My Printers Row overlords scored me a free, one-month trial to Oyster, a brand new iPhone reading app which is being billed as the "Netflix for books."
At $9.95 per month, Oyster boasts more than 100,000 titles, or approximately 90,000 more than even the most dedicated reader could finish in a lifetime. In five minutes of browsing the different Oyster categories — "critically acclaimed fiction," "sweeping histories," "sports stories," "books to blockbusters," etc. — I had a reading queue that could take me through the middle of next year.
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The reading interface — which at press time was only available for iPhone, although an iPad app was released last week — is elegant and intuitive. Rather than swiping to the side, pages scroll up and down, a more common motion when manipulating the phone one-handed. There's a number of different fonts and background styles. My favorite is "Crosby," which turns the background kind of cream colored and seems restful to the eyes.
I got ready to hand over my credit card number to make my union with Oyster more permanent, but even before I could enter the digits, I changed my mind.
While 100,000 books is more than I could ever read and I found plenty that I would likely enjoy, they weren't the exact books I wanted, mostly because 85 percent of the books I read are published in the preceding 12 months and only one of the Big 5 publishers (HarperCollins) shares its titles on Oyster — and only their backlist at that.
Netflix is useful for me because with television, I'm often not picky. How else could I explain having seen just about every episode of "Million Dollar Listing" on Bravo?
But with books, I'm always picky. That's actually one of the fun parts of being a reader, looking at the impossible array of books and making a choice. It is occasionally agonizing, but a fun kind of agony.
And in order to be picky I need to have access to all of the books, not a mere 100,000 of them. (All of which are available elsewhere.) I have, at best, 3,000 books left to read in my lifetime. I can't be constrained by limited agreements with publishers.
It's possible — nay, probable — that I am the strange one, and Oyster sounds like an amazing deal to you. I remain tempted by the thought that for $9.95 a month I have on-demand access to a significant library of books. But that same $9.95 a month multiplied by 12 months gets me six new releases, the exact books I want exactly when I want them.
Now, if Oyster had exclusive access to something I wanted to read, in the same way Netflix controls new episodes of "Arrested Development," they've got me in their clutches, probably for a lot more than $9.95 a month.
It strikes me that this is probably now inevitable, that different apps with access to different publishers will charge me fees for access to their books, the same way I have my Netflix and HBOGo subscriptions because I want to watch both "Orange is the New Black" and "Game of Thrones."
Digital media is supposed to open up access, but more and more it seems to be divided behind different portals, each of which demands payment to get past their gates. Ten bucks a month doesn't seem like much, until you're paying it for five different subscriptions.
Fortunately, there's one open-access institution available to all, and it's free to boot. It's called the library.
Biblioracle John Warner is the author of "The Funny Man."
The Biblioracle offers his recommendations
1. "Dogma" by Lars Iyer
2. "The Woman in the Dunes" by Kobo Abe
3. "The Street of Crocodiles" by Bruno Schulz
4. "Hangsaman" by Shirley Jackson
5. "Pedro Paramo" by Juan Rulfo
—Sean F., Brooklyn, N.Y.
My hunch is a lot of readers will look at this list and recognize very few of these books or maybe even the authors, even though Kobo Abe is thought to have deserved a Nobel and Shirley Jackson wrote what is perhaps the most read short story ever, "The Lottery." What I see in this list are authors who are only like themselves and no one else. In that spirit, I offer "The People of Paper" by Salvador Plascencia.
1. "The Deep Blue Good-by" by John D. MacDonald
2. "Get Shorty" by Elmore Leonard
3. "Solo Faces" by James Salter
4. "Beautiful Ruins" by Jess Walter
5. "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman
—Jason P., Blackfoot, Idaho
Given that Louis-Ferdinand Celine was possibly a Nazi collaborator, you have to put aside any qualms you might have about reading books by bad people to accept this recommendation. I hope Jason does: Try out the classic work of dark humor, "Journey to the End of Night."
1. "Astray" by Emma Donoghue
2. "The Illusion of Separateness" by Simon Van Booy
3. "The Illusion of Separateness" by Simon Van Booy
4. "You Deserve Nothing" by Alexander Maksik
5. "Love Bomb" by Lisa Zeidner
—JoDee B., Madison, Wis.
JoDee will enjoy reading Lauren Grodstein's "A Friend of the Family" next.
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