think the reason for this is simple: book banning is stupid and unjustifiable in all cases. There is not, nor has there ever been, a sensible excuse for banning a book.
Let’s look at the thought process that went into banning The Fault in Our Stars, as a case in point. The following quote is from the article I linked to above.
Arlington principal and committee member Betsy Schmechel questioned whether students could handle reading about terminally ill teens.
“The thing that kept hitting me like a tidal wave was these kids dealing with their own mortality, and how difficult that might be for an 11-year-old or 12-year-old reading this book,” she said, later adding she thinks the review process worked. “If you have a process in place like this, then you have a way for anyone to be heard.”
Right here, we can see a proposed justification for banning this particular book, and a bonus argument for the book banning process itself. In the case of Fault, the committee (whose role is apparently to decide which books to ban) thinks that kids dealing with their own mortality is a “difficult” subject for a middle-school student to read about.
I will say this up front, unequivocally: Principal Schmechel is right about the book. Dealing with mortality is difficult for a mature adult, let alone a kid, and a book about a dying teenager is not going to be a light read. But that’s the point! A book like The Fault in Our Stars is supposed to be challenging. It’s supposed to make you think about death, and consider your own ideas about what it means to die young. If an 11-year-old reads this book and feels unnerving, complicated things about mortality, John Green has succeeded. More importantly, the 11-year-old has new knowledge about dying young, and new thoughts, feelings and reactions to all this new knowledge. That’s learning. That’s growth. Continue Reading