Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My thoughts on Kindle 2.0

I've read a lot lately about Kindle 2.0 and about past e-readers, the pros and cons, both view points. The first time I had thought about an e-reader was about three years ago in college. I was in my media science class when the topic of e-books came up. My prof knew me very well and said, "Amy I bet you've got one don't you?" I think I glared at him for the rest of class. I told him that there was no way, no freaking way I would ever buy one. I had absolutely no desire for one. Of course, I didn't know as much about them then as I do now.

The Kindle 2.0 seems great for people who travel all over and want multiple books on hand. No more driving to the store or waiting for a book to be delivered to you, just a few clicks and it's there. The screen is said to be as easy on the eyes as reading paper. Sounds great. More and more people are talking about them, and talking about them to me so I had to read some reviews. I know I shut down e-readers in the past but maybe I was wrong I thought.

And then I had to urge to read Pride and Prejudice. I went to my bookcase (one of my five - the one keep in my bedroom with the books that are nearest and dearest to me) and pulled out my copy. Now, there is nothing that special about my copy of Pride and Prej. It's just a standard paperback that has been reread about 15 times and it shows. But it single handedly reminded me why I personally will never go over to an e-reader.

This book of mine is one I used for a class in high school. I have notes everywhere in it. Passages underlined, comments from my teacher at the end of the chapters and my running commentary in the margins. Now I know, I know that you can make comments on the Kindle and highlight and all that, but I feel a big personal connection to actually putting pen to paper. In school (high school and college) I had to hand write everything before I could sit down and type it out. Everything. Even my thesis. I took crazy detailed notes in classes and they were all handwritten. Back to Pride and Prej. I love rereading books that I have written in because it gives me a glimpse of the girl I was at that point in time. I have even written responses to my previous self in the margins on different rereadings. My handwriting, tone, depth is all different in every comment. I feel that I can be more honest writing than typing most of the time. Would I really take the time to enter "Lydia is a total skank" in a Kindle? Probably not. But you bet I did in purple pen.

Books are my comfort food. My copy of Pride and Prejudice is right up there on the top of my Comfort Book list, along with Nine Stories, the Giving Tree and Master and Margarita to name a few. When I am having a bad day or freaking out over something, which happens a lot, I turn to my books. Just being in a bookstore takes my stress down about 5 levels. I can and have spent hours in one store, without looking for anything in particular, just waiting for a book to call out to me. And they do.

With the Kindle, I feel that I would have to know which book I wanted to read and I'd have to hope it's one of the books that are offered on Kindle (not all are). I buy a great many books second hand, some of my favorites are ones that are not readily avaliable. And like I said, I usually don't know what I'm going to come home with when I go to the bookstore. That's what makes it fun for me.

I think it is safe for me to say that there is nothing I am more passionate about than books. When I moved, I was more concerned about packing them than anything else. There was a point where the bookcases in my apartment were empty but I was still sleeping there and it just felt wrong. Books were the first thing I unpacked in the new place. I didn't feel at home until I had them in the bookcases.

And maybe this is because I was an English major, or the fact that I work in a bookstore, but I get really excited when I see books in people's homes. My friend Liz, who used to work with me at said bookstore, and I always have to oggle the other's books when we visit. She roped me into book club and is the person I borrow the most books from. Which is another reason I love having physical books. I can see them. I can stack up all my Vonnegut books and put them on a shelf. I can put all my Russian lit together, arrange them however I choose. And other people can see them too. If you can't see the books it's hard to say oh that looks interesting, can I borrow this?

I feel like the e-readers make reading a much more isolated hobby than it really is. Yes, you read by yourself, but reading doesn't have to be a private thing. Example, if I see a guy playing with some kind of electronic device I'm not going to think twice about it. If that guy is reading a copy of Cat's Cradle though, I might have to start up a conversation. It's hard to meet people at the e-book store!

My other big issue with e-readers is that I love giving and recieving books as gifts as well as loaning and lending books. I'm sure that you can buy someone a gift card to amazon for them to purchase an e-book, but that's not quite the same as wrapping up a book and writing and inscription inside. Many of my books carry more importance to me based on who gave it to me. I can tell you where I got almost any of my books, whether from a bookstore, garage sale, or a family member. I have many of my father's old books. These are special to me because they were his. Or they are books that he's hunted down for me and given to me. He travels a lot and has brought me back books from different countries in different laugages. Others have given me books as well: one of my dear high school friends gave me Tulips and Chimneys by e.e.cummings for graduation, a teacher gave me The Story of B by Daniel Quinn, a boyfriend gave me In Cold Blood by Capote and Proust for Valentine's day (best v-day gift ever).

This is not to mention all of the books I've borrowed over the years, most of which I've returned. If not for a good friend, another Liz, I might not have picked up the Harry Potter books. I was big into the those-books-are-for-kids mindset and she put the book in my hand. I now own two copies of each book (British and American versions) and will talk about that series nonstop if allowed.

And I love lending books to people. When I've finished a good book I really want to talk about it so I usually throw it at one of my friends or my dad. I love giving books as gifts too. I have a younger brother who is always asking for video games for his birthdays and all he ever gets from me are books. Which he loves. It just doesn't seem to me that an e-reader can effectively be shared like a physical book can. Once I read it, can I give it to someone else?

Several people have told me that I shouldn't be too harsh on the e-reader and I have tried not to be. With all the hoopla over the Kindle 2.0 I was actually interested to learn why amazon thinks I need this product. I'm just not convinced. Call me old-fashioned or out of touch, but I just can't see books being replaced my an electronic medium. There is something intangible about books that makes them so appealing to many people. Yes the content is important, and if the Kindle gets more people to read Anna Karenina then great. But you won't be able to pry my copy away from my hands. It takes up a heck of a lot of space on my shelf but it's mine. Even if I drop it in the tub (a fate that befell most of my Laura Ingalls books) I could still read it if I wanted to. And knowing me if I did shell out the $360 for a Kindle 2.0 I would drop it in the sink or spill soda on it within a week.


  1. So, I have a Sony E-reader. I got it not too long after I rotated back to the US...and I have to say that as a guy whose job USED to be 'fly all over the damn place' it was a great thing, because like you said, I can carry two hundred books with me at once.

    But, looking at it more closely, I see that most of the books I had loaded on it were books that I already owned! They were, basically, my comfort books; stuff I knew I'd always enjoy reading.

    It was great for being a portable library. Now that I don't travel, I find I don't use it as much. And there's definitely something to be said for that new-book smell, or that 'wandering the bookstore for two hours' time. You don't get that with an ebook reader.

    Anyway, that's my thoughts on the whole Kindle/ebook thing.


  2. I never knew you had one of those suckers Jason! That is crazy that you had books on there that you already owned - did you still keep your actual books or get rid of them in favor of the e-reader?