Today I bought a Kindle.
To me this sounds like a confession, an admission of guilt.
Today I bought a Kindle.
Anyone that knows me might think this an ideal purchase - I love to read.
Anyone that knows me well will understand my hesitation - I love books.
I have been vehemently set against e-readers since they began emerging. To me it was a prophetic herald of the end of the bound paper book. People would no longer waste the money and resources to print books when they could be produced much easier and cheaper through electronic formats. My mind raced ahead to books becoming a rare collectable commodity, housed in museums and private collections, accessible only to the few thanks to the expense of their rarity, no longer read for fear of damaging their fragile paper nature. A future where children would no longer recognise books, having never see one let alone owned one of their own.
I wanted no part in this future.
I love books. The beauty of bindings, images and colours chosen to highlight themes within the story, paper or fabric coverings protecting the pages within. I love the feel of books, the paper sometimes parchment thick, so thick you are convinced you must have turned two pages at once, sometimes tissue paper thin so every page turn feels like it risks ripping. I love the smell of the paper, the potential held within each binding, I love to look at books. I spend many happy hours organising my collection into whatever order seems most sensible at the time, arranging onto various bookshelves by author, category, age, size, preference, and love to sit back and admire the view of those many spines together.
All that enjoyment before you even get to the story. How could an e-reader compare?
It cant. That is the simple truth, no less true now I have bought one. An e-reader does not, can not, compare to the printed, bound word. It does not replace the book, nor does it even come close to competing with it.
However, it may begin to complement it.
I will soon be taking public transport to work and am looking forward to the idea of extra time to read, and the more I thought about this, the more I considered the Kindle as an option. Don't get me wrong, I have no need of anything smaller than a book, I am quite happy with book size for transportation purposes, I do not feel it needs to get smaller, however when I started to think about carrying some of my books around I got a little uneasy.
As has already been established, I love my books. I spend a lot of time choosing them, often for a particular binding. Each one is different, they are largely second (third/fourth...) hand and often have inscriptions from previous owners, I really like this, to feel something of the history of the book. Some of them are quite old, the bindings not as strong as they once were. Even with the newly bought ones I have a strong sense of attachment The thought of damaging or loosing one of my books worried me. I have no such attachment to the Kindle, it is a piece of electronics, if I lost it my only concern would be the financial loss, it has no sentimental attachment. Yet it still allows me to read.
I had some Waterstones vouchers to spend so I took the plunge and bought one. I'm pleased I bought it from Waterstones rather than an electronics shop, or online, I at least felt I was still supporting 'proper' books in some way. I also think they understand the difficulties, their posters advertising the Kindle are titled 'Brave new world'. I think that expresses the sentiments very well!
I don't know if my indecision showed or if perhaps the bookseller felt the same as I but as I was at the till he said 'if you get it home and realise you've made a hideous mistake and its the worst thing you've done in your life, we'll exchange or refund within 28 days'.
I got it home. It was not a hideous mistake.
I had a quick browse on Amazon and downloaded some free books, just to see how it worked, and was quite surprised by the amount of literature available for free. I liked how it worked, it was quick and simple, and I like the screen, it looks like text on paper and doesn't strain the eyes.
I decided to make it a case, to keep it safe (a sure sign I approved) so I spent some time on the sewing machine with some fabric that was a birthday present and I have been saving for a special occasion. I was really pleased with the result. At this point although I no longer considered it to be a daemon box sent to destroy the books, I think I liked the case more than the Kindle.
Then I started to read. I started with 'Pride and Prejudice' which I haven't read in a few years and was available free.
It reads well, really well, which I guess it should as that is what it has been designed to do. When you first turn the Kindle on it goes through a set up process and registers it to your Amazon account and then generates a welcome letter from the Amazon CEO, quite a nice touch. In this letter he states 'Our top design objective was for Kindle to disappear in your hands - to get out of the way - so you can enjoy your reading. We hope you'll quickly forget you're reading on an advanced wireless device and instead be transported into that mental realm readers love, where the outside world dissolves, leaving only the author's stories, words and ideas'. A beautifully written intent to which I can only say congratulations Mr Bezos, you have achieved your objective.
The Kindle truly does disappear as much as any paper book. I was not reminded that I was reading electronically, the screen certainly does not project this. The placement of the page turning buttons and the slightness of the Kindle all lend themselves to seamless one handed reading, making it much easier to snuggle under a blanket, or each your lunch which continuing in the world of fiction.
Despite not being reminded, while reading, that it is an electronic device, I cannot forget that it is one and this only serves to increase my wonder and admiration. I am truly amazed at the technology that has been developed. The screen does not look like any other electronic device I have ever seen, there is no 'glow' of light and electricity to strain the eyes as on PCs and phones. Due to talk of e-ink displays using actual particles of ink, and the way the screen refreshes it has come to remind me more of an etch-a-sketch screen than anything electronic. It is truly magical in its delivery and has its own sort of beauty enhanced by the images it displays every time it is turned off.
When I first opened the box the Kindle had something displayed on the screen, I don't quite remember what I think it was some sort of thank you/congratulations on buying a kindle text. I thought it was some sort of sticker, like a protective film on the screen so looked to remove it. There was nothing there. Slightly confused I turned the machine one and the writing melted and changed into the welcome screen. This I found impressive enough but when I turned the machine off for the first time and the page I was reading melted into a incredible picture I was awed.
I don't remember what the first image I was presented with was, they are different each time (although I have seen some repeats by now), there are fountain pens, pencils, typewriter arms, moveable type blocks, painted italics and more, and each one is beautiful, so much more so for my surprise at finding pictures on the Kindle. I never imagined it would display images, but it does, you can read comics and picture books and each time you are done reading and turn the machine off you can admire a piece of art.
The Kindle had more surprises to offer me, it has an experimental web browser, you can access the internet in glorious black and white tones. It is not something I think I will ever use, beyond having tried it the first time for curiosity, not because it isn't functional but because it is not what I want from the device, but it surprised me to find it there, to find the Kindle had that capability.
So, today I bought a Kindle.
I still feel guilt about giving in and supporting the technology, I imagine that will take a while to shift, I am still conflicted about whether it was the right thing to do, I keep extolling its virtues to all who will listen, mainly to convince myself I think, but the truth is, I love it.
I am very clear that it is not a book. It does not replace books, so in essence has just made my reading habit more expensive! I cannot approve of it for what it is not, but I do love it for what it is.
It is small, and beautifully built. It has been designed carefully with the reader in mind and supports a great reading experience. It is incredibly talented, the technology it presents continues to astound me, a wonder not often experienced in our technological age. It is fast, books can be found and downloaded in less than a minute (on broadband). It is helpful, you can highlight passages or make notes 'in the margins' of different books and it keeps a central list of these for you to look through, a wonderful inspiration of quotes never to be forgotten again.
All in all it was most definitely not a hideous mistake and I enter this brave new world with delight and awe - while bringing my bookshelves with me.