Kindle: Book 2.0? I prefer 1.0.
The Amazon book reader has merits but isn't the 'book' I know and love.
Oak Park, ILl. — I know technology is leaving me behind. Very soon indeed, my children may find me unfathomable. I love my computer and my cell phone, but don't ask me to text or game. I don't want to.
Until mere weeks ago, though, I was unperturbed by my status as a neo-Luddite. Indeed, I was more likely to boast than be embarrassed, kind of pleased by the paucity of my skills.
Then Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos announced his Next Big Thing, and I found myself rather less sanguine.
It's Book 2.0 – or as Bezos calls it, Kindle, Amazon's new wireless, portable reading device.
The specs are impressive: Kindle uses cell-phone technology, without requiring a contract; it weighs less than a paperback, but holds 200 books; it's wireless, so you can be on the couch trying to recall a great literary passage and, within seconds, be reading it again.
The owner of the planet's biggest bookstore wrote on Amazon's homepage that when he sits down to read the old-fashioned way, "the paper, glue, ink, and stitching that make up the book vanish, and what remains is the author's world."
"Our top design objective," he goes on, "was for Kindle to disappear in your hands – to get out of the way – so that you can enjoy your reading."
If this wasn't Mr. Bezos talking, I'd wonder if the speaker was, in fact, much of a reader. Because here's what Kindle isn't: a book.
Paper, glue, ink, stitching – these things don't vanish. The mind reels at the thought! The physical structure of a book is an indissoluble part of the reading experience, as is the volume's weight in your hands, or the fact that two pages face each other, your eyes on one, a thumb resting idly on the other.
Or bookstores! Just open the door, and your eyes arrive at a veritable carnival of color and texture; you pull one volume down because the font is beautiful, or hold another simply to feel the cover's finish; finally, you make a choice because as you stood in the aisle, barely noticing people squeezing past, you found yourself taken to a new reality, one which came wrapped in Adobe Garamond, or Fairfield, or any of the other lovely typefaces that give the letters of our language a structure and a heft and an artistry of their own.
The new book smell, the creak of a just-opened spine, the discovery of a train ticket used by the last person to read what you're reading – only someone to whom these things are meaningless would think that Kindle, or anything like it, could replace the volumes on my shelves.
When produced and handled with love, books are, unto themselves, things of real beauty.
Heretofore, the technologies I've rejected haven't offered me anything I need, or threatened anything I love. They just point a finger at my "backward" status, and it has been easy to not care very much.
But wireless, portable reading devices? That just won't fly.
I know that Kindle is the future, and that, moreover, it's a good future. Electronic books won't require trees to die in production, or carbon to be outputted in transport. When reading off a screen, you'll never have to wrap Kleenex around a paper cut.
But I'll buy real books until the last printing house shutters its gates. And then I'll close my door, settle in my chair, and start again, from the beginning.
• Emily L. Hauser is freelance writer living outside Chicago.