06 October 2009

unKindle: An Argument Against Digital Reading Devices

I love my fifth-generation iPod.  It's 30-gigs, black, named Othello.  I take it practically everywhere, often to the chagrin of my companions.  But their groans of protest matter little to me.  Othello has improved my quality of life dramatically.  Since it's acquisition, my bench-press weight has increased fantastically, no more suffering through Hall & Oates in the supermarket, and in the evenings, Al Green is a scroll away.  Of course there is a downside:  my driving record has endured a precipitous blow.

My point being that I'm decidedly not an anti-technology guy.  I dig my 21st century toys, and as I make clear above, I fetishise my digital music player.  That said, I am impassionedly against digital readers of any kind (at least for those with better than 20/200 eyesight).  Devices such as Amazon Kindle represent the dark side of technological advance.  Eviscerating the romance from the loins of literature is something I will never quietly let slide.  Amazon Kindle is an abomination.

A quick story.  I attended a book festival recently.  Forget the "featured author readings" or the gratuitous literary wares; I go for the rare/used book flea market.  There are few more satisfying experiences than digging through the sandpit of Emeril Lagasse cookbooks, Tony Robbins motivational tomes, and twenty editions of The Devil Wears Prada to find buried underneath a true pearl.  In this particular case, it was a hardcover edition Elbert Hubbard's Little Journeys to the Homes of English Authors:  Robert Burns.  

The pages are as thick as impecunious wedding invitations, the binding smells of the 19th century.  It contains no publication date but research revealed that Hubbard perished on the LusitaniaAt the latest, this book's origins coincide with my late grandmother's birth.  Who knows whose hands this book has passed through, what history it's seen.  The imagination trembles.  And now, in 2009, the book is mine (for an outrageous $2) to possess into posterity.  How can Amazon Kindle ever stand up to that?  It doesn't, it can't, it won't.  Thank goodness!

I leave with you with the first page of Little Journeys:  Robert Burns:

The business of Robert Burns was love-making.

All love is good, but some kinds of love are better than others. Through Burns' penchant for falling in love we have his songs.  A Burns bibliography is simply a record of love affairs, and the spasms of repentance that followed his lapses are made manifest in religious verse.

Poetry is the very earliest form of literature, and is the natural expression of a person in love; and I suppose we might as well admit the fact at once, that without love there would be no poetry.

Poetry is the bill and coo of sex.  All poets are lovers, and all lovers, either actual or potential, are poets.  Potential poets are the people who read poetry; and so without lovers the poet would never have a market for his wares.


  1. I felt the same way about the Kindle, for years. I was extremely upset the first time Amazon offered me to buy a "Kindle edition" of a book for half the price, when I found out you need a $300 device to read it. Nothing can replace the look-and-feel of an actual book, I thought. Particularly not some sort of a reading device.

    And then, out of the blue, my mother bought me one as a New Year's present. So, in the spirit of the holiday, and being a tech-friendly person such as yourself, I gave it my best shot.

    After 18 months of using a Kindle, I will say that it hasn't replaced traditional books for me. I still like having the actual thing in my hands; it's similar to holding a record or CD versus playing a downloaded MP3 - no matter how official.

    But the one thing it has added to my life is convenience - of being able to take an electronic copy of the book with me. It also makes the book searchable. Ever been in that situation when you want to find an exact phrase, and end up sifting through dozens of pages and chapters before you actually find it? No more. Ever tried going on a camping trip with 100 books in your bag, so that you can pick and choose which one you want once you get there? I doubt it. But with a Kindle, you can. Ever come across a word you don't know, and have to look for a dictionary to understand it? With a Kindle, you can look it up right away - from a dictionary of your choice.

    In terms of readability, Kindle will not drain your brain as a computer or a tablet might; it's comfortable for the eyes. I frequently e-mail documents, articles, and similar items to my Kindle, so that I don't have to stare at a glowing screen to read them. And you also have rudimentary editing/commenting capability, so on the train ride from the office to home, you can mark up the essay you've been working on.

    Has it replaced traditional books for me? Definitely not. In our generation, the intelligentsia have grown up with physical books, and nothing can replace that. I appreciate books in many ways, starting from your book festival experience, and all the way to the utter freedom of pen, commenting on my reading experience in the margins. Close to 80% of the books that I have on my Kindle, I also have in print edition. But guess what? The Kindle version enhances my reading experience, supplements it in a way that traditional print media cannot, and gives me easy access to it when a book store or library is not handily available.

  2. Ilia,

    Thank you for your thoughtful and incisive comments. I must admit, I have no cause for argument. Everything you write is reasonable, amenable, and correct.

    The fault, dear Ilia, lies not in the stars, as they say, but with me. I'm simply a hopeless romantic when it comes to books and literature. I remember one of the happiest days of my life was when the monumental Yale Shakespeare arrived at my door. Its gloriousness lies not only in its comprehensiveness, but also in its expansive size, allowing for all of the Bard's plays (and poems) to appear in the precise meter as they do in the First Folio.

    In short, I beg your pardon for my exaggerated post on facebook preferring seeing a stack of Kindles propping up an air conditioner rather than a stack of classic books. I suppose my discontent was not aimed so much at Kindles and their ilk, but instead at the temerity and callousness of using Kafka in such a lugubriously obscene way.