Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Romance of the Train

As you read this Kim and I are boarding Amtrak for Washington, D.C.’s, Union Station. Today is the start of the RWA National conference and I love that I get to take the most romantic form of transportation to get there. There’s something about a train that just calms, relaxes, and excites me. Have you ever noticed that nearly all children, at some point or another, fall in love with trains? Amazing since so few actually get to ride or even see them regularly. Well, I for one have never outgrown that fascination.

Like trains, I think books hold their own form of romance and I think that for many, the hesitation toward ebooks, ereaders, and epublishing is the loss of romance. Will a book still hold the same fascination when 90% of what we’re reading comes electronically? Or will ebooks be the air travel of today? No more peanuts, no more toothbrush, and no more waving to friends and family from the jetway, just serving the purpose we need them to serve? There’s no way of knowing for sure what is going to happen to books. Only time will tell, right? The one thing I do know is that for those of us involved in publishing (and that means those of you who read the blog too), no matter what happens our romantic fascination with reading and the written word will never go away. In fact, I’m not even convinced that the bound paper book we know today will go away. Just like trains, those paper books will have their problems, but hopefully, at least for the romance of it all, they’ll stick around in some fashion or another, because, while I love my Kindle, nothing beats the smell, feel, and versatility of paper.

For the next two days (three if you’re lucky) I’ll be posting directly from the conference. For those of you who are not part of the romance community, or have no interest in it, I will try to make sure my posts cross genre lines as much as possible. For now, though, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the clickety-click of the train as we head through the cities and countryside of the Northeastern United States.



Hillsy said...

You evidently haven't commuted into London.

There's not much romantic about having your nose wedged into someone's sweaty armpit for 45 minutes twice a day who is the *exact* opposite of Megan Fox (namely fat, ugly and male)

word verification - Cytormot: Any of the numerous genus of insane killer Motorbikes

Nayuleska said...

I think books will always have an appeal (I love them), but e-publishing looks from my view to be a grewing media. Maybe all books in several decades will retain the paper form, but also be available for e-readers should people wish to purchase it in that form.

I wonder how libraries would go about lending books to e-readers? Maybe they'd use a password for readers to log on.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

If it is romance with books,I'm hopelessly in love. I admit to adoring books in paper form, to gazing at covers, turning pages. I spend enough time writing, blogging, researching and e-mailing via computer screen. I want to curl up with a real-live book.

B.E. Sanderson said...

I love trains. Something about all that power moving goods and people across vast distances. As I was reading this, I could hear the morning freight train passing through town. :happy sigh:

Anyway, I think eventually everything will convert to electronic, but I don't think hardcopy books will ever be phased out entirely. Here's hoping they never disappear because the experience of holding a book in your hand and flipping pages is too wonderful to die out.

imabooklova said...


I completely agree. I love to walk through a bookstore and take in the array of colors from shelves and to pick up a book and feel the texture of the cover and pages. I guess that I am like Jessica in that I also love the smell of a book, which goes back to the days when I would have my nose buried in a Nancy Drew mystery. I remember their distinct scent still. Often it would take extreme measures on the part of my parents to pry my nose out of said mysteries, which accompanied me everywhere.

I do not yet have an e-reader of any sort but I have read books on my computer. For me, it's just not the same. Until an e-reader romances me the same, my bookshelves will continue to overflow.

Hillsy said...

Of Course you could have a number of "display models" that you peruse in your local book shop and then take your selection to the counter where you will be given an SD card or have it digitally uploaded direct to your Kindle.

You'll probably find that eReaders will attempt to mimic the book as much as possible, so turning pages with a touchscreen flick of a finger, perhaps even use those new led screens so the eBooks are ultra slim and bendy.

Personally....I like the idea of not having to carry 2 books on the train during the commute in case I finish one. Just have to earn enough to afford an eReader...hehe

Word verification - inersup: the opposite to Outersdown

Rick Daley said...

I prefer real books to ebooks. I also prefer a trip to brick and mortar stores to shopping online. There are some cases where a quick Google search may lead to a purchase, but that is to shopping what blogging and general surfing is to reading.

Have a safe trip!

Mame said...

I hate to say never, but I will never have a hand held, electronic media device for reading books. I want a BOOK. I think there's a lot of people out there who feel the same way, enough to keep printing.

Mira said...

How totally fun to take a train ride to a Romance conference. I hope you both have a very relaxing and lovely time.

I love trains myself. You can go places in trains that you can't in cars and airplanes. There are train rides through mountains in Canada, Alaska and Europe that I've heard are wonderful.

