Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Ebooks are both the future and the present. They’re easy to buy – you see a review, remember a title, get a recommendation, whatever, and it’s waiting for you in less than a minute.


… with each of the books I’ve read on mine, when I finished, I felt deprived. I enjoyed each one a lot and so, when I switched off after the last page, there was nothing there to cradle, no unique object that held the story inside it. Yes, it’s still in the Kindle and I can return to it, but it’s just in there with all the others, as well as some huge freebies that I downloaded, and they’re all represented by the flat grey thing and a dead screen. So there’s no external object that holds the emotions, laughs, sadnesses, delights, puzzles, and all the other things I get from reading – each time a different mix. Usually, when I finish a ‘normal’ book, I leave it on the desk or the bedside table before putting it back on the shelf and each time I see it, it reminds me of what’s in it and recalls some of the instants I enjoyed from it. The story has a physical reality.


(and here’s where it gets a bit weird), in a way, that gives the reading experience a different quality. Because reading – for me anyway – is an abstract thing. OK, I have physical responses to it – laughing, yelling ‘That’s rubbish’ now and then, flinging a book aside when it’s been carelessly written or is literally unbelievable – but when I’m involved in it, it takes me away from my physical context, even from my self. And the way the Kindle’s words flash onto the screen and then, as you ‘turn the page’, disappear to be replaced by others, that’s sort of abstract, too. There’s no rustle of paper, no feel of it in your fingers – there are just shifting words, forming on and  disappearing from the featureless, unchanging slab in front of you. You’ve no idea how many more pages there are till the end, there’s not the growing chunk in your left hand and diminishing one in your right. Just one page, always one page – the perpetually repeating present of the story and of the reading experience. And when you finish reading the last one, you ‘turn’ it and the screen is blank, the book’s gone, the experience has flitted and there’s only the memory left. So the reader has no physical context, and neither does the book.

I’ll certainly use my Kindle a lot, but I suppose I’m a romantic and I’ll always want ‘real’ books, too.


Naomi Avendano said...

You have captured the same let down feeling that I experience with my Kindle. I love looking time and time again at a book cover while I'm reading it. My favorite place in my home is the room where I have my bookshelves and I never tire of looking at all of them and remembering those I read, and looking with anticipation at those I have not yet enjoyed. However, on the flip side, when I spend half the year in Mexico, Kindle is my only real access to the books I crave. Here in Mexico, I simply can't live without it. When I'm in Chicago, I rarely touch it. Love hate relationship I guess.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Bill, I know exactly how you feel. Ebooks are physically cold and have nearly killed print books by bankrupting so many bookstores. On the other hand, my book sales have increased more than tenfold since the ebook revolution. I agree with Naomi, it's a love-hate relationship.

heidigarrett said...

Bill, Not sure how long you've had your kindle? I was a committed print reader until we moved cross-country. A gazillion boxes of books later I got the original nook in 2010. I thought I was a late-adopter:) Anyway, now I still have my nook, plus a kindle fire, and kindle paperwhite, my husband has an iPad, and reads on that. It took about two years before I started deleting my B&N coupons for print books. I'm so attached to the search/highlight/note-taking functions it now bugs me to read a print book:( But that whole conversion took about two years. Now, I only read print books when I really want to read a book and it's not published digitally. It will be interesting to see if over time, other readers a similar conversion process.

Bill Kirton said...

As you all say, it really is a strange relationship (interesting that you speak of a 'conversion', Heidi).
Naomi, I agree - bookshelves aren't just items of furniture, or even 'shelves on which we keep books' - they carry bits of oneself, summarise various phases in our life.
Yes Jean, the increase in sales is remarkable so, amongst all the nostalgia and comfort of print books, we mustn't forget the reality of us getting more readers.
Heidi, there's another strange thing I've noticed that may yet bring about my own 'conversion' - reading on the iPad is much more satisfying because the pages actually do 'turn'. Clicking the Kindle button to move on is foreign, seeing the page fold over still keeps me connected to my old ways.