Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Real Books vs The Kindle

I love making new friends in the blogosphere. Some send me badges, some put me on lists, and, best of all, they comment.  How else could I make new friends unless I knew they were out there?  

One of my newest blog-friends is JES, who blogs at Running After My Hat .  You really should click over and spend some time with him.  You'll feel smarter and more thoughtful and happier and there will be a tune or a poem running through your head for a while after you're gone.  His comments are posts in themselves; I hope you've been enjoying them as much as I have been enjoying them. (Please forgive that small grammatical outburst.  Last night's television was a cauldron of "David and I's relationship....."  "Tenley and I's date......" and still I am not recovered.)

But, I digress.  JES is a writer's writer, a man who seemed to hold the written word in as much esteem as do I, so it was particularly troubling to read that he loves his kindle*.  Actually, it was a bit stronger than that
Fightin' words about the Kindle, though. You're right that it's not a book... it's one big honkin' ROOMFUL of books.
Hmmm, I can read but one book at a time.  When I am reading that book I am noticing the quality of the paper, the shape of the font, the page numbers and the margins and the end papers, too.  I have written about this before and my feelings haven't changed.  All these details provide a physical connection between the author and my little self curled up in a big leather chair.  Dick Francis chose that bright white paper with its just-a-bit-bigger font, and I like knowing what the book will feel like before I ever open a cover.  The wonderfulness of the sensations involved in holding the book in my hands is something that he knew would be there.  It's more than just words on a page; it's how the words are presented on the page, too.

Yes, JES, I know that I could adjust my kindle to make the font larger or the page brighter but it would feel like adjusting the volume on an audio-book; I'm getting the content but I can't say I've read the book.   I've lost the personal connection to the author's finished product.
In my disappointing class on British Mystery Writers, the one fabulous lecture considered Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories and their relationship to the illustrations by Sidney Paget.  In the original magazines, the pictures were placed precisely on the page, forcing the reader to move her eyes around Holmes and Watson in the train carriage, breaking up the rhythm of the words and mimicking the feeling of the train clicking and clacking over the tracks.   At least, that's what the professor told us.  That is the kind of connection I'm imagining when I'm holding a book in my hands.  It's more than the words, it's the gestalt.

The Little Cuter is starting graduate school this week, and her response to my excitement about wandering through the pre-school bookstore bustle was disheartening.  Let me paraphrase:
I am so old.  I've only been out of college for 3 years, but everything is different.  I pay $80 and then I download everything the professors want me to read.  No books.
It is probably less expensive and less time-intensive to provide the content in this fashion.  It remains to be seen if a 20-something English major who grew up on underlining and scribbling notes in the margins of her text books can make the transition to reading her school work electronically.  I know, JES, that the monitor is different from the kindle, but some of her textbooks are kindle-friendly, too.  Searching for a character or a chart would certainly be easier electronically, but part of the pleasure of the book is skimming back through the pages, reminding yourself of what-happened-when as you search for that forgotten phrase or photograph.  Of course, I also miss the card catalogs in libraries......

The book is a very democratic object.  If treated with respect, it can last for hundreds of years.  It can be read by princes and paupers and beggars and thieves.  And, unlike JES's kindle, it can be shared with his wife.  Listen, as, in his own words, he provides me with more ammunition:

Now, the one thing I could NOT do with the Kindle would be to buy you a copy for YOUR Kindle. I'd have to send you an Amazon gift certificate........ This sort of limitation drives me a little crazy, because The Missus and I share a lot of tastes in reading -- but I can't share Kindle books with her. (I could buy HER a Kindle, but that seems a little extreme.
and then, wonderful new friend that he is, he puts the icing on the cake, the cherry on the sundae, The End on the last page of the book:

Plus, she's with you: she doesn't WANT one. Sigh.
Don't I meet the nicest people here in The Burrow?  And they have such excellent taste in wives.
*Kindle is, I fear, going to become like kleenex and tivo and chapstick and saran wrap.  Hence, I am using it as the catch-all noun and not capitalizing it.  Sorry, Nook and you other e-readers. And one other thing : I'm not sure that JES has the actual Kindle itself.

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