Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Attack of the eBooks

I've had a Kindle since June. It was a birthday gift from my Mom who saw a co-worker with one and thought that such a gadget might be a good idea for me. (When she called to see if I wanted one, I bounced up and down in my chair and said, "yes please!")

I'd been eyeing it for a while. I have a bad neck that can get ouchie if I carry anything too heavy. I once lugged a really big cantaloupe home from the Union Square farmer's market (via subway and 10 minute walk) and had to make 4 visits to the chiropractor the following week. Most. expensive. cantaloupe. ever.

I read on the subway, so being able to carry around a Kindle instead of a big honking hardcover qualifies the Kindle as medical equipment in my book. I needs it.

I know, I know, settle down. The nanosecond I say the word, "Kindle," your brain began preparing to start rhapsodizing about the feel of a book in your hands and how you could never give that up. I usually just hand it to people and there are dumbstrunk by how light it is. Then I take it out of the cover and show them how light it really is (lighter than most magazines).

Some people continue to resist and start talking about the smell of books. These are people who do not have allergies and can read a musty old book without their sinuses revolting. At this point, I usually just mention that you can adjust the font size and that shuts 'em up.

And if it doesn't, an interpretive dance showing the relative merits of books and Kindles for reading in bed does.

We have very romantic ideas about books. Charles Dickens scribbling at his writing desk (often while chatting with friends), that sort of thing.

But if you're reading a book that was written in the past, say, 20 years, do you now how it was probably written? On a computer. That's just how writers work now. A room of one's own isn't even required anymore. We just need a laptop and conveniently located coffee shop. (And let's not forget that many books written in the 20th century before the personal computer revolution were written on a typewriter.)

I write my novel by hand (on a slanted desk, with a fountain pen, in purple ink on lavender paper), because I got into the habit in my late teens/early 20s and it just works for me. I started writing on a typewriter in high school, but found that hand writing was more compatible with how my brain works. (Non-fiction, including this here blog post? Done directly into the computer. Dunno what's different. Just is.)

But I am the only writer I know who writes by hand. Everyone else I know works on a computer. And from what I hear, acquisition editors at publishing houses (the ones who read all the manuscripts submitted by agents to decide what to buy) have eBook readers so that they don't have to lug around piles of paper.

If a book is being written electronically, why can't you read it that way too?

I'm currently reading Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. (Kindle versions of a lot of the classics are available for free or cheap.) I've never read it before. I have no cover image to gaze at while taking a break from reading. I have the distraction of having to hold this expensive electronic device tightly for fear of dropping it, or having it snatched from my hands seconds before the thief slips through the closing subway doors (though I'm not sure how someone else could load their own books onto it since the only way to get books into the Kindle is through Amazon).

And yet? This book brought me to tears at one point. I can't remember the last time I wept over a physical book. The version I have has an introduction by Dickens that explains that the Cheeryble brothers are based on real people who he never met. They are extremely philanthropic, thanking profusely anyone who brings to their attention anyone in need. When we first see them together, they start reminiscing about how they first arrived in London, barefoot and penniless (they're now quite wealthy). They hold hands for a moment at the memory, addressing each other as "Brother Charles" and "Brother Ned" and it fucking killed me. Tear in the eye, right there on the subway.

If Dicken's sentimentality still comes across in an eBook, then I don't think anything is missing.

I'm not saying that you should buy an eBook reader at all, let alone the one I have. But I am saying that you should stop talking like my Kindle is a sign of the bookpocalypse.

You can keep your musty book smell. I keep my shiny new Kindle.


  1. There are a couple of tricks all ebook readers have to learn before I take my sip of the ebook Kool-Aid:
    1) Color - I read a lot of technical computer boos that have COLOR diagrams and illustrations.
    2) Can borrow from the library - are ebook readers going to be available for me to borrow from the library? Are ebooks going to be available through my local library?

    Until then, I'll stick w\ paper.

  2. Sorry it may work for you but I am a paper freak plus I love seeing piles of books that I need to read and rows of them on my bookshelves.

  3. I think any one that loves reading would love a kindle. There's a place for paper books for sure but the convenience provided by a kindle for things like travel is pretty fantastic. I can't wait till I can get one. :)

  4. I. Love. My. Kindle. There, I said it out loud.

    I was a hater, thinking I had to hold the book, see the cover, etc.

    The very first night I was in bed reading, and turning pages with one teenie little twitch of my fingertip....well, I was hooked.

    My only light. For cripes sake we can build nuclear technology, and even order personalized M&M's, so why can't they put a little backlight or even sidelight (built in) to the reader?

    I still have stacks of unread books and will get around to reading them, but I may have to scan them, and upload to my Kindle. Then of course, donate the "real" books to a worthy cause.

  5. I shall rail against the Kindle for no real reason until your interpretive dance convinces me otherwise.


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