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This year, readers began to take e-books seriously, though the printed variety still have their appeal

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/12/2011 (2068 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The writing was on the wall in 2011, or at least on the tablet.

After more than a decade of sputtering starts, this was the year that e-reading took the writing and publishing world by storm.

Traditionalists shouldn't get their shirts in a knot. Old reliable books on paper, of the sort printed for the entire country at the esteemed Friesens of Altona, will be around for a long time yet.

Whether your taste runs toward Tina Fey or Miriam Toews -- both of whom issued successful titles this year -- you will still be able to enjoy their bon mots without having to fiddle with some annoying electronic gizmo.

The book remains a near-perfect technology -- portable, inexpensive, nearly indestructible. But there is no question that e-readers and e-books caught on big time in 2011.

In the U.S., e-books now account for an estimated 20 per cent of all book sales, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, the U.S. trade journal Publishers Weekly reported that two of the top 10 bestsellers of 2011, The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan (at No. 4) and The Abbey by Chris Culver (at No. 9) were released exclusively as e-books.

In Canada, figures were harder to come by. Digital sales here are thought to be still under 10 per cent.

But a lot of Kindles, iPads, Kobos and Sonys will be opened on Christmas morning, probably even more than last year, so the trend here, too, is absolutely clear.

"I thought I'd be the absolute last person in the world to get an e-reader," admits bookworm Heidi Graham, director of media relations for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. "I love real books. I love how they smell, I love their covers."

But after she tested out a friend's e-reader, she had to admit they were "neat." She bought a Kindle, which has been a boon for her fading eyesight.

"I can make the font bigger, and it has a little light," Graham, 51, says. "But what really sold me is that I was reading the first of a series. I finished it and I had the second book just like that. I didn't have to go to the bookstore and worry about it being out of stock."

E-readers, of course, have their disadvantages. They're still pretty expensive, and you'd be tempting fate to take one into the bathtub with you.

As well, thanks to digital locks, you can't pass on a favourite title to a friend, which remains one of the great social pleasures of reading.

Moreover, borrowing an e-book from the library is a long shot, since the selection for loan is very limited.

Yet you know that over the next decade or so, much will change. The hardware and software will improve exponentially, and writers, publishers, booksellers and libraries, who are all squabbling over money issues, should be able to negotiate some acceptable compromises.

If a rule of thumb emerges, it may be this. The more ephemeral and disposable the written text, the more likely it will be delivered digitally. Thus genre fiction mysteries, romances, sci-fi, topical non-fiction, textbooks and magazines will migrate toward e-readers.

But books that aspire to literature should long find a home on paper. Book lovers will still desire the artifact and will want to display their library in their home.

But enough pontificating about packaging. What about the content?

In Canada, despite successful novels by such veterans as Michael Ondaatje and Bill Vanderhaeghe, the year will be most remembered as the one in which two newcomers broke through.

Patrick deWitt and Esi Edugyan dominated the literary prizes with their respective novels, The Sisters Brothers and Half-Blood Blues.

My 10 best reads of 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua

The Yale law professor got unfairly slammed for this memoir, an insightful discussion of the foibles of parenting.

Stories About Storytellers, by Douglas Gibson

The veteran Toronto publisher and editor dishes genial gossip about some of Canada's best-known writers.

As e-readers such as the Kindle 3 continue to gain popularity, fewer and fewer book-buyers are deciding what to read by browsing the shelves of their local bookstores.


As e-readers such as the Kindle 3 continue to gain popularity, fewer and fewer book-buyers are deciding what to read by browsing the shelves of their local bookstores.

The Free World, by David Bezmozgis

Rome in the late 1970s is the setting for this clear-eyed novel about Soviet Jews wanting to immigrate to North America.

Arguably, by Christopher Hitchens

The Hitch's final collection of essays has him pontificating on politics, literature and other subjects dear to his wide-ranging intellect.

Bandit, by Wayne Tefs

In this fictionalized version of Ken Leishman's 1960s exploits as a Manitoba bank robber, the veteran Winnipeg novelist explores what made the "gentleman bandit" tick.

Just One Catch, by Tracy Daugherty

This biography of Catch-22 author Joseph Heller captures the spirit of the New York media world in the Mad Men era.

A Man of Parts, by David Lodge

An entertaining novel based on the life of turn-of-the-20th-century writer H.G. Wells, one of the most successful authors of his day.

Irma Voth, by Miriam Toews

The former Winnipeg novelist adopts the voice of a young Mennonite woman in Mexico to again explore family dysfunction and religious hypocrisy.

Blue Nights, by Joan Didion

The American writer proves the truth of the adage that nothing is worse than losing a child.

Pauline Kael, by Brian Kellow

This biography of the late American film critic captures not only the woman's prickly personality but an era in which movies dominated the cultural landscape.


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