A while ago in this blog, I wrote about the new kind of “book,” the Kindle, the e book that’s being marketed by Amazon.com. These “books” are electronic tablets you hold in your hand. Purchase them, like an I-pod, and you buy the ability to download almost anything available in the printed world — newspapers, magazines, books, even the ones that were just published yesterday. You pay for each download as you would a book at the store except it’s paperless and comes to you instantly in this device. The screen displays the reading material one page at a time, like a book except it’s electronic. Because I’m a baby boomer and I have no children, I’m more than casually interested in knowing how young people feel about things like this. I teach at a local university so I often pose questions to my students when I’m unsure how things like Kindles play with the younger set. In a recent class I asked what they thought about the Kindle and my students recoiled. I have eight students, mostly seniors. They spoke with some passion about the experience of reading a book, how tactile it is, how visceral and how comfortable it is to curl up with a book. They were not just immune to the idea of the Kindle, it almost seemed like they were repelled by it.
In the workshop I gave last spring, one of the participants was a 14-year-old girl named Shelby. Shelby is a firecracker of a girl with an acting career on the side. She began the workshop but soon had to leave as she was wanted at a rehearsal in New York. She received the news in my living room on her cell phone. But she was with us for a day and that seemed to make an impression nevertheless. Several months later, Shelby’s mom, Kim, wrote to me, checking in to keep me up to date. Among other things, she told me that, inspired by our workshop discussion of the Kindle, she had bought one for Shelby for her birthday. “She is having a blast with it,” she wrote. “We bought it in August and have not put it down yet. The only drawback is that for a two-person family, you need two Kindles since the one we own is always being used. We almost choked on purchasing one for $400. But the books are soooo inexpensive. And it makes an old girl like me think I am living in the 21st century. Of course, like you, I never got an I-Pod so maybe it doesn’t count when you only purchase every 5th electronic device that appears on the market. Anyway, if not for your workshop, none of this would have attracted our attention and interest.”
It was an aspect of the Kindle that I hadn’t thought of before, that it is truly a personal reading device and that it would not be enough to have one, if it were for more than one person or for a family. So the price of this gadget just went up, in my book, no pun intended. I was also interested to know that, most unintentionally, I inspired someone to buy one of these new electronic devices that simulates the book in all ways but the smell of it, the sound of the page turning, the presence of its heft on the bedside table. And the lineup of books read and loved in the bookcase where the sight of the title on the spine instantly provokes the pleasure that was had in reading it.
Maybe the bookshelf will someday go the way of the horse. The good thing about these devices is that they save paper and printing costs so the content is available to readers for less (once you own the expensive and certainly not indestructible device!). The downside, among other factors already listed, might be that these electronic “stores” would render the bookstore obsolete. The content will go directly from publisher to reader, no one in between. Recently, Oprah endorsed the Kindle and its twin, the Sony Reader. Apparently, her power in the book world has not diminished. After her endorsement, the little mobile devices have sold out and may not be available again until February 2009. Hmmmm. I’m not putting myself on the waiting list yet but I also realize that we must never say never. Even in this household where the woodburning cookstove is the heart of the home, there may someday be a place for the Kindle.