Books and Kindles: Can’t Live With Them, Can’t Eat Them with Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti

Image of Kindle with All Roads Are Circles onscreen

Yeah, thought I'd put my novel onscreen. Sneaky, eh?

Books, ugh, repellent things. The fluttering of pages, the implicit mockery of cold text, the muscle- and mind-straining weight of ideas. Better to corral all those meandering words and their unseemly punctuation into an electron pool, where you can sip from modest, reduced-page cups of their content, where you can make type sizes wiggle to your wishes, where you can search and highlight and transfer and connect and criss-cross and cannibalize and—whew! [Daubs fevered brow.]

Actually, I love books, those creaky old antiques. If you drop hardcover books on eggs, they make a satisfying squish. If you argue with their authors, you can fling them across the room with a cascade of curses and get a resounding “bang!” from the wall opposite. But the reason I’m even blithering about books is that before I left for a recent two-month stint in the Bahamas, I was given a first-generation Kindle, a discard from a fellow who now is proudly armed with an iPad.

The Salt Slime of the Ancient Reader
Taking a pile of books to the Bahamas was a no-no, mostly for weight issues. And because, having lived in the tropics before, I knew that all things material are subject to the insidious insistence from nature that solids return to goo. For instance, my host in the tropics had vast shelves of great books, which I eagerly scanned. But picking one (and another and another) to leaf through—ahhgggh! All covered with that strange salt-slime that adheres to anything that is stationary for a period in the humid climes. Most unpleasant.

Thus, I Kindleized my reading, and I admit to the pleasure of summoning up multiple books for chunky savoring in one reading session. All those good free Domino Project works, Poke the Box, Do the Work, Self-Reliance and more. And because I am a dweeb, Grammatically Correct and Portable MFA in Creative Writing (even more portable on a Kindle). And a mystery story collection. And my own novel, pictured so promotionally in the image above.

The Palm V—Looking Back Through Time’s Cracked Screen
But I’ve never been the Luddite sort regardless, railing about ereaders being the death of the printed word. Publishing is evolving in crazy, lurching ways, but I think it’s mostly to the good. I’ll frequent (and buy in) bookstores till the day I go blind, happy with the serendipity of the shelves, the sense of discovery and promise the stores afford, and the fine feelings I actually get from the fluttering of pages. But I wrote a newspaper piece, sometime around the Ice Age of 1999, about having jolly fun reading Mark Twain on an airplane with my Palm V. Petrol-based ink, soy ink or e-ink—it’s the ideas therein that make one think.

One disclaimer on this particular model of Kindle: Steve Jobs would have had the designer drawn and quartered. You can barely hold the damn thing without accidentally turning pages, backwards and forwards. Set it down at an angle, set it down on something soft, lift it to move it—your place is whisked to the next electronic edge. I know the newer models have corrected this egregious inelegance, but I can’t callously throw this thing against the wall like I might the printed Portable MFA.

One small coda: today, we renewed our subscription to the Sunday paper. I read a lot of news online (discounting whatever mind rot news-noodling provokes), but no matter the readily available onscreen/Kindle/iPad/ version of the paper, there’s still something about flipping through the physical sections of the newspaper, in bed with a second cup of Sunday coffee …

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24 thoughts on “Books and Kindles: Can’t Live With Them, Can’t Eat Them with Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti

  1. Naturally Joel, we have to address the ambiguity in your comment. Are you:

    a – No longer reading on your Palm IIIc?
    b – No longer cool?
    c – Both a and b?
    d – No longer reading on your Palm IIIc, but still cool?
    e – Ready for dinner?

  2. You failed to mention who secured you the kindle from a now iPad user – your sister! Omissions are not good for a good writer! HAHA

  3. While we’re on the subject of serendipity, I’m proudly armed with an iPad here—only because the hubby won it in a raffle. Otherwise, we probably wouldn’t have shelled out for it. That said, I think it’s amazing as an e-reader. As a matter of fact, it was a pleasure reading your novel, All Roads Are Circles, on it.

    (And I swear I’ll never tell anyone how much you paid me for the endorsement.)

    But I still like holding, opening, smelling, flipping through and closing a B-O-O-K.

  4. Ms Bentley, as a journalist yourself, you are intimately familiar with the inverted pyramid base for a story. Of course, I use the floating rhombus, yet nowhere within its four sides could I place that the direct source of the Kindle was integral to the story. However, your fine spirit was implied in the tale, and can be seen as a ghostly figure to the far (far) left of your screen.

  5. Annie, I’m afeard I really feel the intimacy of a book (as long as its within my dating range) so much better than an ereader as well. That said, when your iPad fails to stir you, send it my way.

    And yes, your endorsements are always worth the Manhattans I paid for them. As it turned out, I paid myself, and myself thanks you.

  6. Tom, I hope paper books are always with us. And they probably will be. They are the best way to store data long-term. No need for power, or a certain technology to access a device, and surprisingly robust in the face of heat, cold, humidity and even, great Gack, water.

    Fire, not so much.

    One of my favourite examples is the fact that four copies of Magna Carta are still extant and quite readable. I even saw Cleopatra’s signature on a piece of papyrus paper. I stood in awe of it, I must say.

    Yet even with all that, I prefer an eReader these days. Kindle, specifically, though Michelle now enjoys the tripartite pact between her Kindle, iPad and iPhone. All synced in perfect harmony.

