The Physical Constraints of a Book

As I sit here reading during my daughter’s nap time—the recently-released The David Foster Wallace Reader, essentially a D.F.W. “Greatest Hits” album—I’m reminded of an essay I wrote eight months ago:

I Paid That Bribe: Helping Amazon To Make My Life Worse

And I’m reminded of it because I’m not actually reading. I’m struggling to read. Why? Because The David Foster Wallace Reader weighs less than two ounces shy of three pounds. It’s over two inches thick. The density of pages makes reading the words towards the spine of the book, at most “normal” reading angles, almost impossible.

In short: it is not a good consumer experience.

Has anyone been able to explain why, in 2014, buying the hardcover edition of a book still doesn’t get you a download code for the ebook? Because I can’t think of a single reason why. I know that somewhere on a Little, Brown computer the electronic file of T.D.F.W.R. already exists! It existed digitally before it existed on paper. And yes, I’m fully aware the ebooks and digital text files are not the same thing, but just as there are just-the-movie DVDs and Criterion Collection Blu-rays, it seems like there is monetary value (to say nothing of customer satisfaction) to be created in giving away a just-the-text ebook of new releases.

I understand the (touted, at least) nostalgia for books. And I admit that there is no perfect ebook delivery system. I vacillate between ereader experience. The Kindle’s lightness is amazing, but it’s screen and typography is garbage. And LCD screens, no matter how dim, are still screens and do strain the eyes eventually. But I mean, look at this monster:

Yes, that’s an iPad Mini next to it.

We’ve progressed past the point of having to endure the physical constraints of a book in order to enjoy it. Reading David Foster Wallace is a pleasurable experience for me, an act that makes my brain feel good. I can’t understand why people charged with making money off of this sensation would want to put a roadblock between me and it.

The Book Publishing Industry has been in the news a lot lately. It wants to prove its worth to its customers. A good way to start? By joining the rest of us in the future.