Strange Reading

The internet has changed things.  Perhaps forever.  I’m thinking particularly of the way we read.  Not just ebooks, either.  I’m primarily a book reader.  That is to say, I prefer long-format, print writing.  Since we’re fairly isolated (this applied to me even before Covid-19), one of the ways we discuss books is via social media.  There are any number of sites where this takes place such as Book Riot or Goodreads.  I tend toward the latter because that’s what publishers tend to pay attention to.  Each year I participate in a couple of reading challenges.  On Goodreads my goal is a set number of books.  But this has a hidden aspect as well.  What counts as a book?

As a matter of course I don’t count the odd Dr. Seuss book I pick up and read in a matter of minutes.  Nor do I count the many, many books I read as part of my job.  The ideal method of tracking reading on Goodreads is to use the ISBN.  Older books, especially, come in multiple editions, often with differing content.  One way that publishers make money on public domain books is by adding a new introduction or preface to which they own the copyright even though the majority of the text is in the public domain.  The first commandment of capitalism includes the phrase “what the market will bear.”  You can price up until people stop buying.  In order to get value for money, short books are often bound together with other material.  This especially applies to novellas.   Who’s going to pay ten bucks for a book of under 100 pages?

The problem is counting them on Goodreads.  In order for the ISBN to count, you really need to read all the stories in a book.  In steps Amazon.  Making it simple to self-publish, many individuals have rushed in and have saturated the market with public domain material bound and distributed by their own print-on-demand editions.  If I want to read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the older dilemma was you couldn’t buy it alone.  It was almost always bound with some stories I didn’t want to read.  Now, however, some savvy book smith can download an electronic copy, word-process it, format it and sell it to you at a nice markup.  And you can enter the ISBN and get credit for only what you actually did read.  This is a strange new way of reading.  Before I had challenges to complete I’d read a short story or novella and not worry about the rest of the book.  For now, anyway, my reading patterns have changed just to keep up with the challenge.

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