Memories of Obtaining Books

Early 1980s (Odessa, Soviet Union)

Most of the walls of my parent’s apartment were lined with bookshelves. When bored, all I needed to do to get a good book to read was to climb the shelves, read the titles and colophons, and taked one. It was best to look in the areas that proved fruitful previously, mining the locations full of science fiction anthologies and historical prose. All that I needed to do was to replace the book when done and not let my father catch me leaving the book open face up or otherwise mistreating it.

Mid 80s (Odessa, Soviet Union)

I remember sitting in a public library while my father combed the bookshelves for something interesting. It always took him hours because 99 percent of the books contained political propaganda, speeches by various politburo members and turgid prose of social realists. The pickins were slim.

Late 80s (Odessa, Soviet Union)

Decent foreign and homegrown sci-fi books were available for purchase in an outdoor market. While pricey, my dad purchased everything good in sight. The home library was overflowing. This is also when I learned the meaning of arbitrage.

Early 90s (New York City)

I spent hours in the bowels of Strand Bookstore. My hands were plenty sore bringing home stacks of hardcovers and paperbacks that cost me from 25 cents to $3. I could not understand why anyone would want to spend more than 25 cents on a paperback. Besides Strand there were library sales – I once bought a dozen tete-beche pulps for a quarter each.

Mid 90s (New York City)

Besides raiding Strand, I would sometimes go to Barnes and Noble and splurge on paperbacks that I really wanted at $6.99 each or worse.

Early 2000s. (New York City)

My first job at a publishing company introduced me to free review books. My library swelled. I also purchased my first real ebook readers (reading on a Palm device does not count): a Softbook and a Rocketbook (at the time I worked at a company that produced both of them). Converting text files and web pages into .rb format was a pain in the ass, but these kinds of “books” were free. After reading a Rocketbook for a couple of hours in a dark bedroom I’d see the glow of its backlight for the next 15 minutes. The future of the book was freaky. The official ebook pricing for Rocketbook was the same as for hardcovers (if I remember this correctly) and seemed like an insane waste of money. Rocketbook died a slow death, so it actually was.

2000s. (New York City)

The online ordering of books at Amazon, ABEBooks and the like revolutionized book buying for me. Now I could get exactly what I wanted for a few bucks over what a paperback would cost me at Strand. An average price of a purchase was $3-$5. Sometimes I’d splurge on a rare or an autographed book (this is how I ended up with a $250 Cray at Chippewa Falls. More free books at work – working for publishing companies is awesome.

Now (New York City)

My home library is a drag: finding a book is hard, searching inside a book – well, impossible. Plonking down $13 on a Kindle copy does not seem like insanity any more: the book arrives in minutes and is completely searchable. But staring me in the face is a $2.99 paperback of the same book on Amazon. The cost of instant delivery, searchability and the cost of keeping the clutter down turns out to be about ten dollars. But what about books that are not available on Kindle and have a $2.99 used copy available? These are heartbreaking.

I keep wondering about the fate of my library – should I purge it? Should I donate it? Should I have the nice people of Strand Bookstore drag it away completely? Should I put every book into a database and then pack everything away into plastic boxes and store in the basement?

In the past I was usually heartbroken because I could not obtain a book at all, or could not afford it. The modern book buying heartbreak is of a very different type indeed.

MAKE: Technology on Your Time

MAKE brings the do-it-yourself mindset to all the technology in your life and celebrates your right to tweak, hack, and bend your technology to your will. MAKE ignites your ingenuity and connects you with your fellow “Makers.”

Persuasive Online Copywriting: How to Take Your Words to the Bank

Writing for the web. Web word wizardry. Web writing that works. What does that mean? Your online copy must persuade – it’s integral to getting your visitors or readers to register, subscribe, qualify as leads, and yes, even buy from you. It’s writing that must earn its keep. And to effectively manage the quality of your online writing, you need to understand what works, why it works and how to make it work better for you. Whether you are the marketer responsible for the bottom line or the writer creating the copy, Persuasive Online Copywriting provides the tools you need to get results.

LibraryThing

When I attended a party thrown by Joel Spolsky at his apartment, I got to browse through his library. Joel’s library was somewhat bigger and better organized than mine, but with a significant overlap: on almost every shelf I encountered at least several books that I already had or had in my wishlist.

Keeping a large library is something that I feel a little guilty about. Living space is precious and books take up a lot of it. One of my livejournal friends told me that he does not keep more than a small bookshelf of books at home (although he reads more than I do). Once he’s done with a book he either sells it at Half Price Books or gives it to a friend or acquaintance.

