So, this is my life.

And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

not without my books

in a recent discussion with an old friend (and by old, i mean OLD -- happy birthday, jacob!), it dawned on me that the Kindle might actually take off. until my buddy told me he wanted one for his birthday, i didn't think anyone was really buying into this crazy idea. sure, i saw a girl on the train using one of them, but she was fat. i thought the trend would die with her.

maybe just because i'm always reluctant to try new technology. it took me years to get an iPod, and i had trouble switching to Gmail. but when it comes to this silly little, horribly-overpriced contraption, my hesitation is about more than just my stubbornness.

as i told jacob, i love books. even here on my blog i've gone on and on about how i love re-reading my favorites. i think books are wonderful -- not just their contents, but also their physical form. their smells, their feel in my hands as i sit in the sun. i like to dog-ear pages, maybe even highlight, so that i can return to the book later and remember instantly why i loved it. i can't get that in electronic form.

even more important to me, i love sharing books: lending a good book to a good friend, taking one off of his or her bookshelf as well. if we all switch over to the Kindle, we can no longer share, can we? how horrible! and don't get me started on the ridiculously high price of this latest must-have electronic.

i hadn't even thought about the sociological importance we lend to the books we see in a person's hand. lucky for us all, this fantastic Vanity Fair article examines the cultural snobbery associated with our book, music, and other collections -- all of which are becoming hidden as we digitalize our albums, films, and now our favorite novels.

As we divest ourselves of once familiar physical objects—digitize and dematerialize—we approach a Star Trek future in which everything can be accessed from the fourth dimension with a few clicks or terse audibles. Reading will forfeit the tactile dimension where memories insinuate themselves, reminding us of where and when D. H. Lawrence entered our lives that meaningful summer. “Darling, remember when we downloaded Sons and Lovers in Napa Valley?” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. The Barnes & Noble bookstore, with its coffee bar and authors’ readings, could go the way of Blockbuster as an iconic institution, depriving readers of the opportunity to mingle with their own kind and paw through magazines for free. Book-jacket design may become a lost art, like album-cover design, without which late-20th-century iconography would have been pauperized.

grumpy Andrew Sullivan calls out superficial snobs like me, who might be holding onto objects like these books for the sake of vanity. maybe he's right, and our use of books as decoration and status symbols and bases on which to judge complete strangers will be better off left in the dust of the 20th century.

i can't really fathom buying the Kindle right now, or ever getting rid of my terribly worn copy of El Principito. but maybe in time i'll want to simplify life. and maybe that effing "iPod for books" will become affordable in the near future.
until then, i'm still buying real books.

3 new ones this week, and so excited to get into them. stay tuned.


T. said...

Having been in the publishing industry (but also as a general consumer), I have seen both sides to the e-book extravaganza.

Personally, I am still a major fan of the traditional book form and don't think anything will ever replace it. Books will always exist... "How many?" That's another question.

The advantage to e-readers I completely see--if you are a traveler, a professional who needs to read a lot of materials, or simply *love* to carry all of your books around with you at once, it's perfect.

I'll stick with my perfectly portable paperback.

Clint said...

I use Kindle for iPhone and I LOVE it. There is still a lot to be said for old-school books, but it's really nice not to have to lug around the latest hardcover. It's also nice if you happen to find yourself with ten minutes or whatever to kill to just whip out your phone and read for awhile. I hate being stuck waiting with nothing to read (if there is no good eye-candy/people-watching nearby, obv).

Pat said...

As an almost non-reader I have been considering buying the Kindle for some time, but have yet to discover if my lack of urge to read is because of the physical book availability/choosing from a book store/carrying around or from my mental inability to focus on something long term.

There's something very satisfying for me about seeing the actual progression through a book's pages. Like "Wow, I'm 3/4 of the way through" but sometimes I don't have the book and then I can't read.

If a Kindle was something that was always in my bag, like my ipod or cell phone, would I read more? Tough call.

tobethatguy said...

a reader wrote in to counter andrew sullivan's opinion regarding the vanity and snobbery (is that a word?) sullivan was bitching about. the reader said:

I had a laugh at this – a Kindle is a $300 dollar device that lets you read a book! It’s not $300 dollars worth of pages and print; it’s the equivalent of spending $300 dollars for a blank cover and binder. You still have to spend more money to load the actual print you want into it, and the whole thing may be moot as soon as the next upgraded version comes along. People who buy a Kindle are saying they have the money to commit to not just the Kindle, but also the software and the implied arms race of continuous upgrades the device implies. If that’s not a form of conspicuous consumption, I don’t know what is.