Saturday, June 4, 2011

To Kindle—or not to Kindle . . .

The first time I saw a Kindle e-reader was on a Seattle Metro bus many years ago. It looked a bit boxy and clunky, and it initially didn’t interest me much; although, the owner of the brand new Kindle was proudly showing it off to his Metro bus neighbor who was full of curiosity and questions. Those of us within hearing distance did raise our eyes and listen in—since at the time, the Kindle was not commonplace, and most of us were seeing the new gadget for the very first time.

I didn’t give e-readers much thought for many years, but eventually, my partner, Brian, suggested that they would be convenient for us aboard a boat, and since I owned a small boat at the time and our future plans involved a larger boat, he was thinking ahead. According to Brian, the Kindle made good sense aboard a boat for two key reasons: First, you could take thousands of e-books with you on a boat without having to worry about the weight of paper books. Second, the Kindle, in particular, uses very little power—especially when the WIFI or 3G is turned off—and energy savings on a boat is very important when your sole source of power is a small battery bank.

By Brian’s recollection, I still mounted a passionate argument for why I loved paper books and claimed that an e-reader could never take their place. I don’t recall this specific passionate defense of paper books, but I know I did maintain strong favorable feelings toward books that you could thumb through or dog-ear since like so many other avid readers, I grew up curling up with the heft and scent of a paper book in my hands. Days spent with knees tucked underneath me in an oversized easy chair by a fire—cup of tea at hand—have always been precious and too few.

Over the years, I also enjoyed the romance of the paperback—feeling that paperbacks were meant to be purchased and then given away—allowing them to float freely like bottles with messages launched from the shore. Favorite paperbacks I purchased again and again as gifts—giving each away and imagining each being given away again and again over time—eventually landing on a book exchange shelf in a hostel somewhere or in a book pile at a yard sale bearing various names and inscriptions on the opening pages—markings like passport stamps telling the tale of where each book had been.

For most of my life, I carted my books around in canvas bags and backpacks—always feeling happier with a bunch of books, a journal, and a pen close by. Even when the books never left the bag, they were still a comfort to have so close. I travelled with books—typically bringing way too many on each and every vacation. Packing them into luggage on the way and too often packing them again—still unread—on the way home. I’ve moved boxes and boxes of books from house to apartment to house. I’ve purchased bookshelves—walls of them—to house these books—both read and unread. They’ve piled high atop bedside tables and desks, and I’ve carted them with me to work—knowing the chances of reading even a page during the workday were slim.

So, it was not due to any lack of passion for physical books that I was actually excited when Brian bought me a Kindle as a present. And in the six months since I opened the Kindle, I have become a convert for reasons as plentiful and powerful as those that made me a book lover in the first place.

The most important reason to love the Kindle—or any other e-reader or paper book—is that we read books for their words—not for the cellulose or the circuitry that delivers those words. And once I purchased a suitable cover for the Kindle, I found that it was easy and comfortable to hold, and I found that I got lost in the images and ideas of an author just as easily as I did when the book was made of paper. But in the Kindle’s favor, I was able to download several new books for a post holiday flight right from my parent’s living room—all without fighting traffic or crowds.

A couple of months later at a writer’s conference, I was able to download a book by an author I met—as she stood in front of me! And, when another writer recommended a book, I didn’t have to worry about remembering to write down the name in order to look for it or order it later; I was able to download it on the spot.

There were many times in the past when I heard a review on the radio for a new and interesting-sounding book while speeding down the road in my car, and nearly as many times, I’d forgotten the name of the book and author by the time I’d returned home. These days, I can pull over and download the book immediately. Additionally, when paging through a magazine and finding a favorable book review, I can whip out my Kindle and get the book onto my reading list in seconds.

The Kindle fits in a purse, which makes it easier to have available even when travelling light, so I find that I have my Kindle with me almost all the time—allowing for a few minutes of reading while standing in line or waiting in doctor’s or dentist’s offices. So for all of these reasons or factors of convenience, I find that I am buying—and reading—more books than I was before, which is what is most important to me. And reading is the fuel that feeds my mind and imagination—not sheaves of paper, for which our forests pay dearly.

Now, there are many people who feel that Amazon and the Kindle are changing the way books are published and the way they are distributed, and this is true. And as a writer, I also feel passionate about the fact that authors should be paid for their work, which is why I happily pay for all of the e-books I read. But since I’ve had the Kindle, I’ve read more independently published authors than before, which is a boon for those authors—not for the publishing giants. And in the end, I want more compensation in the pockets of authors than in the pockets of executives, and I believe that the new publication channels that are emerging based on the fact that it no longer costs as much to publish a book can only be good for helping authors get their words into the hands of their readers, which is the point.