So why do I keep all the books? Besides the obvious vanity: look how sophisticated and edjumacated I am, there are other, more subtle reasons. When I was little, my father had an even bigger library. It was a great: exploring hundreds of books right at home was a great joy. My bed was located right under a huge bookshelf – if I wanted some bedtime reading all I had to do was to stretch my hand.

Joel put it best that evening: he feels that if somebody would read all the books that he has read, that person would start thinking similarly. A library is a sort of a mind dump, a memex chain. It becomes a part of who you are. Giving my library up would be extremely difficult for me. Call it the collector’s instinct, a fetish – it does not matter. Some poor people just are attached to physical books.

One of the reasons I got a job at TV Guide was because at the time it purchased two most promising eBook companies, NuvoMedia and Softbook. It thought that the electronic revolution would finally happen and we’d be reading from small electronic tablets, like on Star Trek. I do love paper books, but the promise of instant gratification and the library in a chip that was promised to us so long ago was even more tempting.

Sadly, the two companies were deprived of resources and smothered. I still think that the tablet reader is in our near future, and the Sony eInk tablet is a step in the right direction, although I am so displeased with Sony for a number of reasons (about which I’ll rant some other time) that I refuse to buy any of their products. In any case, my former co-worker Martin Eberhard, the founder of NuvoMedia (maker of the more successful and practical RocketBook) is now building awesome electric cars. I really wish I had a chance to interact with him at TVG — I share his fascination with Tesla and world changing technologies.

Since the ebook revolution is not coming any time soon, I finally decided to do something about keeping my books organized and joined LibraryThing. LibraryThing is a great online tool that allows you to create a catalog of your books by either typing in an ISBN number or book title. The interface is super usable. To make cataloging even faster I dug out my good ‘ol CueCat that I “declawed” back in the day. Seeing how crappy it was, I broke down and bought a real usb laser barcode scanner off eBay. It works like a charm – there’s a rotating laser inside and everything. Indeed, you get what you pay for.

I simply scan the barcode (if there’s one) or type in the title, add a tag that contains a shelf number – and that’s it. Now if I need to find a book I can simply search for it and find out which shelf it’s on. I don’t really need a more exact location. So far I’ve entered about 250 books. This covers the kitchen, bathroom and a couple of shelves in the living room. Altogether I have 2 Ikea Billys in the living room, 2 in one bedroom and 3 in another. In my estimation there should be at least 2000 books in my library, although a friend of mine thinks that it’s more like 1000. We’ll see who’s right once I’ll finish the catalog. My friend estimated (conservatively) that I spent about $5 per book, so my books must have cost me $5-10K. I feel kind of like Carrie from Sex and the City who had about $40K worth of Blahniks in her closet.

I Am Sorry :(

Sadly the Company is no longer in eBook business. On the other hand, because of this you can do much more with your eBook device than ever in terms of creating your own content.

iDEO designed descendants of Softbook (REB1200 and GEB2150) are probably the finest eBook devices that were ever available to consumers. Rocketbook descendants (REB1100 and GEB1150) gave a better bang for the buck, and were marvels of engineering in their own right. And now all you can do is hunt down some of them on eBay.

I am going to write more about hardware eBooks later, but for now enjoy this funny error message from my REB1200.

Asperger Smasperger. The Important Thing Is, Michael Likes to Categorize.

Are all engineers autistic? Looks that way to me.
If by some chance you missed this Wired article, by all means read it. Interesting stuff.

Continuing in the vein of making a mockery of the scientific method, here’s a test for your amusement.
How autistic are you : http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aqtest.html

I scored 31 which is pretty much borderline. My wife tells me that this is all silly, and I am just trying to find a fitting category for everything and everyone including myself. Hey, isn’t that a symptom? Besides, how can she dispute the two minute test from a magazine?

I didn’t get enough answers on the two minute short-term memory tests I posted previously to make any interesting conclusions yet.

Expensive Book

So far, the most expensive book in my collection set me back $250.
Maybe some day I’ll be able to purchase things like this too. Drooool.

Capek, Karel. R U R ROSSUM’S UNIVERSAL ROBOTS: KOLEKTIVNI DRAMA… [Praha]: Aventinum, 1920. Octavo, pp. [1-6] 7-96 [97] [98: blank] [99: colophon] [100: blank], original decorated lavender wrappers, printed in brown and black, all edges untrimmed. $12500

First edition. 2000 copies printed. Signed by Capek on recto of first leaf.