If you're an author who makes his/her living from books, you have so many reasons to fear, love, despise, and/or at least be profoundly curious about Amazon's Kindle e-reader. And of course, if you're a writer, chances are you're also a serious reader. Could Kindle make you a better one? So wondered Nicholson Baker. "Maybe, I thought, if I ordered this wireless Kindle 2," he speculated, as recounted in the New Yorker, "I would be pulled into a world of compulsive, demonic book consumption."
So begins Baker's encounter with Kindle. If you've wondered about buying one yourself, you might want to take this (non-too-brief but rather entertaining) trip with Baker.
It begins with his growing attraction the device. "I ordered a Kindle 2 from Amazon," he relates. Given the mountain of persuasive advertising he encountered, "How could I not?" It takes a whole page just to get to the part where Baker receives his Kindle in the mail. Opening it, he felt he'd "entered some nesting Italo Calvino folktale world of packaging."
Trouble began right away with the color of the screen. "The problem was that the screen was gray," he writes. "And it wasn’t just gray; it was a greenish, sickly gray." Baker continues on with a history of Vizplex, "the layered substance that makes up the Kindle’s display."
He goes on to note all the titles he can't buy on his Kindle and to discuss the shortcomings of trying to read the New York Times on a version of the Kindle designed to be newspaper friendly ("The Kindle DX ($489) doesn’t save newspapers; it diminishes and undercuts them – it kills their joy. It turns them into earnest but dispensable blogs.")
And he compares a Kindle read unfavorably to a comparable experience with his iPod. After reading a book on his iPod, he switches to viewing the same book on Kindle. "It was like going from a Mini Cooper to a white 1982 Impala with blown shocks," he notes.
Then, just as you're about to give up on the Kindle altogether, Baker locks into his book as displayed on the Kindle screen and – well, you should read the whole piece. I won't spoil it for you here.
But whether you're a potential Kindle buyer or not, it's worth taking a look to see what happens when a man of letters encounters the brave new world of e-books.
I already have an opinion on this one. I own an early-version Kindle and if I lost it I wouldn't rest until I had another. But it's good to take a look at all sides of these things.