My Kindle, For Better or Worse

An e-reader changes ones perspective on the ageless act of reading.

I received a Kindle for Christmas — a gift from my oldest son. He thoughtfully bought me the 3G version, and took the time to explain why this more robust version would be more versatile for me.

library-patronIt’s a handy gadget, especially when I travel. It’s nice too. I’m slowly getting used to using it. Still, it is a big change from reading a book.

Just like our cell phones, the Kindle (and any other e-reader) has taken a common task and, in some respects, made it much more difficult. To be sure, its features are far more robust than that of a book. Still, there is a learning curve. To begin, I had to sift through a rather extensive user guide just to learn how to use it. There is a basic skill set and an aptitude I had to gain before I could use it for its intended purpose: reading.

I find browsing for books online with brief summaries and small avatars a bit constraining, versus flipping through a book’s pages and easily seeing other books on the same topic at a bookstore. There’s a tactile part that is completely missing. But oh, is it convenient. I don’t have to travel to a bookstore, I can locate more books, no out-of-stocks, and get them immediately. (No café for coffee drinks though. Oh well.)

And as I add books, the Kindle doesn’t get any bigger, unlike a growing pile of books. Makes me wonder what the future home library will look like. What can get bigger, and quickly too, is your credit card bill. It is so easy (too easy?) to purchase a new book. There’s a good and bad to that, obviously. What can also get bigger is the size of the text. Can’t read the small text? Then just set it larger —no need for those large print editions.

On the other hand, a book, I can just pick up and read. A Kindle, I can also just pick up and read—so long as I’ve remembered to charge the battery, or be tethered to an outlet providing, of course, that I’ve remembered the charging plug. But I do like the author drawings when I put the Kindle to sleep.

And I like its size. I bought an inexpensive cover for it with a relatively unobtrusive magnetic latch. Inside are a couple of pockets, so it’s certainly handy. Fits snugly inside my outer jacket pocket: nice portability, much easier than carrying some tome. I miss the graphics of a book cover though. A Kindle tends to render a book’s contents amorphous.

Am I being a bit of a curmudgeon? Of course. It’s a huge change from what I am used to. I like the tactile sense of a cradling a book in my hands, the turning of its pages, the ability to review the entire book by flipping through its pages, to get an immediate sense of how much I’ve already read and how much is left. And for me, a writer, holding a book gives me a sense of its sweat equity, a reverence for that effort. I don’t really get that feeling with my Kindle, even though logically the effort still lies in there somewhere.

So I won’t be giving up my books any time soon. I’ve developed a dividing line of sorts: fiction on my Kindle and nonfiction (which I like to mark up with notes and highlights) in print. Nonetheless, there is a place in my life for my Kindle, and I happily use it to read. And it feels especially good to recall that I have this e-reader because of my thoughtful son.

And it’s that type of act, my friends, that moves us toward humanity in this particular communication.

—Rich Maggiani

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