I knew it was coming but it snuck up on me, nonetheless. I was well aware that the day would arrive when digital books would finally take their place at the table. Audio books were a welcome addition to the world, but I saw them as only of limited value, something to save you when trapped in a car for long periods. Besides, listening is not reading. Then a few electronic reading machines came on the scene, promising to revolutionize the book game. They didn’t. Clunky, expensive, and far inferior to plain old paper and ink, they just couldn’t compete. Now, however, thanks to the Amazon.com visionary Jeff Bezos, the game has finally changed.
Encouraged by rave reviews for the new Kindle 2, Amazon’s digital book platform, I decided to take a gamble. Understand, this was no simple step for me. I am a book lover to the core. I cherish books. They are, for me, the soul of humanity, the collective wisdom, goodness, evil, humor, and madness of my beloved species. I have written two books and read hundreds. Books fill my house. Books are my conduit between the greatest minds of centuries past, and they are my window into an exciting future. This, passion (obsession?) for books comes with loyalty. A good book is a self-contained magical journey to feeling and enlightenment that doesn’t require batteries or a USB cable. I am heavily biased toward tangible books that one can hold. Who wants an invisible jumble of electrons to be read on an plastic gadget, a computerized abomination that insults the greatness of books by stripping them down to cold and soulless ones and zeros? Turns out, I do.
After a few days of reading on my Kindle, I can offer nothing but praise. This is it. The age of the electronic reader for book lovers has arrived. I will still buy special books I cherish in traditional format so that I can possess them and see them up on a shelf, but for much of the nitty-gritty daily reading, my Kindle will be running hot.
A key quality is the Kindle’s size. It’s incredibly small and light for something capable of holding more than 1,500 books. It’s eight inches by 5.3 inches, weighs just 10.2 ounces, and is only a third of an inch thick. (google “Moore’s Law” to learn how this happened) One battery charge can last a couple of weeks and the books on your Kindle are fully searchable by key words. Best of all, however, is the display. No flickering light to torment your eyes and no wash out from the sun’s glare. Something called “electronic ink” provides a display that is virtually identical to traditional ink on paper. I’ve tried it in a variety of environments and it works perfectly.
By far, however, the one irresistible lure of the Kindle is that it gives the reader the ability to take an entire library on the go. Whenever I fly somewhere, I no longer have to decide which three or four heavy books to lug with me. Now I can take a hundred books with me and read anything from “Fight Club” to “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”. Whatever my mood, there is an appropriate book at my fingertips no matter where I am.
Before anyone suspects that I’m on Amazon’s payroll or that I’m just being suckered in by something new and flashy, I readily admit that the Kindle is not perfect. A big problem, for example, is that I am not sure that I even “own” the digital books I buy from Amazon in the same way that I “own” the paper and ink books I purchase from a bookstore. Because of piracy concerns, I can’t loan one of my Kindle formatted books to a friend, for example. Even more troubling, Amazon can wirelessly retrieve books they have sold you and credit your account. This happened to customers recently as the result of a rights dispute with a publisher. Something doesn’t feel right about that. If I bought it, isn’t it mine? Imagine a bookstore owner sneaking into your house at night to snatch a book off your shelf while you are asleep and leaving a refund in its place. Furthermore, the Kindle format is a long way off from doing justice to books that contain beautiful art or photography.
That said, the Kindle is a welcome addition to the world for book lovers. It won’t completely replace traditional books any time soon, if ever, but it certainly does make the consumption of books a whole lot easier.