    My Kindle solves my storage problems. I can find books faster and more predictably- no rummaging. I can copy and paste and quote my fav authors in emails and online posts. Kindlee-poo remembers precisely where I was in as many books as I choose to read. Everything costs less.

    With so many advantages, I’ve left ink and embraced electrons with, you might even say, merry abandon. Which reminds me of a joke.

    A neutron walks into a bar and orders a Gack&Bacon Ltd Way Out Stout. The bartender says, ‘For you, no charge.’

  7. I’ll see your neutron, and raise you:

    Two atoms are walking along and one says “I just lost an electron” and the other says “Are you sure?” and the first says “Yes, I’m positive.”

    Oh, and the rest of your comment was worth reading, too.

    I’ll get a Kindle when I can buy used books for it.

  8. Rick, I do admire that you and Cleo were so close; did she send you a flirty note when Mark Antony was out of town? But yes, paper has a pertinent place, whether it’s some hoary historical doc or a florid B-movie poster from the 40s.

    Kindles do do a lot of the walking for you in regards those features/benefits you mention. I fear Amazon’s proprietary universe, however; if I buy an ereader, I lean toward a Nook right now.

  9. Joel (and this goes for Rick too), I do get a charge out of you.

    I wonder if there will ever be some kind of discounted ebook, in the sense of remaindered books you see at bookstores. Of course, many authors (like me, me, me) price their works at .99 these days, so even if it’s not truly a dime novel, it ain’t far away.

  10. One of the biggest challenges with ebooks right now is separating them from the monied distribution channels.

    If I want to give away a Kindle or Nook version of my books, I have to create a free-standing file (not necessary when uploading to the distribution channels) and then deliver it to the recipient, and help them get it onto their device because it’s not always self-evident how that works.

    It will get easier, at which point, we’ll all sort out how used ebooks work.

  11. I find Joel’s arguments concise, cogent and non-convoluted.

    In his remarkable ‘Free: The Future of a Radical Price’, Chris Anderson demonstrates how,in the online world,products and services all tend towards free or nearly so. At some point the eReaders are all bound to be interchangeable. Maybe soon, even.

    Cleo had signed a document giving a friend-of-a-friend, and wine merchant, exemption from certain (read: all) taxes.

    Two things:
    1- Nothing has changed in over 2,000 years, has it?
    2- I was jealous.

  12. Ooh; ooh. I my own Brutus-ish (as opposed to brutish) metaphorical stab, I’ll rearrange Rick’s numbered list:

    1. Rick was jealous
    2. Nothing has changed in over 2,000 years, has it?

    See, now it’s about jealousy instead of tax exemptions.

    Huh. It was much wittier when it popped into my head. Much.

    Regarding interchangeable ereaders, I fear for the future, at least for a while. I still can’t reliably get my 5 year old Mac to see the MP3 files on a Windows-formatted external drive. Yes, there are a dozen workarounds and fixes, but none are really transparent and non-dangerous.

    The three main computer operating systems still can’t share files interchangeably. But maybe since ebooks are a simpler collection of data types, they’ll get it right first.

    Here’s hoping at you, kid.

  13. Yeah, Joel, I fear we will all be taking a bath because we’ll have some formats readable by some devices, and some not. At least my paper-based “Mark Twain’s Best Essays” will be forever readable to me if I don’t drop it in the bathtub too often. (Speaking of baths, I believe Cleo had hers in milk, but you’ll have to ask Rick to verify.)

    I’m with you on the book giveaways too—I will need to send some .mobi or .epub files to some book reviewers, and as you suggest, there can be many trip-ups along the way from transmission to how-do-I-get-this-damn-thing-on-my-reader contretemps.

  14. I too was the recent recipient of a Kindle, the Kindle Fire, by a good friend who got an iPad as well. I love it! The heft of it assures me that should someone break into my house and past my snoring Rottweiler that I could hit them in the head with it and do severe damage. Other than the weight of it, I love it! I love the whisk of paging through books with the flip of a finger, of the movies and email access all on one machine. I would not turn down an iPad, and would buy one in a heartbeat, but my Kindle rocks. However, forced to choose between the two, I’d have to choose books. They don’t need to be plugged in, and aren’t dependent on a battery or wifi. People aren’t likely to steal a battered copy of a Daniel Steele novel lying on my beach towel, but I wouldn’t venture into the water and leave a Kindle on the sand, even if wrapped in plastic and a towel. The theft factor, someone stealing not only a $200 electronic reader, but my email, documents and other stuff….not worth the worry to carry it out of the house. When we’re all borgs and have monitors in our palms or forearms…maybe I’ll be less queasy….or maybe more…

  15. Becky, I’m with you on the theft factor (as much for the feeling of insecurity a valuable device creates, as well as an actual potential for theft) too; books at the beach can have the sand shaken out of their pages too. I did almost drop this durn thing on the floor the other day too, the same action for which doesn’t produce a paranoiac twinge when it’s a physical book.

    All that said, I’d like a Fire or an iPad too. And a Porsche, and a helicopter and glass slippers and …

  16. Fascinating. The more devices we have, the less theft-prone they will all become. Hmmm…

    Also a confession: sometimes I return to this page just to read Joel’s “No, up to my chin will be fine.” line again.

  17. “Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup!”

    “I’m not surprised. The chef used to be a tailor.”

    “Look, you; quit clowning. What’s this fly doing in my soup?”

    “Looks like the backstroke.”

    Say goodnight, Gracie.

    “Goodnight, Gracie!”

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