Books - I love real books, especially old favorites with their covers. I imagine there will always be a market for them. They'll survive where the record and VCR tapes didn't, for example, because there is no special technology required to use them. So, those who have printing presses will always find a market - that's what I think. Whereas record players and VCRs - very hard to find nowadays. People are almost forced to buy DVDs. That won't be the same with the 'real' book. Easier access.

Anonymous said...

Paper books will never be completely phased out.

When RK and laser surgery came about, everyone said that the profession of optometry would be obsolete within a few years. No one would need glasses for anything. It's been over 20 yrs now and optometry, as well as opticians, are doing just fine. Laser surgery isn't for all, just like electronic books aren't. People just get caught up in the excitement and jump the gun.

Likewise, computers occupy every home and office yet, we all have plenty of paper trails, bills, paper files etc...And think of how long computers have been around!

Sure, paper is getting phased out to a certain exent (environmental reasons and all), but I don't see it disappearing. Many of us still have a love of old furniture and collectibles. We don't all decorate with space age flare.

BUT, if somehow the world stopped printing traditional books, think of how rich our grandchildren and their children would be! All those antique books in their grandparent's attic...of course, by then, we would all be antiques too.

Word verif: subyths - suburban myths (like paper books becoming obsolete)

Unknown said...

I'm going to the conference too! (Though I live in Baltimore, so I'll be getting there by automobile.) I've never been on a train (unless the monorail at Disney World counts), but my toddler is starting to fall in love with them, so I'm sure that will change soon.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

Trains are magical. They show up in my writing from time to time, especially in my songs. "Lying in the darkness, waiting for the train, to signal time is passing by, passing by again..." Every time my husband or I hear one in the distance we mention it. We love that sound.

We went to Northlandz in Flemington, NJ a couple of months ago - it's the largest model railroad exhibit in the country with more than eight miles of track to walk through! Other train fanatics, like Neil Young, have been there. It's even got a little train that rides around the property. You should check it out.

Enjoy your romantic ride to your romance conf. DC rocks!

loveskidlit said...

Until they make a kindle you can use to make a spitwad...

Katey said...

I love the track from Penn to Union Station. So much better than flying. Hope you enjoyed it!

I'll always want books on my shelves and in my hands, but that doesn't mean I don't love e-readers as well. There's room for both in my house. (Hey, the more ways to read, the better, right?)

Anonymous said...

my wife is on the train to DC going to RWA too. If you see -- tell her I love her!

-signed "trapped at home with the toddler"

Rick Daley said...

I don't think you can really compare books to tapes, VCR, DVD, and whatever will come next.

Scrolls and parchments have been around for thousands of years, and civilizations have been founded based on their contents. We took the leap from handwriting to the printing press as a means of mass production in 1440. Printed books have made it over five-and-a-half centuries.

The first home VCR was introduced in 1965; DVD really started to take over in the early 2000's. Now we have Blu-Ray gaining acceptance, and VCR's have gone the way of the rotary dial phone and the TV that doesn't have a remote control.

But books are still there.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jessica and Kim,
Have a great time at the conference. I so agree with you, both about trains and books (and drugstores that have a counter where you can order an ice cream soda, and . . .)
Have you read Martha Grimes' "The Train Now Departing"? I recommend it to everyone. I was sucked in, to start with, by the cover photo (a woman on a train) and the title.

Marsha Sigman said...

I normally love all technology that makes our lives easier and rush to embrace it but the idea that a book will be replaced by cold hard electronics makes me incredibly sad.

Its more than the story, its the feel, the smell, and the pleasure of turning each page to discover what waits on the other side.

Elisa said...

I took the train from Raleigh, NC to Penn Station (and back again) this past Christmas. It was long and exhausting, but so much better than flying! Something pleasurable about staring out the window and thinking about nothing and everything at the same time.

And I too have that romantic love for the tactile book: the sight, the smell, the feel, even the sound of them! I can't see books ever going away. They're more than objects -- they're keepsakes.

Enjoy the conference -- wish I cold be there!

Anonymous said...

Enjoy. Have fun at the conference. I've never been on a train, so I'll live vicariously through you.

The Rejection Queen said...

I've never read a book on train. Interesting...

M. Dunham said...

If you get a chance, I'd love to know who ends up winning best book in their individual categories. If you can't, I understand.

Lillian Robinson said...

I vote for trains and paper!

Christina said...

See - I can't see myself letting go of the physical form of books anytime soon.

I can understand e-readers from the view point of someone who is traveling constantly or who just looking for the convenience of it, but I love the paper version too much to get an e-reader.

