So I got me one of them Kindle do-hickeys. Or the wife did, I should say. Christmas present. She even got me the cool leather cover with the built in reading light. And I got a couple of Amazon gift certificates to go with it, so I had the scratch to load that puppy up pretty good right off. And now, being the preening narcissistic exhibitionist that I am, I’ll expound on what that means. Sure, I guess these e-readers have been around for a bit, so they aren’t new per se, but they’re new to me and that’s all that matters.
When they first came out, I had my usual Luddite reaction. I mean books? Really? We gotta fuck with books? Kind of a proven model, aren’t they? And I like the physicality of books. I got a house full of books. Thousands of ‘em. Probably a snob thing, but I’m a little suspicious of folks that don’t have a least one groaning bookcase in the house somewhere. Books are nice to hold. They smell good. (What, you never crack a new book open and just stick your nose in and take a big whiff? That’s just me? OK, I’ll add it to my growing list of esoteric predilections.) There’s something about that rainbow of spines lined up on the shelves – that universe of experience, each title bringing back a memory of some kind. Maybe a character, maybe a plot twist, some bit of minutia you picked up, or sometimes a personal connection, like the beach you were reading it on, or how you finally got to the train, and the day had positively sucked, and it was raining and it was cold and it was that black pit of February where the holidays were gone and summer was an eternity away and you’d just started the new job so you couldn’t burn any vacation days just now and you dropped onto the cracked vinyl seat for the commute home and you pulled the book out of your briefcase and all that shit went away for a hour and you almost were sorry when the train pulled into the station and you had to put the book away, but you knew it would be there later, and you had that to look forward to. So yeah, I like books.
Since Christmas, though, I’ve been reading on the Kindle. I was prepared not to like it. Truth be told, I think I was kind of hoping I wouldn’t like it. That I would arrive at some previously unarticulated insight that would shake the reading world with the blinding light of its reason and that, by the sheer force of its genius, would shove the e-reader genie back in its bottle. But it turns out it’s not that bad. I had to learn to be careful how I held it – it’s got those buttons that flip the pages, and at first I was occasionally flipping backward of forward accidentally, and I was thinking “There? You see? Never accidently flipped pages with a REAL book. Hah!” But then I noticed some other things. Like how you didn’t have to mark what page you were on. Just shut it off and when you turn it back on, there you are, right where you left off. And I’ve seen in the instructions how you can highlight stuff, and some other features I haven’t really gotten around to using yet. So, grudgingly, I gotta admit, from a functional standpoint, the Kindle is like a book plus. Also, the nice leather cover makes it FEEL like a book. You open it, you hold it open, you close it when you’re done. I took it out of the cover once and tried reading it that way, and I didn’t like that much at all. So spring for the cover.
And I guess I relearned this. The experience of reading is based on the quality of the work, not the method of its transmission. I busted the Kindle’s cherry with Chris F. Holm’s 8 POUNDS collection, and then I whipped through Seth Harwood’s YOUNG JUNIUS. The stories and the characters and the writing were so good that it didn’t matter at all that I was reading it on the Kindle instead of on a printed page. I’ve also downloaded some Chicago history stuff to research something I’m working on, and, while I’m getting the information I need, I’ve had better non-fiction reads. And that’s when the buttons start to bug me, or when I think about how I wish they’d made the screen a tad bigger. So maybe the key to this whole reading thing is Read Good Shit. Who woulda thunk it?
How’s this going to change my book-buying habits? Hard to say. I’ve still got some of my Kindle bucks left, so until they’re gone, I’ll probably be an e-book buyer all the way. And I’ve always had an instant gratification problem. When I want something, I want it now. That’s one of the reasons I’ve never really been an Amazon customer before. Order a book online and wait a few days for it to show up when I can drive to a bookstore and have it today? No way. Will I now decide that having it in 30 seconds beats hopping in the car? Dunno. Counterbalancing that is the ownership thing. I guess I own the stuff I’ve loaded on the Kindle, but unless I flip it open and turn it on and scroll to the right title, there’s no evidence of that. The spine isn’t on the shelf. It doesn’t feel as much a part of my universe of experience in pretty much the same way that whatever is loaded on my MP3 player has never felt as much a part of my universe of experience as the old LPs did, the way they sat on the shelf above my desk in the dorm room, the way you’d hear a song and the great cover art that nobody seems to bother with anymore would pop into your head.
At first, the Kindle did change my book reading habits. For years, I’ve done the bulk of my reading in the bathtub. A hot soak, a little whiskey, a good book. You got a better way to end the day? But, when I got the Kindle, I got to thinking that maybe and electronic gadget and a couple dozen gallons of water weren’t a good mix. So I started reading on the couch at bedtime. Wasn’t the same, though. And I’ve never dropped a book in the tub, not once. So I guess I’m not likely to drop this. I’m back to reading in the tub, Kindle or not. I’m hoping, should I ever drop the thing, the battery doesn’t hold enough juice to fry me in situ. If it does, I guess you’ll hear about it. I’ll be a martyr to my love of books. Or just stupid. Take your pick.