Last week, after much hype, Amazon unveiled an updated version of their e-book reader, The Kindle. The new device is significantly thinner, marginally more aesthetically pleasing (although this is hardly an achievement worth boasting about given what an eyesore the previous model was) and has an improved battery life. My response: “So what.”
Last week a friend told me that he was seriously considering buying a Kindle. He seemed shocked that I disapproved, accusing me of being a luddite. I’m sorry (not quite sure why I’m apologizing- I think it’s a British thing), but there is something I find deeply troubling about the idea of reading a book on a screen. I can feel myself getting all nostalgic again.
My friend argued that the migration of the novel from the realm of analogue to digital was analogous to that of the newspaper, and said that that given how easily I had been persuaded to ditch my newspaper subscription and read it online instead, it wasn’t much of a stretch for him to imagine that I would soon be comfortable doing the same with a novel.
For me though, the analogy doesn’t work. Whilst I undoubtedly prefer sitting down with a copy of the Sunday paper (a cappuccino and a Full English breakfast for company) to craning over my laptop screen, because the news is being perpetually created, using an online news source allows me to be instantly be updated on the day’s happenings, rather than waiting half a day for the morning paper. It also helps that online news sources are free. Reading a book on The Kindle is far from free (The Kindle itself costs $359) and there isn’t the same requirement for immediacy with a novel.
“Just imagine a world with no books,” I told him. Isn’t there something rewarding about owning a book that has been on an adventure with you across continents? Books sit on your bookshelf like a bookmark to a time and place in your life, each crease and dent a reminder of a holiday or an argument. Books have a soul. Reading them is a tactile experience, from the smell of a new book, to the simple experience of turning the pages of a great read…(I can’t help but feel that this is sounding like I have a book fetish).
Ultimately, I want to be able to sit in a café, or in a park, or on the beach with a book in my hand; something that will survive wind and rain and sand and mud. Something that I can put on my bookshelf when I finish. The Kindle may save space, and perhaps one day money, but as far as I’m concerned, there is no substitute for the real thing.