Thursday, August 5, 2010

Books Like Whoa: A Bibliophile Reflects on the Kindle

This year for my birthday, I took the plunge and asked for a Kindle. I can say that I did with this with a not inconsiderable amount of trepidation. The result? Surprisingly satisfying.
First, this review will be most relatable to people who love books. I'm not talking about people who love stories or plots or characters. That's a part of loving books. No, I'm talking about people who are in love with the entire process of reading, of being engulfed by the words and the twists and the endings, of flipping the pages and impatiently counting how many are left until curiosity can be satisfied. Honestly, to endulge in a little melodrama, there is something transporting about a genuinely complete reading experience, and there's no good way to explain this to someone who doesn't already know. The need to finish it is all comsuming and only pleasurable after it is satiated. But I digress.
Part of the essential reading experience for me and anyone else who loves books is initimately tied to the physicality of the tome itself. The smell of fresh new pages or the familiar mustiness of old, the feeling of delicate or thick or pulpy pater as you flip through, the sound of the sheets rubbing together absentmindedly between your fingers. And the cover. I don't even know where to begin with the cover. The adage "you can't judge a book by it's cover" may be something nice to teach your toddler, but it is absolute crock within the complicated and ruthless realm of book selection. I judge a book by it's cover whenever I go to the bookstore- we all do. It is impossible to read every one ever published so there is necessary discrimination from a practicality standpoint. Sometimes I arrive at the bookshop with a preconceived idea of what I am looking for. A title that I have heard good things about, an author I want to further explore. But other times, I enter the shelves with no prediliction as to what I will go home with. (It just occurred to me that most normal people my age go to the bars in similar mindsets...).
The cover is a pivotal component in the my enjoyment of a book. For one thing, if the book has an embarassing or weird cover, I am much, much less likely to read it in public, limiting my available time to read it in general. Additionally, if it is a book that I don't particularly want to be seen reading (i.e. books too young for me or with topics that will reveal my inner dork), I very much care how prominently the title is displayed. Color me vain.
I'm not saying that there aren't some great books out there with deplorable covers (see "Changes That Heal" and "Strong Women, Soft Hearts"... come to think of it, these have terrible titles, too. It's a miracle I ever read these. Well, I'm glad I did- they are very convicting and thought-provoking). But I confess that if, conversely, a book has a very modern and hip cover or one with beautiful artwork or a snappy title in chic typeset, I am much more likely to buy it and take it out in public.
This is all tangential, I suppose. What I intended to write about is my Kindle experience. But before I could really dive in, I wanted to make it clear that if anyone wasn't going to like the Kindle, it was going to be me. No cover? No page turning? No paper smell? No creases in the binding? I was highly suspect of this new-fangled device. Books have been around in roughly the same form for hundreds of years. If it was good enough for Gutenberg and his cronies, it should be good enough for me, right?
Well, gentle reader, I am a convert. Now let's be clear- I am too in love with books to ever go completely wired. However, the Kindle has far exceeded my expectations.
First, it's so light and thin- it is much easier to keep this in my purse than most of my beloved but bulky books.
Second, everything that people say about the seamless interface is spot on. You truly do forget that you are reading on the screen and it fades into a non-entity as you get lost in the book.
Third, books published before 1923 are in the public domain and therefore must be offered in *free* format. Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, Vanity Fair, War & Peace, Pride & Prejuidice... all of these are free on the Kindle Store.
Fourth, Amazon offers software applications for all of your devices for free- and they all keep track of what page you're on. That means I can be reading something on my Kindle, then go to the app on my Mac and pick up exactly where I left off. This also means that you can buy books through the Kindle store on Amazon and send to your computer, even if you don't have a Kindle.
Fifth, since the books are cheaper, you can take more risks. Books that I might not be willing to spend $14.99 on, I might be willing to risk $7.99 on.
Finally, no one will judge what you are reading when you are out and about. I will confess it here- the first book I paid for on this thing was a Chelsea Handler. Trash, I know. But it was $6.99- and no one would ever know I was reading it in the mechanic's waiting room.
All of this to say, I went into the technilogical world of book reading with trepidation. I was skeptical. I was prepared to hate it. And... I didn't. In fact, I rather like it.
So for those of you on the fence, the Kindle has recently taken a dramatic price plunge and is now very affordable. If in doubt, I'd tell you to go for it. I've not encountered many people who didn't enjoy it once they bit the bullet and gave it a try.

No comments:

Post a Comment