How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love my Kindle.

May 3, 2011

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Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...

Cover via Amazon

It’s time for me to come out of the Kindle closet.

Yes! I have a Kindle! I know, I know — I didn’t tell you. Don’t feel bad, I didn’t really tell anyone, but I’ve been reading books pretty much exclusively on my Kindle since I received it as a surprise Christmas gift from my husband. He was definitely more excited than I was as I opened it; it seemed, on paper at least, to be the perfect gift for me — a life-long, avid reader!

And yet, the Kindle made me uncomfortable from the start.

I thought, at first, that it was too extravagant of a gift, but then I realized that, uh, it actually wasn’t. Also, the lower price for e-books (and now their availability in some libraries) would soon pay for the cost of the actual device which, incidentally, fits into even my smallest handbag.

Maybe I’m just not an electronic gadgets kind of girl. I still use a years-old MacBook, and I even had the keyboard replaced recently, instead of just getting a whole new laptop as my husband suggested. I don’t even upgrade the software on my iPhone, and I’d probably still be viewing the Web on Mosaic if David hadn’t continually upgraded me over the years — hell, I’d still be calling the A/V department to get the slide projector running. (For those who are aware that I have an advanced degree from a program that prides itself about being on the cutting edge of all technology, I will point out that, even then, I was all about the content. I always viewed technology as a tool, not as something fascinating in and of itself.)

There was no getting around it: the Kindle felt wrong to me. I didn’t want to push a button to turn the page; I wanted to turn the actual page — you know, the one made out of paper? I missed seeing the cover art of books, and knowing what page I was on, instead of just what percentage of a book I’d read. (For those non-Kindle users, the fact that you can easily adjust the type size means that the e-book pages do not necessarily correspond to the real book pages.) The first book I downloaded (Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray) seemed to take forever to read, and it wasn’t until I later saw it in a book store that I realized why: It was over 700 pages long! I had no idea.

But over the following weeks, my feelings changed. As I have with other new technologies, I got used to the Kindle. Once it felt familiar, I realized that my Kindle, like the rest of the technology around here, does grant me easier access to meaningful things: good books and magazines (or shows, music, and movies, in the case of those other technologies, like Sonos and TiVO, that David has quietly added over the years).

Most importantly, I now see that I am reading at least twice as much as is normal for me. Believe it or not, the time that you save in turning the pages by pushing a button really adds up! And the biggest advantage is that I now purchase a few books at a time, as they are recommended to me, so I always have a book waiting for me, in my Netflix-like queue.  The other night, I finished reading Andre Dubus’ latest (and best, in my opinion), Townie, around 9pm. I still felt like reading, so I immediately delved into The Summer Guest, by Justin Cronin (also excellent). My lag time in between books has gone from many days to…nothing. We are just five months into the year and I’ve already completed seven novels. That’s about what I usually read in a whole year.

So why does part of me still feel like owning a Kindle is the equivalent of driving a Hummer or eating at McDonald’s? I think it has more to do with an unwanted side effect: there’s no getting around the fact that all e-book readers are contributing to the demise of local book stores, stores that I love and have patronized for years — and still do! And what about the people who make books and design cover art and set the type (do people still do that?)? What happens to a whole industry? (I worry less about libraries because they provide such an invaluable resource to so many people, I believe libraries will remain relevant.)

Maybe to assuage the guilt, some righteous Kindle owners claim that we are helping save the planet by saving trees from being made into books, but what they’re selling, I’m not buying. For starters, where are we going to put all the unwanted Kindles after they break or we get a newer version?

Despite the unresolved issues, for now, I really enjoy my Kindle — how can I resist a more convenient and, in the long run, cheaper way to read? But I’m telling you now: If this thing craps out on me in the middle of a great book, I will kick it to the curb. Because, ultimately, it’s not the Kindle that I love, it’s the words it delivers.



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