Me And My Kindle

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, (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.

6 Responses to Me And My Kindle

  1. Stanley Graham says:


    One small downside to the Kindle might be a reduced number in the charitable donation of books.

    There is a huge book sale here at the Institutions of Higher Learning every year benefiting the AAUW that is comprised entirely of donated books. One year we donated over 400hb and 600pb – a result of hoarding books I was not going to read again; Margaret was not amused that I had made a wainscot of books in our bedroom – a colorful dust magnet from which the AAUW was able to benefit.



  2. Tom Dupree says:

    A valid point, Stan, and most if not all of us booklovers are hoarders: “I’ll get around to ULYSSES one day,” “I might want to read that one again in my dotage to see if it’s still any good.” Giving such books away is the very best thing you can do with them.

    Now let’s look at the piles of paperbacks which are stripped of their covers (so the bookseller can get credit for the return) and pulped into a mash so worthless that the warehouse has to *pay somebody to come take it away*. Or the hardcovers which can’t be crushed, so have to be shipped back to the publisher, then to a remainder house, then to a bargain bin, then to a landfill. As long as bookselling works on consignment (if you’ll just put the book on your shelf, we’ll let you return it if it doesn’t sell), print runs will continue to be deliberately too large and we will not only be wasting trees, but also fuel for all those heavy-laden trips back and forth. As I said in my original post, my Kindle purchase is one copy they don’t have to print, store, or ship, and it’s non-returnable. So I believe they can afford to gross a little less on it, especially since it’s Amazon’s technology that made those savings possible. As for second reads, whenever I want to make sure Linda reads a certain e-book (just yesterday, THE BIG SWITCH), I simply hand her our Kindle.

    Charitable donations may suffer somewhat (the green aspect I just described mitigates the moral effect a little, at least for me), but I don’t know a single Kindle owner who buys e-books exclusively, and they all hoard, like you and I do. The Kindle doesn’t kill bound books. It just helps you sift through them and decide, “Do I really want a printing press to rumble for my copy?” Sometimes the answer is, “Hell, yeah!”

  3. Tom: Have the Kindle2, and am learning the difference in feel from a book whose pages I can smell and turn. It’s a different experience, and I’m keen on admiring the books on my shelves and flipping back to earlier sections of a book I’m reading. But I agree the Kindle is perfect for #2–books you want to read but don’t treasure enough to keep around for a second read. Which would be most of the books I now find in the Barnes and Noble on campus.

  4. Tom Dupree says:

    Maridith: The 2, I don’t know. I hear it’s better: with the 1, you have to contort your fingers to prevent from wrongly turning pages as you flick it on and off. But you can work around these flaws, and I think they’ve solved such problems on your #2. Remember: I’ve only owned my 1 for *9 months*! Yet it has already changed the way I read, buy, consider. IOW, it’s hipped me to the existence of #2 books, and I think that will be ultimately healthy. Be sure to tell me how you use yours. Fondly, Tom

  5. Tom: Kindle2 most beneficial to me when I can’t find a book locally and want one immediately. Patience, thy name most definitely isn’t Maridith. I’m still a learner as well in the technological gee-whiz capabilities it offers. And shortly after I got mine, there was a new and improved version [is there any other kind?]. If you’re checking entries while in Phoenix, hope things are going OK for all of you.

  6. Tom Dupree says:

    Maridith, the same thing happened to me right after I bought my Kindle 1: they announced a new one. Yours may have more bells and whistles, but as I said in my original post, this is my trusty kerosene lantern, and it does everything I hired it for. Don’t worry about the new one; I think it may actually stray into “the screen’s too BIG!” territory.

    For the contrarian argument, don’t miss Nicholson Baker’s piece in the current New Yorker. He HATES his Kindle 2.

    Yes, we’re in AZ, which will make main posts harder (despite the end result, I really do labor over them), but I’m still watching…thanks for your kind thoughts.

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