Friday, October 17, 2008

Kindle Schmindle

By John Gilstrap
www.johngilstrap.com

Well I finally saw one of the new wonder machines by amazon.com. I was on a cross-country flight from Washington to San Francisco when the guy in the seat next to me pulled out this nifty electronic pad, flipped a switch and made writing appear on the screen. He said it was a business book that he’d downloaded from the amazon site.

I’m not much for chatting up the people next to me on airplanes—in fact, I get my noise-canceling headphones in place as fast as I can as the most polite means of telling the world to leave me the hell alone—so I nodded and feigned fascination for long enough to get my trusty Boses on my ears and then went about my business. Had I been in the mood to engage, though, I would have told him that he hadn’t in fact downloaded a book—he’d downloaded merely the text.

I’ve been called a Luddite before, and not without good reason, so maybe it’s no surprise to my friends that I hold strong to my belief that a book by definition is printed on paper. A “book” on CD is a recorded story. A “book” on an LCD screen is . . . well, hard to look at. I’m a traditionalist on these things.

For me, the act of reading a book involves nearly all the senses. I love the feel of the pages, the aroma of the ink, the gentle whisper of sound that some with every page turn. When I read a really good book, the most impressive scenes and turns of phrase aren’t just locked into my memory as scenes or sounds, they’re locked in by their position on the page where I read them. As I plow through a book, I love to watch the progression of the bookmark. When I’m starting out on a trip, it’s that bookmark landmark that tells me whether or not I need to put a backup book in my briefcase.

When a book is awaiting its turn to be read, it lies supine on a pile; when it’s finished, it gets a place on my library shelves. On cold nights in particular, there’s no greater pleasure than sitting in that book-lined room with the reading light on, swallowed in my green leather chair with the volume on my lap and a scotch in my hand. I’m not much for napping, but if one must fall asleep accidentally, there is no better circumstance for it.

I look at computer screens all day and many nights. Everywhere I go, it seems, I’m surrounded by plastic and buttons.

But not in the library. Never in my library.

6 comments:

  1. I don't think the kindle (or its brethren) will replace books simply because there are people like you and me.

    I do see the uses for a beast like that, and as a bookseller that's a tough thing to say but it's true. Still, I think books are safe as long as they're allowed to flourish uncensored.

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  2. Artfully put. There is no mor erelaxing and satisfying sound in the world than to listen to room where the only sound is the apparantly random turning of pages, especially if there is more than one person there. People perfectly content to be together without having to speak, reading.

    I also enjoy watching the bookmark work its way to the back.

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  3. My older son is a former federal agent for the Department of Defense and is now a computer forensics security expert. As a rule, he doesn’t read books other than text books and tech manuals. He doesn’t even read my books. That is until he purchased the Kindle. Now he enjoys fiction because reading with the Kindle is tech oriented. A sign of the times in my opinion. Today’s generation of new readers have been brought up taking computers and electronics for granted. It is a part of their lives to enjoy and be entertained with information using technology. Whether we like it or not, devices like the Kindle are here to stay. More will come, and each new development will bring additional improvements over the previous. I look at the Kindle as an opportunity to gain new fans, get my name and books in front of more people, and consider it one more slice of the marketing pie and the reading experience. The more people use them to read my books, the happier I am.

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  4. I agree. There is something about reading an actual book that is sadly lacking in screen reading. When I write I read off the screen until I've finished a chapter or several and then I print it to read and I find mistakes when I'm reading the paper copy that I missed on the screen. I have looked at the Kindle, and it's as close to a printed page as there is, and I hope it helps bring readers to our books.

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  5. I was so excited to see that my latest release, A KILLER WORKOUT, has been released for the Kindle. And I haven't even seen one of the machines yet!

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  6. I have to say that I agree with Kathryn. Mind you, I live in San Francisco and we love our gadgets here, but that man sitting next to you on the plane likely had eighty books in something the size of a paperback. And note that ebooks appeal not just to the generation raised on computers, but to the boomers who appreciate font sizes that eliminate the need for large print format. I love books, love all the aspects of them that you mentioned. But there's an interesting article in Writer's Digest this month by the former editor of Wired detailing how he sees the new devices as adding to, not supplanting, the current book market. I love books, but as an environmentalist the waste created by remaindering bothers me. And for me, the content is key. It doesn't matter what format it's read in, be it hardcover, paperback, ebook, or otherwise, as long as it produces more readers. And I think that when it comes to insuring the survival of reading as a leisure activity, with everything it competes against these days, this new format is critical.

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