As I mentioned in my last blog entry, I recently read Beth Revis’ book Across the Universe on my wife’s Kindle. It was the first book I’ve ever read in electronic format (if you exclude the books I’ve written on a computer).
I’ve resisted the idea of e-books for quite a while because I grew up with paperbacks, and to me, the experience of reading a book is so much more than the words and the story. I love books for many reasons. The cover art. The blurbs on the back page. The picture of the author. The acknowledgements. The dedications. The tactile feel of the pages. The weight of the volume – literally the weight of the words. The smell of the paper – new and old. I enjoy the social aspects of books. The creases in the bindings formed by previous readings. The look on people’s faces when they see you reading something they are interested in, or have read, and the conversations that starts. The memories books bring back when you see them on your shelf. I can remember where I was in my life when I read just about every book I have. The there’s the bond they form between people when you see that book sitting there on someone else’s shelf. These are all things I love about books. And all things, that for the most part, e-books do not provide.
What I see e-books providing to the reader are very clinical benefits. Reduced shelf space (a realistic concern for many people, including me). Immediate gratification of an urge to obtain or read something. Reduced weight when packing for a trip. Reduced environmental impact… though I’m not positive that ten years from now we won’t have thousands of obsolete e-readers clogging our landfills, while at the very least, books are still on a shelf or have been recycled into other paper products. You can’t resell an e-book at a used book store. As an author, I’m okay with that, but I do wonder how many low-income people will never discover an author because they never saw a stack of his books at Half-Price Books.
My first experience with a Kindle greatly distracted me from the book I was reading, and it wasn’t until halfway through the book that I was able to forget about the medium and focus on the story. Once I was past that, I was able to pay better attention, and my mind grew to accept that I was reading a story. But not a book. I think the world would be a better place if we stopped calling them e-book-readers and called them e-story-readers. They are not books. Not in this format.
I missed a real book. I missed the anticipation that drawing closer to the end of a book gives you. The little progress bar at the bottom didn’t give me that. It was more like a quest in a video game that made reading feel – hurried. I take pictures of pages in my mind. Sometimes I can recall the exact position of a word on a page, even having just skimmed the page because each piece of paper is unique, either in feel or in watermark or in it’s position in the book. You don’t get that with a Kindle.
Having said all that, I do appreciate a few things about a Kindle, and one of them I noticed right away. The day after I finished the book on the Kindle, I picked up Cherie Priest’s book Dreadnought. This is a pretty hefty book, and after an hour of reading, my hands were a little sore from holding it. That thumb pain (which may be unique to me because of a problem I have with my hands), did not happen with the Kindle.
Also, after having remodeled my office last fall, and cleaned out dozens and dozens of books and taking them to a used book store, my bookshelves are once again approaching the overflowing state. And that means more must be purged, or I must once again buy more shelving. And I really don’t want to do either. That is probably my number one reason for even considering getting a Kindle for myself.
The other reason I would get a Kindle is so that my wife and I can share the books she is reading. Because she has a Kindle – and is addicted to it – every time she finds a good book, she has to decide to buy it or download it. She tries to only download the ones she thinks I won’t like. But my tastes are pretty diverse, and I’m getting the feeling I’m missing out on a lot of good reading that she is not telling me about. Partially because she doesn’t want to give up her Kindle to me, I’m sure.
There is no doubt in my mind that at some point I will get a Kindle. I resisted Smart Phones for a long time, saying I didn’t need all those fancy features. Now, I have an IPhone, and while I’m not going to gush over phones like some people I know, I do like and use my phone enough to know that I could never go Smart-Phoneless.
Someday, I will be absorbed into the e-book Zombie Nation. I won’t love it, but I will get used to it, and I will still buy the occasional book in paperback or hardcover. Just like sometimes I still use my landline to make a call and I still surf the web on my computer. Some books will just be better in real paper. And just like I still look back fondly at some of the old video games I used to plan on my Commodore 64, some day I will look up from my Kindle, peruse my shelf of books, pick one up and smell it and feel the paper and miss it. I won’t need all those books, but I will miss them when they are gone.