Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Waiting to be convinced -- one way or the other

In my mind, the “phenomenon” of the Kindle has become synonymous with a train wreck which I cannot help but watch. Any in depth article I read impresses me only for its indecisiveness.

Last night, Twitter took me to this article (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/08/03/090803fa_fact_baker) from the New Yorker, and I reached the end of it completely baffled as to whether or not the author was in favor of the device or not.

Nicholson Baker lists plenty of reasons to either stick with the tried and true paper, ink and glue version or to choose another gadget, but in the end, he succumbs as the Kindle performs as advertised and “disappears.”

I already know that I will not be purchasing a Kindle. Nor will I add one to my Christmas list. I would like the opportunity to spend about a week playing with one (and such an experience might change my mind), but all I can think of is how many real books (especially used books) I could purchase with that much money and then sell to or share with others.

The list of books which are *not* available gives me pause. To quote Baker ‘There is no Amazon Kindle version of “The Jewel in the Crown.” There’s no Kindle of Jean Stafford, no Vladimir Nabokov, no “Flaubert’s Parrot,” no “Remains of the Day,” no “Perfume,” by Patrick Suskind, no Bharati Mukherjee, no Margaret Drabble, no Graham Greene except a radio script, no David Leavitt, no Bobbie Ann Mason’s “In Country,” no Pynchon, no Tim O’Brien, no “Swimming-Pool Library,” no Barbara Pym, no Saul Bellow, no Frederick Exley, no “World According to Garp,” no “Catch-22,” no “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” no “Portnoy’s Complaint,” no “Henry and Clara,” no Lorrie Moore, no “Edwin Mullhouse,” no “Clockwork Orange.”’

The simple fact that it is electronic is also a significant deterrent, and not simply because I tend to be a Luddite at heart. I pay the phone company an extra five dollars a month essentially as insurance against myself. If I lose the phone, or drop it in a puddle, or step on it, or some other catastrophe befalls it, I will not have to pay to replace it. A Kindle living with me would be exposed to the same sort of risks, and it costs at least twice as much as my phone.

I just imagine the heartbreak of losing hundreds of books because something happened to the Kindle.

Paper books are much sturdier, heartier creatures and can withstand an impressive amount of abuse.

Maybe that is another part of my suspicion – I consider books (especially the ones I really enjoy) to be almost living creatures. They are my friends and companions who see me through the best and worst of times. Can an electronic device really inspire the same depth of feeling?

I highly doubt it, and for most of his article, Baker seems to agree. I can’t help but wonder what caused him to waiver in his judgment. It makes me curious to find out, but not for $300.

The supposed ease and accessibility – start reading an impulse purchase in under a minute – is tempting to be sure, but I can’t help thinking that this might be a case of something being too good to be true.

For the present, I shall retain my skepticism.


  1. Me too on whether the author was for the Kindle or against it. I am grateful, however, for the leads to alternatives, particularly the open format. My biases against paying for things that I will not own (in this case both the device and the "contents") and further providing marketing data to advertisers makes me not at all interested in the Kindle. Finally, I was surprised to see the assertion that Neil Gaiman is a convert. (P.S. I read the article as printed in a magazine!)

  2. Barnes and Noble is offering their eReader software for free (a la Mr. Gillette giving away the razors and selling the blades), and it works on PC, MAC, iPhone and iPod Touch.

    Once I realized how woefully behind I was in reading my print copies of the New Yorker, I let my subscription lapse, and I tend not to think of reading the entire magazine online, so the Twitter notifications have proven a happy alternative.

    As I recall from his blog, Mr. Gaiman was a test subject for the first Kindle. Given his stance on things first amendment and copyright, I'm a little surprised that he is a fan, but knowing of his love for the latest and greatest computer/electronic gadgets, I am not at all surprised.

  3. I'll add this link as well: http://www.boingboing.net/2009/07/23/jeff-bezoss-kindle-a.html#previouspost

    Annotation is another potential drawback since I tend to read with pen or pencil in hand. Most people probably don't read the same way, so I have seen much about the annotating possibilities with Kindle.

  4. Cory Doctorow: "Ebook license 'agreements' are a ripoff." He goes on to quote John Naughton's column on the "license agreements" that are "about overriding copyright ... with a private law that gives every advantage to the publisher or retailer, converting you from a noble reader to a wormy, contemptible licensor who doesn't deserve to own books." Naughton says that Kindle's EULA is an example of the ripoff. See this boingboing item.

  5. Understanding the Limitations - and Maximizing the Value - of eBooks
    By Conrad J. Jacoby, Published on December 23, 2009