Sunday, October 3, 2010

I Love My Kindle. I Hate My Kindle.

I now have two e-books under my e-belt: The Passage and Freedom.  Both were read on my Kindle and both will most likely make my year-end Top 10 list.  By coincidence, both titles could point, metaphorically, to the way my reading life has changed this past year.  Am I making the passage from "real books" to e-books?  And does eInk offer a certain freedom from ink on paper?

The jury is still out.  The Twelve Angry Men are still debating the issue in the ante-chamber and, at this point, Henry Fonda seems to be the lone holdout in favor of printed books.  For those of you who have seen Sidney Lumet's movie, you know how the story turns out.  And, while I won't spoil it here, let's just say that some of the bloom has gone off the rose since I first gushed about my new gadget a few months ago.  (Cue Henry Fonda: slam knife into heart of Kindle at center of table).

I'm still enthused about the sleek design of the device and the fact it can hold hundreds of pounds of books.  I like the immediacy of buying, downloading, and instantly reading books.  And the electronic search, highlights, and notes features of the Kindle are life-savers to me as a reviewer who in the past has had to spend many frustrating minutes trying to find quotable passages which refused to be found.  There are many things to love about e-readers.

But there are an equal number of things to love about batteries-not-required books.  I do miss the tactile, erotic pleasures of velvety paper, stiff covers and the nose-tingle of fresh ink or bookshelf dust (depending on the age of the book).  I miss dustjackets, cover art, and the gilt-embossed boards of my vintage novels from the Edwardian Era.  Curiously, one of the things I missed most about tactile books while reading The Passage and Freedom was the ability to accurately chart my progress through the pages.  The bottom of the Kindle screen tells me a "location" instead of a page number and informs me that I'm x% of the way through the book.  But that tells me nothing.  Being 84% of the way through Don Quixote and 84% of the way through Of Mice and Men are two completely different things when I calculate the time left for me to finish reading the book.  I have the need to actually see the bundle of read and unread pages pinched between my fingers--84% on one side, 16% on the other.  All of which points to the fact that I'm a very competitive reader--in competition with myself and, in a broader sense, against the clock of my life as I try to read EVERY BOOK EVER WRITTEN before I die.

In the Kindle Kingdom, there's no flipping ahead to find your next stopping place (for me, a chapter break or a white space within the chapter).  Or if there is, it's not as convenient or as quick as riffling paper pages from right to left.  Because my reading life is divided into small 20-minute fragments throughout the day, finding the next stopping place is vital to me.

To the relief of my wife and my already-groaning bookshelves, I'll continue to buy and read e-books.  Turning pages with the click of a thumb or a swipe of the forefinger is fun! fresh! and so tomorrow!  But, honestly, it's not quite the same pleasurable experience.

My current book is an old hardback edition of James Dickey's Deliverance--no dustjacket, just beige boards with the title printed in simple green off-center near the place where my fingers hold the book.  The pages are deckle-edged--sort of like the rippling surface of the Cahulawassee River.  This morning, as I turned to page 111, a dust bunny, trapped by some long-ago reader and forgotten about for years, fell out onto my lap.  I picked it up and examined the hairs, fibers, and the speck of red lint which I pictured coming from a previous reader's sweater.  In an instant, that dust bunny connected me with a nameless, faceless someone who, for all I know, could be dead by now but who had once traveled these same pages.  I'll never have a moment like that with my Kindle.

*     *     *     *     *

I've been collecting links to e-book-related stories for about a month, waiting for the right moment to share them with you.  As I turn (er, click) the last page of Freedom, now seems as good a time as any.  Bear in mind, some of these are more than two months old (geologic epochs in Internet Time) so some of the information might be outdated and seem even quaint from a mere two month's perspective.

1.  The Wall Street Journal looks at the reading habits of e-reader readers.
Since getting her Kindle last year, Leslie Johnson has been reading more often and in more places—like on a kayak.  On a recent trip, the 34-year-old engineer from Albany, N.Y., settled into a science-fiction novel while her husband fished.  "I put it in a waterproof cover," she says.

2.  Author Deborah Willis debates the bound vs. e-book question.  The gadgets pretty much suffer a crushing defeat.
When books become computers, they will no longer be books.

3.  The Wall Street Journal says e-books may not bode well for writers, financially-speaking.  Yeah, but when were we ever in this business for the $$?
     Priced much lower than hardcovers, many e-books generate less income for publishers.  And big retailers are buying fewer titles.  As a result, the publishers who nurtured generations of America's top literary-fiction writers are approving fewer book deals and signing fewer new writers.  Most of those getting published are receiving smaller advances.
     "Advances are down, and there aren't as many debuts as before," says Ira Silverberg, a well-known literary agent.  "We're all trying to figure out what the business is as it goes through this digital disruption."
"Disruption"?  As if the e-revolution wasn't here to stay?

4.  Serialized novel delivered by an app.
     Best-selling authors Neal Stephenson and Greg Bear are looking back to the future.  This month, they launched a story —The Mongoliad— using a 175-year-old publishing model.  Their novel-as-app (or app-as-novel) is coming out in weekly, serial segments, complete with cliffhanger endings and a cheap subscription rate.
     Literary luminaries such as Charles Dickens (The Pickwick Papers), Alexandre Dumas (The Count of Monte Cristo) and Leo Tolstoy (Anna Karenina) published some of their most popular works in the serial format in the 19th century.
     Today, instead of reading serialized stories in magazines, readers will pay $5.99 at for a six-month app that gets them a chapter a week zapped to their smart phone, iPad or computer.

5.  The New York Times looks at uneasy marriages split between kith and Kindle:  Of Two Minds About Books.
     Auriane and Sebastien de Halleux are at sharp odds over The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but not about the plot.  The problem is that she prefers the book version, while he reads it on his iPad.  And in this literary dispute, the couple says, it’s ne’er the twain shall meet.
    “She talks about the smell of the paper and the feeling of holding it in your hands,” said Mr. de Halleux, 32, who says he thinks the substance is the same regardless of medium.  He added, sounding mildly piqued, “She uses the word ‘real.’ ”

6.  Still on the fence about which device to buy?  Kindlerama sorts through some of the pros and cons.

7.  And, finally, giving Kindles a bad name (as well as elbow driving), an Oregon bus driver is caught on camera reading while driving a 40-foot bus.  Any guesses as to what he was reading?

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