Category Archives: pro and con

To Kindle or Not to Kindle?

As the Kindle continues to become a daily part of modern life, the bookworms of Book Sauce are debating its merits! Who will win this battle of ideas? Will any minds be changed and Kindles purchased (or thrown in the scrap heap)? Continue reading for Idroma’s argument against the Kindle:

Sometimes I think that I might be a very technologically-adept Luddite. Despite my constant use of social media, blogs, digital cameras and art-based software, I remain a traditionalist of sorts- especially in regards to books. I’ve expounded on my love of books before, they are the foundation upon which I have learned to engage with the world. I am a bibliophile who edges quite close to the precipice of bibliomania, my house is covered in books that I haven’t yet read because I was taken by the yellowing softness of their pages, a memory evoked or a lovely sense of sturdiness and security. I still feel a sense of wonder and pleasure when coming across a word that I have never seen before. Having to look it up, write it down and sound it out like a child, working out how the syllables should taste on my tongue. I find it a small tragedy that I had to leave behind my dictionary in the States and have not yet bought a new one. I loved the process of looking up words on fragile, thin paper and trying not to be distracted by another word or phrase unveiling its mysteries to me out of the corner of my eye.

My books are my security blanket, a way to always feel grounded no matter where I am in the world. As someone who also has a lifelong textural fixation, I take immense joy rifling through books in shops and libraries. In the British Library, I longed to touch original drafts of Austen and Carroll manuscripts. Never underestimate the importance of touch when dealing with books, it is too part of the experience. But what does this have to do with my traditionalism? Well, it started with Christmas. My mother asked if I wanted a Kindle. This caused a minor crisis.

As someone formerly in the book business, I understand the importance of new technology. I get that publishers have to figure out new ways to be innovative and increase their audience (as well as profit). In this brave new economy, publishers that stay behind the times become extinct really quickly. But dear god, there is something about the Kindle that repulses me. It makes text feel ephemeral in a way that other digital media doesn’t. At least with digital photography (and here I mean proper cameras, not phones. I have issues with camera phones as well), there is the physical act of taking the picture, thinking of composition, of feeling. The camera still feels like an extension of the person taking the picture.

The Kindle makes books feel so insignificant, both in physicality and choice (though I find it interesting that Kindle adverts portray a lo-fi, trendily handmade feel that is in complete opposition to the smooth and sleek object being sold. As if a Kindle can still be folksy and intimate). I don’t want my book selection to be like my mp3 player, full of unlimited selection. I want to be able to put some thought into what books I want to take out on the town with me. I want the small pleasure of looking forward to the book I have specifically chosen to accompany on a journey, of admiring the typeface on the the first few pages, reading the author bio, seeing a nail mark or smudge of polish that shows me that someone else has enjoyed it before me. I want that smell that you can only get with books, the slight acridness of new pages or soft sigh of decay that perfumes old books. Having only one book at your disposal makes you pay attention to the words in a way you just won’t if you know that you can change at anytime.

In a fantastic interview in The Literateur, Zadie Smith discusses that reading off a screen causes casualness with the text. Reading things on computers makes us fragment and misread text, and in some cases removes the author from their creations (for a clear example of this, look at Tumblr). She prints things off if she wants to read them more thoroughly. I don’t think that the Kindle is that far removed from this issue. I think the idea of ownership in regards to the Kindle is problematic as well. Numerous arguments and discussions have been raised about the fact that people do not own their e-books and the fact that they can be removed even after being paid for. There is something that saddens me about not being able to keep something that you may love, and I think it robs readers of control. You can’t share your e-book or pass along your Kindle. It destroys the sense of community that arises around books.

It also helps to jeopardise one of my favourite spaces, the bookshop. Amazon has already done a lot of damage to independent bookshops (and we are all guilty of using it out of convenience, myself included), and the Kindle is just another aspect of this ongoing problem. But something is lost when you can’t walk around a place and pick up something that could possibly change your life. Something is lost when you can’t be spontaneous or emotional or drawn in by a book cover that speaks to you. A Kindle limits you (even in cost it is a machine of privilege). It takes away choice, whether in selection or ownership or the ability to gift others with words and ideas. When I read a book, I want to switch off from technology. I want respite from all my mod cons for just a while. I feel that the Kindle puts me in a convergence of technology, consumerism and ethical questioning that I just don’t want to be in when reading Nella Larsen or Harry Potter. Just this once, I am happy to remain behind the times.

Come back soon for Janie’s argument in favour of the Kindle.

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