Why Your Grandma Wants an E-Reader for the Holidays (Even Though She Doesn't Know It)

If you're reading this blog, you're probably relatively tech-savvy. But now that we're in the midst of holiday season, most of us are running into the inevitable friends and relations who are threatened by new technology and maybe even hostile to the whole idea of e-books and e-readers. Some of them are probably your grandparents.

Full disclosure here: I'm not a grandparent. I could be, if I hadn't neglected that interim step of having actual children. What I am is a Baby Boomer: a person born between 1946 and 1964—the demographic known in unenlightened circles as "old."

I'm also not naturally drawn to technology. My relationship to most machines is the same as your cat's relationship to the vacuum cleaner: Danger! MAKE IT STOP!   

I've got some Boomer friends who think the e-reader is the spawn of the devil. They say ebooks and self-publishing are robbing us of our cultural heritage. I understand their fears. I worked in bookstores for much of my life. Every time a bookstore goes out of business I feel a sense of personal loss.

Plus I love being surrounded by tangible, hard-copy reading material. My house looks like a library. Books are my best friends. (My mother tells me that when I learned to read, I said, "now I'll never have to be lonely again.") I don't think I'll ever stop buying paper books. When I adore something I've read on my Kindle, I sometimes buy it in paper too—so I can really "have" it.

Electronics can die and get glitchy—and nothing's more infuriating when you're engrossed in a novel than to get that "low battery" message plastered across the page.

Paper feels "real". You can touch it and hold it and yes, sniff it. (Much fun is made of "book-sniffers" but scientists say the smell of old books is related to the smell of vanilla, and stimulates a comfort zone in your brain.) You can also keep a new paper book waiting on your night stand and study the cover art, read the blurbs, and anticipate it in a way you can't with a list of titles on your e-reader. Plus you can loan a beloved paper book to as many friends as you like.

But I urge even my book-sniffing Boomer friends to welcome the age of the e-book.


1) Learning new technology keeps us young.

I have lots of Boomer friends who avoid technology. They may use a computer for email and shopping, and they might even have a smart phone—but they're mostly annoyed by all of it. Especially if they learned a bunch of tech stuff in the early '90s and now it's all different and their hard-earned knowledge is useless. Everything keeps changing too fast and they don't like it.

Yes, change can be terrifying, but it's what keeps us alive. As Dylan said, "he not busy being born is busy dying." 

There's scientific data to back this up. Doctors tell us that embracing the new keeps our brains active and healthy.

And let's face it, nothing says "geezer" like complaining about "newfangled gadgets" and waxing nostalgic about the good old days. All the hair dye, yoga, and kale smoothies in the world won't make you seem vibrant and healthy if you have a negative attitude and a sour expression on your face.

Besides, if you're a Boomer, you belong to a generation that has always embraced change.

As Mark Penn said in his 2007 book Microtrends, "Boomers reinvented youth in the 1960s and economic success in the 1980s; they are not about to do their senior years by someone else’s formula. According to a 2005 survey by Merrill Lynch, more than 3 in 4 boomers say they have no intention of seeking traditional retirement."  

2) The e-book revolution is ending age discrimination against older authors.

Traditional publishing has always dictated that young authors are the most desirable. Even when I was in my forties, I was advised to keep my age secret when querying, because publishers don't want to invest money building a "brand name" for an author who doesn't have a potential forty-year trajectory for churning out product.  

But this attitude eliminates a huge number of writers—especially writers with wisdom and life experience to share. As social media guru Kristen Lamb says. "A large percentage of writers have waited until the kids are out of the home and out of college to begin pursuing their dreams of being authors."

But ebooks and social media are changing all that.  We now live in an age when there is infinite "shelf" space, and "long tail" niche marketing reigns.

New genres like Boomer Lit can appeal to specific demographics now that every book published doesn’t have to be a potential blockbuster of one-size-fits-all scope.  And authors don't have to self-publish if they write for a niche. The Big Five probably won't be interested in a BoomerLit book unless it's written by Cher, but you can still go the traditional route with a small or digital-only press.

3) Older readers get to read books about their own issues.

For the past fifty years or so, traditional publishing has dictated that female protagonists in popular fiction must be under thirty-five. Men can be a little older, but the main characters have to be young people with young problems. (Literary fiction can be about old guys with prostate issues, but usually only if the author writes for the New Yorker.)

None of this is surprising, since the "gatekeepers" of traditional publishing are mostly 22-year-old interns at New York literary agencies.

(And I can't help wondering if some editors weren't scarred by being forced to read Silas Marner in high school. George Eliot's aged curmudgeon has a lot to answer for.)

Thing is: older people have more time to read. And most of us are hungry for books that address our own life situations, not just who goes to the prom with the hunky vampire.

As Kristen Lamb says, older authors are "writing books they’d like to read: romance novels with a sixty-year-old protagonist finding love, not a twenty-two-year-old….Now there are options. Seventy is getting younger every day and the emerging e-commerce marketplace doesn’t care how old we are or how many books we write."

4) E-readers offer physical advantages to the older reader.

5) E-books have got more people reading now than ever before. 

