Monday, August 8, 2011

In Defense of the Kindle

I read an editorial by a bibliophile that suggested that publishers launch a sexy ad campaign in favor of the print book to combat Kindle's impressive marketing, citing books' sensory pleasures: the smell; the feel in your hands; that crisp, appealing crinkle of a turned page and smooth snap of a dust jacket. It does sound seductive--but then anything can be made so with a few quick sketches of words, anything can be made romantic.

I would know--I'm a writer, sorceress of language, slave to literature, beauty, romance. My life has been marked by books, tens of thousands of pages and titles and authors, covers and characters I can barely keep track of. It is my favorite refuge, my ultimate comfort, an always reliable pleasure. I would be delighted with a life spent looking out windows, with a book and pen and paper. I read Tolstoy as others would chain watch Sex and the City. I stop and eagerly browse at every used books stand I pass on the street. My first, dream job, was to work at the local bookstore (and I did). I am no stranger to the sensory and aesthetic pleasures of a book. I linger in bookstores, brushing my hands over matte covers and ivory pages, lusting after particularly exquisite covers. I fantasize constantly about the exact appearance, texture of my first published novel: the artist who would draw the illustration, my name in exact lettering, the typography and lines and spacing of each page, even the exact way the spine creases in the hands of adoring readers.

I am an avid bibliophile--and, I love my Kindle.

Let me tell you about my Kindle. It is an impromptu gift, from someone close. Most of the time it rests inside a bubble mailer manila envelope, creased and folded from all the wear, in one of my purses, or sits, naked, at my bedside. It is covered with a lovely white and blue porcelain art skin/decal that catches the eye and sets off the grey and black of the screen. The first book I bought for it was Fernando Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet, but now I've worked through quite a few more--David Foster Wallace's The Pale King, Tolstoy's War and Peace, Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise, Somerset's Of Human Bondage, Dickens's Bleak House...(I have a thing for 700 pages plus 19th Century literature), as well as a dozen samples and a few new books I recently acquired. I can hardly leave the house without it in my purse.

It is there when I stand in the insufferable heat and humidity, the microwave of subway stations, awaiting the L train to take me home. It is there amidst a crowded train, when my one hand grips the poles so as to not topple over in the lurch of the train and high heels. It is there, next to me, on the tables of countless restaurants where I like to dine alone. It is there in parks, in offices, on couches, in bed, next to the cozy glow of my lamp and candle flames on the other end of my room. It is there to distract me when my mind is a mess of tortured laments. It is there when I take the ferry across the rolling waters of the East River to Governor's Island, where I find a white wicker and wood rocking chair on the patio of some old lovely house, and rock slightly back and force as I begin to read Proust. And when it is with me, so are all the vibrant characters and times and scenes from the particular book I'm reading. So is instant escape, freedom, relief.

I always read voraciously, but now I read constantly, incessantly. Before I debated the merits of a heavy bag with a creased paperback, but now even on a short errand run I can't imagine the brief subway ride without my constant literary companion. Before, when I struggled to locate volumes on the dim shelves of the library, with a few button presses I find just what I want and curl up with a smile. Before, when I heard recommendations, I scribbled them in notebooks and soon forgot them. Now I find and buy and can delve into a new world, instantly.

I can't imagine my life now without it, this gray screen I love above my iPhone, iPod, Macbook Air, this indispensable partner on train rides and flights. The Kindle is built for that, the dedicated reader with an infinite appetite in mind, not the casual browser who maybe once in a long while goes home to read a buzzed about new book, but the reader who can't live without books. So when I mention my beloved Ebook reader to friends, and they, in shocked tones of betrayal, tell me that they could never--abandon the smell, the sound of pages flipping, the feel of the weight of a book in their hands, I cringe inside. As if by owning a Kindle I'm turning back on my love of literature! As if they accuse me, the most passionate defender of language of words, to be a tourist, a traitor!

The rise of E-books doesn't demote the role of literature, far from it. In fact, the ease and accessibility of new technology can only help spread the act of reading as a leisure activity, free it from its old, very real, practical constraints. Sure, thick hardcover volumes are wonderfully romantic--but try bringing that on a day trip, on the subway, to class, on a flight to another country. And with the vast free library of classics available to E-readers, seemingly daunting literary masters comes with no obligation and become featherweight delights (seriously, read Anna Karenina--it is a page turner and far more enjoyable than the old Russian master's stuffy reputation might have you think). E-books don't mean the end of reading or publishing--in fact, publishers make better profits from Kindle books than the process of printing and distribution of physical novels. Embracing the rise of the E-Book, and not fighting it, is one of the smartest decisions publishers can make in this age where the very industry is in danger. But just as the MP3 didn't destroy the music industry, and only helped to create a more open, welcoming arena, this new technology and format won't ruin books and the people who love to read or create them.

Besides, publishers don't need an expensive campaign to remind the world of the pleasure of a print book--for those who love it already, it can't be forgotten or ignored. Every time I pass by an used books stand, I still stop and browse, and sometimes come home with surprise finds that stay at my bedside. Only, I might check if it's available on Kindle classics free first...

1 comment:

  1. Well said. When I first purchased mine, I feared the same mental-split that comes with any gadget; reading a thousand books at once, not being able to ever finish, etc. But it is so easy on the eyes. I read through the WWII diaries of Anais Nin first and it was fantastic, a world of beauty and suffering and exquisite poetic thinking all in a feathery-white portable dream. I am certainly pro-kindle, and as you say, that is not in conflict with worshiping the world of literature, which we both undoubtedly do.