I Choose Plastic

Wherein the project books will be read in electronic form

Ebook Format

In the preparations for The Well-Read Man Project, I had to decide whether I would experience the fifty books using a traditional paper presentation, or enter the new world by reading them as eBooks. After much pondering, getting advice from others, and calculating the expected costs of obtaining books in both formats, I have decided to read the body of works electric.

The biggest consideration was, surprisingly, cost. In my part of California, used bookstores are few and far between, and the ones we have are limited to romance novels, or charge a premium for well-maintained “pre-owned” volumes. Used books can be had from Amazon.com and other online retailers for as little as a penny, but shipping quickly brings the total up several dollars per book, and for fifty books, you’re talking $200 or more. One option was to drive to Phoenix and visit a Half Price Bookstore, a chain that has very good prices and a wide selection. But with gas hovering around four dollars per gallon, that option was out. Also, the condition of any unseen used book is questionable, as some readers have no qualms about trying to pen their own great works in the margins of someone else’s published effort.

I already owned a first-generation Kindle. It’s very easy on the eyes, but it’s notoriously slow at flipping through pages, and highlighting is a burden. The latest release is much improved, but I wanted to expand my horizons. I played with a few Android-based tablets, but the available book-reading apps aren’t quite there yet. I tested out the Nook Color at my local Barnes & Noble store. It was slick, and the price was reasonable. I probably would have purchased one, too, if a friend hadn’t lent me his iPad 2.

Apple’s latest tablet is a decent reading platform. The display is large and bright, and the highlighting and note-taking features in several of the reading apps I tried are almost paper-like. The biggest downside was the base cost. Since I’m focusing on classic books, many of the selections will be available as free eBooks. The entry-level iPad still costs $499, much higher than the minimum $200 for paper alternatives. But hey, it’s an iPad.

I made the purchase. I opted for a Black 16GB WiFi-only iPad 2, without the magneto-cover. Since my local Apple Stores were backordered, I ordered it through Apple’s online store. This way, I could get it customized with laser engraving. I pay homage to the project and the importance of reading on the back panel.

It won’t be a perfect world. Eyestrain might be an issue, but I promise to take more naps. Seven of the books that I think will make it to the final list are only available in paper form, so for those selections, Steve Jobs won’t save me any money. But overall, I expect it to be an enjoyable, twenty-first century reading experience.

If not, I can always play Angry Birds.


  1. I’m keen to find out your final selection, and how many are available in electronic form. I am curious whether you are focusing on fiction, non-fiction, or a blend. Are you taking nominations?

  2. It’s a blend. There will be 13 nonfiction works, and 31 fiction works, five plays, and one book of poetry. One book that is on my short-list for consideration is Catcher in the Rye. It’s not available in electronic form, and a quick call to the publisher (Little, Brown, and Co.) produced no additional expectations. I’m not sure why they held back on releasing it for Kindle, etc. I wonder if they will have a change in direction now that Salinger has passed on.


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