Ungrammatical, certainly, but then “my shadow and I” doesn’t really sing, does it? Everybody who sees it wants to know if I like my Kindle, they all have the same questions, etc. Some of my old droogies in the book business worry that I might have sold out to the Great Satan, Amazon.com. (When I first started working on books, the Great Satan was Barnes & Noble. As Ian Ballantine used to say, tempus fidgets!) The answer is, yes, I love it — but as an adjunct to regular life, a Personal Reading Assistant.
I bought a Kindle 1 last December, just before version 2 was announced. There are some design flaws, but they can all be worked around, and none are serious enough to tempt me into upgrading. They say the storage capacity is greater on the #2, but I can already easily carry many times more books than I’ll read on even the longest trip, and whenever I get through with a book I just delete it from my reader; it’s still stored on Amazon, along with any marks or notes that I made, ready to download again if I ever care to. So the storage space even on the Kindle 1 is, for all practical purposes, infinite. The reading experience is just fine (you need natural light or a night light, just like a real book), and the answer to the most important question is yes, you can fall through what Stephen King called the “hole in the page” and lose yourself in a well-told story just as easily as with sheets of paper. Longer books are actually less distracting on a Kindle, because you don’t have to fight with or prop up a bulky weight.
There are three kinds of books: the ones you don’t care about, the ones you want to read, and the ones you want to keep. The Kindle is for book type #2. There are plenty of books that I don’t care to have on my shelf — I just want to know what’s printed on the pages. Read it once and move on. (Though I repeat, Amazon makes it possible for you to return if you so desire.) The diabolically clever wireless network is the Kindle advantage that keeps on taking. You can be anywhere reachable by Sprint (provider of Amazon’s “Whispernet”) and you have access to the Amazon Kindle store. You can be in an airport. On a sailboat. In a car (not recommended unless you’re a passenger). Walking into your bedroom with a copy of today’s NYTimes Book Review. It’s the mother of all impulse-purchase enablers; just think of a book that recently engaged you, and chances are you’re less than one minute away from reading it. Even latecomers like John Grisham (as were the Beatles with CDs, he’s the last important e-book holdout) are smelling dough where there was none before. That wireless freedom alone makes Kindle superior to its competitors.
Brighter people than I will decide the proper discount on e-books, but I will say this to my publishing brethren: if I give you a sale that does not have to be repped, printed, warehoused or shipped, and cannot be returned, I want to be paid for it beyond hearing how very “green” my purchase was. Of course, if all books were sold electronically, the many fine people who perform those tasks would be out of work (publishers’ reps are the unsung heroes of the book industry). But they won’t be. There is ample evidence that Kindle owners do not reduce their hunger for bound books; as Jeff Bezos notes, Kindle customers buy more titles at Amazon than other bookbuyers do, and that includes books on paper. A Kindle read is the middle ground between buying a book and borrowing it from a library, only the author and publisher get paid by each reader.
I’ve always thought the killer app for Kindle would be textbooks, and some colleges are already experimenting. Think of case law or medical texts: not only would students (1) save a fortune, but their texts could (2) always be up to date, and (3) fit in their backpacks with plenty of room left over for a yoga mat and a paper copy of INFINITE JEST. That fortune is what’s at issue, for as with healthcare, entrenched interests do not wish to print fewer textbooks. But one day they will. Killer app, I say.
I’m not crazy about watching a movie on an iPod, OK? But reading is a solitary pastime, requiring just about the same space you’re afforded by a Kindle. One day they’ll probably be singing and dancing too, in color and 3-D. By then my creaky old Kindle 1 will have all the utility of a kerosene lantern — that is, it will do the job it was hired to do and not much more. But I have some rechargable batteries to keep the pages turning, and somehow I think they still will be.