I read for enjoyment; not just as a way to pass the time. So I purposefully, find a quiet place, snuggled up in a cozy chair with a cup of coffee and my favorite book. It is my time to savor, and I think Jessica is right that an e-reader takes the romance right out of it. I need the sensory aspect of reading the book as much as needing a good story. It just makes experience that much better.

Alan Payne said...

I must confess, I misunderstood the title of this post.

Crawford, aka Daniel Friedman said...

Romance isn't a problem; people develop an attachment to their ipods and cell phones, and they will develop similar attachments to devices like Kindle.

In 2000, people discussed their affection for the album artwork and liner notes that came with music. People talked about how they liked the tangible quality of a shelf full of records or CDs that demonstrated their good-taste or hipness.

Products like iPod have totally displaced physical media for music, though, because the convenience of carrying around a lot of music in a stored device trumps the other concerns, and because people like the instant gratification of getting music from sources like iTunes.

Kindle is not perfectly analogous; the reduced cost of the book relative to a hardcover is only attractive for very heavy readers because of the high cost of the device.

Amazon is subsidizing the e-books to achieve the $9.99 price for Kindle books, and as the device price comes down, the price for the books will likely rise. But a sub $200 price point for the device seems unlikely in the foreseeable future, and at that cost, it only makes sense for people who read a whole lot of books.

And while iPods are significantly more portable than portable optical CD players, the Kindle is roughly the same size as most paperbacks. And it's an expensive electronic device while a book is relatively cheap.

People won't want to take Kindle to the beach or the bathtub for fear of ruining it, and unlike a music collection, where shuffle features and playlists are an attractive selling point for devices, people don't need to carry a whole library with them; one book at a time suffices.

But there's no reason for publishers not to embrace e-books. The marginal cost of a hardcover book sale is very high (printing, shipping, marketing bribes for bookstore placement, the possibility of returns). The marginal cost of an e-book is nearly zero.

Sierra Godfrey said...

I think it's entirely possible to have the book experience electronically. I, too, was against removing the wonderful tactile feel of a book, but once I got my ereader and realized how INSTANTLY I could get a book and read it, all the beauty of the feel of a page, the touch of the cover, even the different typefaces--went right out the window. Instant gratification, for me, was the trump card. In the end, I just want to read the book.

My main complaints about digital books are:

1. I want them to have colorful covers. I like looking at covers and I am swayed by pretty ones.

2. I want ereader devices to continue investing in their screen resolution quality. The ones available (Sony, kindle) are good--absolutely acres ahead of computer screens--and i have no eye strain at all. But I want this to be a priority with ereader manufacturers.

3. I want a way to share some of the books I read with friends or family, and I don't know how to do that with ereaders, nor do I know how to recycle the books (used book stores are going out of business hugely).

Andrew's vision about a bookshop for browsing in and then downloading is right on. As well, ebook web sites will have to grow up and answer consumer needs. For example, Amazon is great if you know what you need, but not great if you just want to browse. Sony's eReader Store is even worse and in my opinion incredibly poorly maintained.

We are at an amazing time of change in how we buy, read, and publish books.

Joshua McCune said...

There is something about trains that I don't get via any other mode of transport. It's probably the soothing rhythmic thrum of the wheels crossing rail-ties or something, but I always enjoyed riding the metro in DC and the subway in London (the chiaroscuro created by traveling from tunnel to bridge is equally mesmerizing, IMO)... far better than going by plane (where I start worrying about fatigue cycles as I watch the wing twitch :)

Heidi Willis said...

Welcome to my neck of the woods! I hope the weather holds out for you!

And I love Union Station as much as I love Grand Central. It evokes a very different era. Romantic indeed!

PV Lundqvist said...

I love the potential of ebooks, but, like you, love the physicality of paper books.

And the Kindle doesn't fill the bookshelf like hardcovers.

XiXi said...

Personally, I don't like e-books, but they seem to be a big deal these days. Maybe they will take over.

I will always prefer the real thing in my hands. I like turning pages and the feel of paper. I'm so traditionalist. :-)

Sheila Deeth said...

I miss trains. I even miss the London trains! Hope you have a great time.

Yamile said...

I have always loved trains too. When I was about 16 I traveled 4 hours to take the TOEFL (test of English as a foreign language), and since in that city (Buenos Aires) trains were the fastest, cheapest vehicle, my dad took me on a ride from the school to the bus station. It was everything but romantic. Much like riding the train in London.
My husband and my kids got to ride the "real" Hogwarts Express in Scottland 2 years ago. I couldn't go because the baby was sick. But the pictures they took, oh my! My kids are still talking about that day.
And about ebooks, I love paper, so I guess I'm not the only one by any means, hence traditional books will be around forever.