What does this mean for bookstores? Well, I’ve said for sometime that bookstores need to become more meeting place—less warehouse. Bookstores can become gathering venues for book readings, book clubs, and other author events. And, there will always be a place for books printed on paper: those you want to have signed by the author, favorites that you want to inscribe and pass down to future generations, and those that you intend to get sandy at the beach. Bookstores can offer these by way of print-on-demand kiosks—saving themselves the cost of buying, storing, and shipping books—all of which is resource intensive.

Change that connects authors with their readers doesn’t have to be all bad and scary. And businesses that grow and change and evolve to meet the needs of their communities will thrive going forward, and while I may love soaking myself in the warm environment of a new novel, I also crave companionship and community, and I believe that forward thinking bookstores can be places that bring authors, readers, writers, and speakers together—places of creativity and inspiration.

Now, I would like to see Amazon and the other electronic book vendors standardize on a format, so that e-readers can compete on their merits, and booksellers can compete on their services. But, Amazon is making it easier than ever before for authors to publish independently—allowing them to keep a larger share of their profits.

So, when I ask myself the question of whether or not I am happy to use the Kindle, I say unequivocally, yes. It has me reading more and writing more and connecting with new and interesting authors. Will I still pick up the occasional paper book? Sure thing; I think the pages of a paperback are better suited to shaking off a little sand and salt spray from the beach than my Kindle would be. And certain special books will still have a home on my bookshelves, but when I travel or go boating, I’ll be able to take my own little library with me weighing in at just over 10 ounces. Now, I can’t argue with that being progress.

*Disclaimer: The first mention of the Kindle in this piece is an affiliate link to Amazon, which means that if you wanted to purchase a Kindle and clicked on that link, I would get a small kick back from Amazon. I'm not sure if adding links to things I'm writing about anyways makes sense or not, but I'm curious about how it all works. So, far with GoogleAdSense, I've made all of 22 cents, which doesn't even meet their criteria for sending me anything. Anyway, if seeing an affiliate link in a blog piece bothers you or makes you less likely to trust my words, please let me know. I'd honestly like to know how you feel.


  1. I recently got a Kindle too--and I have to say the jury's still out for me. I think I need to read more on it to get used to it (I've only read about half a book), to get used to all the functions. I also wish I'd gotten the larger one because the size, and different page size than paper books, is throwing me. Still, for all the reasons you mentioned, I agree in theory that it's a great addition to the way I read and transport books.

  2. Hi Julia,
    Yeah, I'm still learning to use all of the features myself. I like the dictionary, and I am learning to add notes within the book, which is nice because I am helping a friend with some editing and book promotion work. But the portability and the ability to download books almost anywhere are the two big factors in my conversion. I've also been lucky enough to read some really good books on the Kindle, and once I get lost in a book, the format seems to fade away.

    Anyway, I'm enjoying your blog!!!! Are you in the mid-coast area? The little fixer I bought is in Waldoboro, and we are really enjoying the area.

    Anyway, it's great to be connected with you! Enjoy the rest of your weekend.


  3. I love your comments and agree with most of them. I recently downloaded Infinite Jest, (which I already own in ten pound paperback form) so I could avail myself of all the functionality: dictionary, google searches of all those references, and the ability to link to the footnotes throughout at the time I am reading as opposed to having to flip to the back of a heavy book. On that note, I loved sitting up late reading it, holding it with one hand, and following my progress on the bar at the bottom.
    I also wanted to post excerpts from it to get the other people who are reading it with me involved in a discussion but that isn't working. I think for some reason the publisher has not allowed that (still checking with Amazon on that). I have posted bits from other books and had great conversations start on FB that way.
    Social networking and all this electronic everything may very well mean I have much better access to the minds I need to appreciate books in a more meaningful way as well. There is no way I would be able to have all the people reading with me in my living room once a week--we're spread out across the country!

  4. Hi Sarah,
    Thanks for your comment! I'm reading several books on the Kindle now,but you're inspiring me to add some of the books you've mentioned and reviewed to my list. I hope to be able to enter the conversation once I finish the books I'm reading now. BTW, we should talk sometime soon. I've recently written four new essays, and I want to revise them and send them out, and I'd love to get your thoughts! How are your edits on your novel going? I hope you're doing well!
    All the best!

  5. Now I can get serious. You might like to read my latest blog, Lazy Sunday on the porch to see my opinion on ereaders. Now lets see if I can post this comment!


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