Last year in October, I was given a Kindle 3 by my aunt in return for doing what turned out to be a LOT of yard work. Well, a lot more than I expected anyway. It’d been quite a few years since I’d lived anywhere that required yard work, so I wasn’t able to judge it properly.
Since then, I’ve used my Kindle fairly regularly. Whenever I commute here in the city, I keep it with me so I can spend my time doing something constructive, instead of staring blankly at the wall like so many of my fellow commuters. I’ve come to rely on it for entertainment, something I was reminded of today when I realized I left the house with a dead battery. My commute is about an hour both ways, so … ya, I was bored. There’s no cell phone signal in the subways here, so that meant I really had nothing to do but stare at the walls.
The Kindle 3 is light, very easy on the eyes, and makes reading fun again, especially since there’s so much available for free, but some recent events have caused me to see a few shortcomings.
The first problem is that there are still plenty of books being published that don’t have Kindle versions. Even worse, some books are published and the price of the Kindle version is higher than the price of the physical book. I understand that there are some costs that can’t be negated by simply producing a book as an e-text, but there should never be a time when an eBook costs anything near what the physical book does, since you’re cutting out the cost of the paper, printing and distribution. It’s obscene. An insult even.
The kicker that made me write this post, though, was a visit to Barnes & Noble at Union Square. I’ve been going there frequently looking for particular versions of books I need for classes I’m taking at CCNY. I don’t know what it is about physical books, but every time I go in there I find myself wanting to hold and touch them, and maybe just ‘adopt’ them all and bring them home. The cover art is something that can’t be reproduced well on a Kindle, or any eReader. You can’t touch it. You just can’t appreciate it the same way. I’m reminded of something my art history teacher said in class yesterday. He was talking about how people go to an art museum and instead of stopping to appreciate the art, they take a picture and move on quickly. He said that if that’s what you’re going to do, you might as well have just looked the images up on Google. It’s not the same experience. It’s also not the same experience as holding the book in your hands, or putting it on your shelf when you’re done with it. I suppose that desire to collect books is something that not everyone has, but I like to see my books sitting on a shelf, so I can be reminded of how good they are and maybe pick them up and leaf through them to my favorite parts again. Speaking of that, it’s really hard to scan through books on a Kindle, going back to re-examine material you read the a few days ago.
My conclusion is that a Kindle is still an awesome device that will encourage more people to read more often, myself included, but it has drawbacks. I think my Kindle is best suited for ‘light’ reading. You know, those books that you read purely for entertainment, the ones that you’re not worried about looking at again, because when you’re done with a Kindle book it gets lost in the list of available books on the device. For those books that I consider my favorites, or anything heavier that might require thought and retrospection, the books that I would want to flip back and forth through to better understand the ideas being expressed, a physical book can’t be beat.