Monday, March 31, 2008
Pondering Amazon Kindle
I was reading up about Amazon's portable reader, Kindle, which is currently unavailable due to high demand, though they promise they are making them as fast as their elves can tinker. It's an intriguing idea: One small paper-back-sized device that can hold roughly 200 novels or their equivalent in newspapers, magazines, technical manuals, spreadsheets or textbooks. (Textbooks! Wow! That has possibilities.) NYT Bestsellers for $9.99 or less, downloaded immediately. Lying on a beach somewhere, keeping up with one's RSS feeds. Kindle doesn't mildew. Kindle doesn't get its spine broken when someone drops it behind the headboard. And if you're reading your Kindle in the bathtub and you drop it in the bath water, aside from the electrocution risk, you just lose your Kindle; the books it contained are all backed up for you on Amazon's servers, ready to be re-downloaded when you shell out another $400 for a replacement Kindle. (I assume that Kindle can only use the proprietary file format from Amazon. I have a bunch of books on PDF that I'd like to read easily but I don't think they could convert to a Kindle.)
On the other hand, how can you replace the feel of real books? The smell of real books? The weight of them in your hands, the way the pages soften over the years to velvet? A well-read ex-library book from 40 years ago has pages like rose petals. What about a 40-year-old Kindle? Will it have the same charm? Will a Kindle book automatically fall open to your favorite parts? (Well, maybe it will, if you add a bookmark.) What about the beauty of a wall of bookshelves packed floor to ceiling with well-cared-for hardcovers? How can you replace the snobbery of owning an early edition of a favorite author? Will bragging about being one of the first thousand people to download a Kindle of that book be as good? And what about author autographs? Do you have your favorite writer sign your Kindle? An electronic signature sure wouldn't do the trick.
What can possibly replace the total sensory experience of actual, physical, paper books?