People who might not go into a bookstore to procure entertainment are now reading books on their phones, iPads and tablets. Ebooks are cool.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, "the average reader of e-books read an average of 24 books in the past 12 months compared to 15 books for non e-book consumers."

And as Alex C. Madrigal wrote in the Atlantic last year "Our collective memory of past is astoundingly inaccurate. Not only has the number of people reading not declined precipitously, it's actually gone up since the perceived golden age of American letters. "

6) Because of the new paradigm, independent bookstores are making a comeback.  

E-books are not killing indie bookstores. Big-box bookstores and their cozy deals with Big Publishing did that in the 1990s. Indies that survived are now having an increase in sales, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Here are some ways e-books are actually helping independently-owned bookstores:

7) Paper books aren't going anywhere.

It's not a question of either/or. You can have your Kindle and paper too.

Only about 30% of book sales are e-books, and that percentage seems to be leveling off as an October report from the Book Industry Study Group reported.

Here are some of their findings: 

The E-Age may seem scary to those of us who remember when the most tech-heavy thing a writer had to do was change a typewriter ribbon, but it's one of the best times in history to be a writer—or a reader—so we need to learn to embrace the new technology.

What about you, Scriveners? Did you have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age? What advantages are you finding to reading electronic books? Do you have friends and family who don't "get" e-books?

Note: If you enjoy this blog, we'd love for you to nominate us for the Top 10 Writing Blogs at Write to Done.

Book Bargain of the Week

And when you buy Grandma that e-reader, here's the perfect book to load on it. Only 99c on Amazon for the holidays. Roxanna Britton, a biographical novel, is the story of my own great, great grandmother, written by my 92-year-old mom, Dr. Shirley S. Allen.
My mom is in hospice now, and I'm here at her bedside. It makes her happy that her well-reviewed book will live on after she's gone.

Update: Shirley Seifried Allen died at 8:45 PM on Sunday evening, December 1st. As fierce and practical as her great-grandmother, my mom donated her body to the University of San Francisco Medical School and left large donations to the San Francisco Public Library and the Food Bank as well as many other charities. You can sign her Facebook page here.
I can't begin to say how very much I will miss her....Anne

"If you love historical novels about women "making it" in the mid-1800's, you will NOT want to miss this one! I loved EVERY minute of reading about "Sanny's" life and making her own way and place in a time when women were considered having less than the status of "slaves." I also loved this book because it shows how the status, influences, opinions and upbringings can make or break a family and its heritage...and just how influential the women are who guide each. 
HIGHLY RECOMMEND!"...Shawna Newton


"This has become one of my all time favorite stories of "real" people. Ms. Allen's adept use of dialogue and her clear eye for drama and suspense kept me compulsively turning the pages. Her evocation of a bygone era, rich with descriptive details--the historical Chicago fire is one vivid example--is absolutely brilliant. I will never forget Sanny and her family, especially her struggle and her daughters' struggle to become individuals in a male dominated world. But it is family that triumphs in the end; and the need for it to survive resonates most deeply in my mind and heart. An excellent novel that I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys reading true stories about people who not only overcome adversity with grace and integrity but through strength of character also prevail. Well done, Ms. Shirley Allen!"...Ann Carbine Best

Opportunity Alerts

The Lascaux Prize for Short Fiction: Stories may be previously published or unpublished. Length up to 10,000 words. Entry fee is $5, and authors may enter more than once.The editors will select a winner and nineteen additional finalists. The winner will receive $500 and publication in The Lascaux Review. Both winner and finalists will earn the privilege of displaying a virtual medallion on blogs and websites. Deadline December 31, 2013.

Boomers: The Huffington Post's Huffpo50 is publishing short fiction! The rules: You must be 50 or older to enter. Writers can submit only one story per year, and all pieces must be 5,000 words or less. Send your original submissions, as well as your contact details, to 50fiction@huffingtonpost.com

CRAZYHORSE PRIZES IN FICTION, NONFICTION, POETRY $20 fee (includes subscription). This is a biggie, well worth the fee. This venerable literary magazine has published the likes of John Updike, Raymond Carver and Billy Collins. Winners in each category receive $2,000 and publication. Submit up to 25 pages of prose or three poems. All entries considered for publication. Submissions accepted in the month of January 2014 only.

The Ladies Home Journal essay contest. Theme: The Best Decision You Ever Made. First Prize is $3,000 and the chance to have your essay published in the Journal. You're free to interpret the topic in whatever way you like. Essays will be judged on their emotional power, originality, and the quality of their prose. They should be no more than 2,000 words. More info and submission form on the website.

DRIFTLESS REVIEW ANNUAL FLASH FICTION CONTEST $15 ENTRY FEE for up to three stories. Each short-short story limited to 500 words. $500 prize. Deadline December 31

Dark Continents Publishing's Guns and Romances anthology. They're looking for previously unpublished short fiction from 3500-9000 words. Any genre as long as there's a tough protagonist, weapons, and... at least one reference to music. Sounds interesting. Payment rate is a one-off of $20 per story plus a percentage of the ebook royalties. Publication estimated in late-2014. More info on the website. Closing date for submissions is February 28, 2014.

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