My wife Barbara got me a Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas. She was as sure she’d have to return it as she would have been if it was a shirt in size medium.
She knows me. She knows I haven’t worn a medium anything since I was about 10 years old. She also knows I’m not what marketers call an early adapter. She knows I’m always a format or two behind the times, that I only allowed her to get me an iPod when she and my daughter promised to load all my CDs into iTunes for me, and that I only started buying CDs when they stopped selling music on cassettes. She knows that once I figure out how to work something, I’m very reluctant to give it up.
It should be sufficient to say that I still use AOL.
Barbara also knows I like books. I like collecting them. I like their covers. I like seeing the authors’ photos. I like turning pages, and seeing physical evidence of how many are left, and how their edges are a bit ragged in some books, as if the publisher is trying to convince you the thing was hand-cut and bound by old-world artisans.
I like that books may be enjoyed without the use of technology of any kind (well, okay, besides lights). And I like knowing that I will be able to read them again, five or 10 years from now, when Kindles are obsolete, and no one will have anything on which to read any book they purchased in the “Kindle edition.”
So, as I said, Barbara was sure I’d return the Kindle. But she’s committed to slowly moving me into the 21st Century, so she gave it a try.
And, I have to admit, I kind of like it.
It’s great to be able to carry around a 1,000-page Stephen King novel in my pocket, and to pluck entire books magically out of thin air. It’s nice to be able to read one-handed in the dark, although I can’t ever remember sitting under a reading lamp holding a book in two hands and wishing I could do it one-handed without the lamp.
I really like the sampling feature, which lets me read the first 25 pages or so of any book before deciding to buy it. I always felt uncomfortable doing that at Barnes & Noble: sitting at the built-in Starbucks and reading the first few chapters and spilling coffee on the book before realizing it sucked (the book, not the coffee) and slipping it (the book, not the coffee) sheepishly back on a shelf nowhere near where I had found it.
Now I can read the sample in the comfort of my own home, but without the coffee, because I’m terrified of spilling some on my expensive electro-book. I figure I’ve saved over $100 by not liking samples of books that I previously would have bought and then not liked, but I would have felt obligated to read them anyway, although I’ll allow that some of them turned out to be pretty good after the first few boring pages.
Now I’ll never know.
You know what else I like? I like being able to instantly look up words. And when an author refers to a character on page 356 that he hasn’t mentioned since page four, I can search for that character to see who the hell he’s talking about. I also like that I can read something trashy while on public transportation and not have everyone know it.
There are a few things I don’t like about the Kindle. For one thing, I don’t like using it to read great literature while on public transportation and not have everyone know it.
I don’t like missing the visual and tactile experience of the clever covers publishers put on books these days. I don’t like that I have to worry about my book’s battery going dead, or that I have to occasionally plug my book in. I don’t like using my suddenly free hand to eat buttered popcorn while reading and having to find an unbuttered finger with which to touch the screen.
I also don’t like that my Kindle judges me.
I know it’s trying to be helpful, but I’m also aware that it is keeping track of how frequently I flip the pages. Sometimes, I’ll even see the time left get longer, as if my Kindle is admonishing me for slacking off and daydreaming mid-page.
It may be saying “Eight minutes left in the chapter,” but it’s thinking “Eight minutes left in the chapter, but only because you think Evelyn Woods is the person who erased Nixon’s tapes.^”
It’s saying “Six hours, 47 minutes left in the book,” but it’s thinking “Six hours, 47 minutes left in the book, but John down the street will be finished in three hours, you slow mother f***er.” (You would think, wouldn’t you, that with all the words it has access to, the Kindle would be more gracefully articulate, but there you go.)
Anyway, I’ll still buy books sometimes, especially if it’s an author I already have a lot of books by. But I do like my Kindle.
See you soon.