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Friday, August 20, 2010

The Kindle

4 months ago--maybe more, who knows--I bought a Kindle.

A Kindle, for those who don't know, is a literature-delivery device, a small, white, flat rectangle with some cute buttons and a draconian interface. Surprisingly, it's not an Apple product. But it was certainly inspired by Apple design.

The benefits of the Kindle: you can purchase most any book you want to read, ever, and then cart the entire collection around without requiring a retinue. The drawbacks are as follows:

1) Today, I was on the platform, reading, waiting for the train, when a guy beside me asked, "So what do you think of your Kindle?" He asked this in a god-I'm-bored way. Sometimes, it's just necessary to start a conversation.

So I answered. "I like it, mostly. My main complaint is that I measure out my reading in percentages now. I'm not on page 82, I'm at 82%."

"Yeah. Yeah." He nodded conspiratorially, as if we were surrounded by spies. "I have one too and that was my biggest adjustment. Cause I like remembering what page I was last on. You know?"

"Right. Plus I like to know where I am when I read, and if I want to go back to a part in the book, it's difficult to just go back. You have to remember what the percentage was when you read that part."

"Because, like, it saves where you last were, not where you want to be."

Both of us considered this observation for a moment: the Kindle saves where you last were, not where you wanted to be. We were both suddenly weirded out, and the conversation kind of died.

2) Footnotes. Jesus, it's tough reading a book with footnotes on this thing. Some books aren't formatted correctly for Kindle, so anything with a * is finished out a percentage or two later, when in the middle of a main-body sentence you'll come across the companion *, and a new sentence will start. For instance:

Mary Beth Whitehead* loved her baby very much. She often took her daughter to the park, where both Mary Beth and the baby girl would play with butterflies, pet puppies, watch the entrancing paths of kites *Mary Beth Whitehead was the biological, surrogate mother of Baby M, and kidnapped the child from her adopted parents in a cruel and desperate way. scratch designs into the cloudy blue skies.

Very disconcerting. Imagine reading Infinite Jest on a Kindle.

3) The Kindle, in its inert state, has on its display a random picture of a random author. When the Kindle is awakened--meaning, when it is called upon to display the text of a book--these random author pictures... melt. The picture of, say, Emily Dickinson transitions from Emily to a zombie to a skeleton to the text of whatever percentage of whatever book you happen to be reading. The transition happens quickly. It always reminds me of the scene in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' where the guy's face dissolves from an actual face to a skeleton.

4) No one else knows what you're reading. Seriously, what's the point of reading Pynchon if no one else on the train knows you're reading Pynchon? The Kindle has the text of Crying of Lot 49, but it doesn't have the dust jacket.

How can you inspire others to read, say, Jude Deveraux if they don't see someone else (you) reading her wonderful 'Forever' series?

Electronic books might eventually kill print*, but I don't think the Kindle--or the iPad, or the Nook--will be the assassin. The Kindle is, I think, a supplement, not a primary source. Until there's a way to turn blank books, with pages and covers, heft and texture, the scent of a good old book and the crispness of a new book, into a true, literal electronic book, I doubt the Kindle and its brethren pose a long-term threat to picking up a well-formatted book.

*This is a link to an article about how it costs twice as much to do a print edition of the NYT than it costs to prepare a Kindle edition. Having read the NYT on the Kindle, I can just say it's money well spent.


Nan said...

"where you were, not where you want to be"

I haven't bought a Kindle or Nook yet, but I will. I consider it part of being truly alive in the century that I'm living in.

MM said...

I heart my Kindle, really, but it's a love-hate thing.

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