Kindle courtship

I’m the type of ultra-practical traveler who packs one jacket and no umbrella if there’s less than a 98 percent chance of rain (even if it’s pouring when I’m headed out the door, I might still decide not to bring the umbrella.) If I think I can get away with it, I’ll bring one pair of pants (two if you count the jeans I’m wearing). I hate excess luggage, and since I usually use a duffel bag, and don’t check anything, I know that whatever I pack, I’m going to be hauling around for at least a few hours.

But if I’m going to have more than 12 minutes of downtime somewhere, I always pack a book. For a week-long trip, I bring multiple. When I went to Taiwan to see my parents last summer (for two and a half weeks), I brought nine books. And made my mom take me to the library. Three times.

It was only a matter of time before someone bought me a Kindle. Opening my Christmas present from my brother was a strange mix of excitement, gratitude, and overwhelming guilt. I love books! They are tactile and comforting (and heavy, yes) and smell like paper. They are physical symbols of the enduring power of literature, language, and the struggle to express the human experience with the imperfect tools that words and syntax are.

The Kindle is sleek and convenient and light (these are selling points, I suppose). As soon as I opened the box, I started sifting through the free books on Amazon, and I relatively instantly had five different short story anthologies and Jane Eyre packed into a less-than-6-ounce device. On which the Oxford English Dictionary comes standard. Drool.

I took my new toy on the bus to work the next day. It’s much easier to hold the Kindle in my lap, and my wingspan is smaller, since I don’t have to hold open a page and worry about my elbows being in other people’s business. I couldn’t really get into the free short story anthologies, though, because they were somewhat haphazardly arranged, and the chapter navigation wasn’t set up well. I switched to Jane Eyre. I didn’t like reading Brontë sans book smell. I reverted back to the O. Henry Prize Stories, 2003, (also free, thanks LA Public Library system).

Fast-forward a few weeks. I took the train to my aunt’s to celebrate Chinese New Year’s and brought a full load of laundry with me. Trade-off: no books! My computer was on, so I decided to throw a book onto my Kindle. I’ve been meaning to read Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, but it was $11.99. I’m fairly certain I can get it used for $5, max. I bought The Patron Saint of Liars instead, since it was $3.99. The whole process took all of two minutes, since Amazon has steadily reduced the friction of digital consumerism by storing credit card information on user accounts.

I read at Union Station for a few h0urs. When I stood up, I slipped my Kindle into the front pocket of my hoodie. It was all seamless and wonderful. After a few chapters, I finally got into the narrative, finally became less aware of pushing buttons as I read.

So: I’m definitely sold on the Kindle for convenience while traveling, but I still don’t feel like I’m reading a book. Which is maybe a good thing … I guess? (Clive Thompson rails against skeumorphs in the February edition of Wired — no link! I read the article in print, OK?) Something essential about the immersive experience is missing. [Just spent a good 5-10 minutes trying to find a batch of photos from a summer program, to pull one of me sitting under a lovely Bryn Mawr tree reading, but I think I archived it on my external hard drive and deleted it off my laptop.]

Anyway, books. I like pages. I like being able to flip back and forth between the page I’m reading on and the sneaky forshadowy passage from three pages back. I like the feeling of pages. I love that the most common type of hardcover binding is called “perfect binding.” I like being able to jot sarcastic notes in the margins. With a pen. And I like being able to correct typos.* (I am not kidding.) I also love browsing through used bookstores, picking up books at random, and judging them by their covers, their wear, and an arbitrarily selected excerpt that I determine.

I feel a healthy dose of Luddite coming on,** and I am also looking for a book recommendation for my Kindle. (Something that is fiction, typo-free, and less than $5, the general going rate for used novels in excellent condition at my favorite used bookshop.) Le sigh.

* OK, also, speaking of typos: WTF, mate? There were so many errors in Patron Saint of Liars, including more than 15 instances of “I” being replaced with “1,” a randomly inserted colon, and missing end quotation marks. Is that a Kindle thing? There is one mistake in Bel Canto (also by Ann Patchett — read it!); “vial” is written as “vile.” I edited it in my friend’s copy which I may have decided to keep, sorry, Linh! I will buy you another!

** For serious, my cell phone died just before my brother bought me the Kindle, and dude at the Verizon store said that they couldn’t fix the battery port, since Samsung stopped making both my phone and the newer version that replaced it. At this point, I might as well get a damn iPhone, but I refuse to let the Internet rewire my brain! For now.

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7 responses

    • I think I’m definitely moving in the direction of using the Kindle exclusively on public transportation and travel, but it’s somehow not as relaxing, since it still feels like using technology. I’m discovering that part of the pleasure of reading books, for me, is that it’s such a non-digital experience.

    • I definitely feel more like I’m reading a book than I would if I were using a laptop or a shinier tablet, but I think there’s a lot lost in the tactile experience. Also, I find shaky formatting extremely distracting (as I do when reading “real” books, and I’ve consistently seen issues with the text going from justified to left-aligned, sometimes within the same paragraph.)

  1. Two years ago one of my family friends also got me a Kindle…mine might be older than yours. My real issue is the way the page “convulses” when you “turn” it. Hurt my eyes! Though, if you’re a frequent bus commuter, these might appeal to you:

    – Sending articles from the web that you wanted to read, but never got around to, via Instapaper: http://blog.instapaper.com/post/340418615 – I found reading shorter articles to be far easier on the Kindle. Photos can be viewed, too.

    – “Check out” free e-books from the local library website. http://e-media.lapl.org/EB157330-34B3-4A62-811A-6C4254DA355B/10/390/en/BrowseeBooksFiction.htm – Collections seem to vary by library, but my local one has most of the bestsellers of the moment.

    That said, I’m a public library-freak and read everything from there. Hard to beat free. I tried reading Joan Didion’s “Blue Nights” on the Kindle http://e-media.lapl.org/EB157330-34B3-4A62-811A-6C4254DA355B/10/390/en/ContentDetails.htm?ID=ceb9034c-1ac6-4419-a453-16ca057d5642 but still prefer the print 🙂

    Recent good reads: Tortilla Curtain, T.C. Boyle, Marriage Plot, Eugenides (I feel you might really like this one – Semiotics!)

  2. All that said – wouldn’t it be great, for people like us – if we could buy books in other languages on Amazon? Amazon e-books have only really started off in the English-language market, so anything with Asian languages is not “official.” Having the ability to have the Kindle read it aloud and easily look up words would make it so much easier for me to read Japanese.

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