For the Love of a Kindle : In Celebration of the E-Reader
I love real books.
I love how they feel and how they smell. I love their sense of space and progression. I love their permanence.
Sometimes, however, I run into people who advocate for real books as if they were advocating for trafficked children. I think that’s a little extreme.
I know an older person who has invented body language for the specific purpose of disparaging e-readers. She doesn’t just say that she prefers physical books. She views e-readers as a moral wrong. She’s also pretty sure they cause brain damage. “I only read REAL BOOKS,” she declares, standing firm as the final line of defense against an invading army.
I get tickled when I see this, imagining the transition between scrolls and the codex between the 2nd and 4th centuries. Maybe the old folks back then complained, “There’s no way a human brain can process the true flow of writing with all these blasted page breaks. These great works were meant to be taken in by scroll, and I’ll read scrolls until the day I die.”
Or when parchment began to replace papyrus, “These young kids have no commitment to precision. They can erase on parchment. You couldn’t erase back in my day. You had to get it right the first time.”
Was there ever a critic who griped about portability of papyrus? “I remember the good old days when somebody who had something worth saying carved it into a big, fat rock. Now THAT was a world of stability.”
For whatever little it matters, here’s my philosophy on the thing.
There are some books I only read in bound form. I tried to hit the ESV Reader’s Bible on Kindle, for instance, and that just didn’t work for me. I need the layout of the printed set to do part of the work.
But there are other books that I find much easier and more effective to read on Kindle. I’ve been taking a leisurely approach to Les Mis for the past year, and reading this book on Kindle is a far better experience than reading it on the printed page. With a click of a thumb, I can look up rare historical references, and reading footnotes is a breeze.
I’m not thumbing through a thousand pages every few paragraphs to find out what a “Saint-Jacques pragmatist” is. I touch the footnote number, get the historical nugget, close out, move on. Takes five seconds instead of thirty. That makes a big difference when you are tackling a project like this.
Here’s another confession. I bought Les Mis in three formats, audio book, hardback, and Kindle.
I knew that I would enjoy this book for the rest of my life, and I knew that this first reading would be a big part of my recreation for many months, so I took the leap.
On long bike rides, I listen to George Guidall’s brilliant rendering of the story--which is mighty helpful in some of the historical passages with complex pronunciations. When I want to go back over a specific passage in depth, I open the physical book and set Julie Rose’s translation up against several others that chose a word-for-word approach instead of an idea-for-idea method. Late at night while my husband is snoring away, I open my beautiful new Kindle Paperwhite and revel in the miracle of a 1300-page novel reduced to 7.3 ounces.
7.3 ounces. I can take that anywhere. And I do.
In every format, I am delighted with Hugo’s work. In those passages I have read three different ways, I have found that my brain picks up different things...not greater or lesser information but different information. Some details I have missed in bound form, the audio or the Kindle have revealed. It’s been humbling to realize that.
One more thought. It’s not true that all printed books are created equal.
When my friends over at the Rabbit Room print a hard copy of a book, they obsess over margins, fonts, paper quality, typesetting. This publisher is thoughtful and precise so that when you buy a Rabbit Room book, you’re buying a reading experience that enhances the reading material. When I have the opportunity to buy a book by Rabbit Room Press, I never pick the Kindle form over the hard copy.
But Rabbit Room production stands head and shoulders above the cheap paperbacks being thrown out en masse today. The classroom versions of so many brilliant novels are hideous, and I can’t blame students for being exhausted by them.
Great classics are ruined when they are thrown onto grey-smudgy, thin, stinky, cheap paper, words in tiny fonts crammed together, margins virtually non-existent, no beauty in page composition, a binding that makes opening pages fully impossible. We do our teenagers a great disservice when we hand them these aesthetic disasters.
I would much rather my students read Pride and Prejudice on a Kindle in a nice, clear Bookerly font than to mess with the headache of a poor physical reproduction. I can see why students toss many of those books aside for the SparkNotes summaries. I wouldn’t waste my time on trying to hack through such a mess, either.
All this to say, if you have been exposed to e-book shame, be free, be free. Do what you need to do to get the books read. Find the venue that works for you, and don't let anybody make you feel guilty about it.
Because I have the Kindle app on my phone and iPad, I wrestled for a year about a Paperwhite purchase. It seemed extravagant. Now I see that it’s one of the most important investments I have ever made. How I wish I could go back in time and make myself buy this two years ago. I could have used this sweet little thing during the election. Curling up in bed with a device that won’t let me check the news or social media is helping me sleep better than I’ve slept in a long time.
Having the option of silently reading a chapter or two when I wake up in the middle of the night is lowering my stress. I don’t see headlines. I get away from all that madness and allow hours meant for rest to be restful. I wake up, click on a soft little backlit page, read for fifteen minutes, then go back to sleep without the weight of the world on my shoulders.
And while "real books" will always have a soft spot in my heart, I'm completely smitten with this little thing. Welcome to my world, Paperwhite. I think we're going to be good friends for a long, long while.