Thursday, February 12, 2009


Dear No One in Particular,

I was not an early fan of the Amazon Kindle. Honestly, I was pretty darn anti-Kindle up until Christmas Day, when I was lucky enough to receive one from my long-suffering mother.
You see, I live in constant fear that I will be killed by my personal library. I have hundreds of books in dozens of places; I've moved a lot recently, so I not only have over-stuffed bookshelves at my parents' home, groaning and threatening to buckle under the weight, I have bookshelves at my apartment doing the same. Plus, I have boxes of books scattered throughout both locations, the majority of which I can not lift because books are freaking heavy.

Naturally, these books do not just accumulate on shelves. I am rarely without a personal reading book (as opposed to the ones I'm forced to read for school, which I carry around on the regular as well). Like I said, books are heavy, so my left shoulder is permanently higher than the right. No really. It is. Hairdressers and doctors comment on it all the time. I blame carrying around giant, overstuffed purses loaded with books.

So you can see why the Kindle was such a great gift choice for me: it can hold hundreds, thousands of books in a single device. No more bookshelves spewing trade paperbacks! No more hunchbacked daughter whining that her neck hurts!

But I was firmly against the Kindle and its e-book reader brethren.
Books are so much more than a simple vehicle for the written word, as any true bibliophile knows. I love books, I really do. The heft of a well-made hardback sagging in the palm of my hand; the flexibility of a trade paperback, the thin pages bouncing and flapping in the breeze; the smell of paper, glue and imagination -- these are what make a book so wonderful. I love the feel of a page slipping through my fingers as I turn ahead. The deep black ink's stark contrast to the crisp white page. The Kindle can't begin to hope to replicate small moments like these.
And I don't think it means to. In a world that has become increasingly dependent on electronics, the Kindle seeks to do what all extraneous gadgets do: simplify and accelerate.

I keep mentioning that I was not a fan of the Kindle and had no interest in purchasing one. My feet were firmly planted on the side of Team Book. Now ... ? Now, I'm a little bit in love with my Kindle. What changed? I held a Kindle in my hands, downloaded a couple of books, fidgeted with the features, and had my world rocked.

This is not to say that the Kindle is perfect. Far from it, really, and I don't think that it's newest incarnation, Kindle 2, is going to be the e-book reader to convert all of Team Book. But I can not deny its charms.

First of all, it's thin, thinner than most paperbacks, and it's really lightweight. This frees up a ton of space in my bag, which makes my doctors (and mother) rejoice. I'm one of those people who, if I'm nearing the end of a book, will carry an extra so I'm never without reading material. The Kindle simplifies my life by putting both books in a single device.
This is another huge selling point: the capacity, which is easily increased with a memory card. I could hold thousands of books in my little Kindle, something I would never be able to do with real books.

Another feature that's especially appealing for me is the annotations feature. I know some think it's absolutely blasphemous to write in books (my father is one), but I like putting little notes or highlights in the margins. It's something I started with school books and have transferred over to pleasure reading. The Kindle allows you to electronically highlight, bookmark, and annotate your reading; it stores the notes in a separate file, so they're easily accessible -- no flipping through pages in search of that one really awesome quote.
This, with the capacity, could change college textbooks forever. Seriously, publishers: Kindles for university students. It's the wave of the future.

Like I said, the Kindle isn't perfect. It's flaws are many. It can be downright irritating at times.
The button layout on the Kindle 1.0 is maddening. There are very few places one can hold the bare Kindle (sans some sort of hard cover) without pressing some button and thus directing you away from the current screen. 2/3 of the right side is comprised of the "next page" button, while the left side is split between the "next page" and "previous page" buttons. Ok, it's really nice to be able to move forward or back with either hand, but the immense buttons make it difficult to hold the Kindle.
This has been rectified with the Kindle 2.0, which has smaller buttons that are angled inward, supposedly making it harder to accidentally navigate away from the current screen (so says Amazon).

Oh, and before you ask: no, I'm not going to trade up. I have a Kindle and I'm kind of in love with it, remember? We're totally going steady -- why would I cheat on it? But more on that later.

Another feature that the new Kindle supposedly improved upon is the sharper display. This is one of my big beefs with the Kindle: pictures suck on its screen. Covers look really funky, all washed out and blurry; I wanted to read Carrie Fisher's "Wishful Drinking", but after skimming the sample and realising that the book was photo-heavy, and that the Kindle couldn't hack it, I ended up buying the real book. Seriously, the Kindle was like Tom Hanks's character in The Terminal, all awkward and pathetic.

And that right there folks, is the crux of my love affair with the Kindle: it can do some really snazzy things that I simply can't do with regular books (instantly look up words in a dictionary or Wikipedia, for example), but it pales in comparison with good old-fashioned books. I have to admit that being able to carry a 400+ page tome in a skinny handheld device is pretty nifty though, and I do read faster on a Kindle than a traditional book.
Yet the truth remains: I'm not going to stop buying real books, and I'm definitely not going to stop frequenting libraries, or as I call them "magical oases of love and awesome". Sure, e-books, on the whole, are cheaper than regular books (some are free! But then, some are just as pricey), but I can't hand my Kindle to someone and say "here, you HAVE to read this book!" There's no sharing with the Kindle.
They simply lack the tactile greatness of traditional books, and that is something they will never ever be able to replicate.

What I would like to see from future Kindles: back-lit screens, like a computer or cell phone. Those idiotic flashlight-lamp hybrids are ridiculous on books, they're equally (if not more so) as ridiculous for Kindles. I would also love to see a Kindle library. Sure, you can download samples (which are often useless, since publishing info and table of contents tend to take up the majority of a sample), but what I'm talking about is a buy-in service, kind of like a Netflix for e-books. For a set price per month, you can download as many books as you like. At the end of the month, you have the option of either paying for them, or just letting them be deleted from the Kindle memory, easy as pie.

And as for the uproar over the new and improved Kindle 2.0? As a Kindle 1.0 owner, I'm not bothered. Sure, I received mine a mere 2 months before the updated version came out, but I'm not about to write angry letters to Bezos demanding a discount on a Kindle 2 so I can trade in my Kindle 1.0. Technology moves forward, and in doing so, older products become obsolete. If Bezos does Kindle early-adopters a solid a la Apple and the iPhone, that'd be great! I'd love a credit to the Kindle Store as a thank you for drumming up the support necessary for the creation of Kindle 2.0*. If not, oh well. Anything else is just sour grapes.

So do I recommend the Kindle? Yes and no. The Kindle 1.0 has some real flaws and while the Kindle 2.0 seems to have improved on them, the fact remains that the Kindle is no replacement for traditional books. So long as you're cool with that, and you're looking to streamline your life, and you have the cash? Go for it. It's a nifty piece of technology with more pros than cons in my book.**


*Not that I'm actually in that camp, as this post obviously points out. But it is something that's been kicked around on Amazon forums, and I think it would be a great idea, and not just because I want a credit. Take care of your customers, people!
**Pun absolutely intended.