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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Kindle Thoughts

I ordered a Kindle from Amazon last night, an unusually capricious expenditure for me: I’d only been thinking about it for months. I won’t get it until Saturday, but already I’m experiencing buyer’s remorse. I looked at my paperback copy of V. this morning and felt like a traitor. I realized with a pang that I had several novels slotted for the next few weeks and I’m not sure when I’ll get to them now. Will it be weird to go back and forth between the Kindle and “real” books?

Anyway, I have a few positives and negatives I’ve been going over.

POSITIVE: Books in the public domain are free.
-That’s right, many books written before about 1922 I think can be downloaded to your Kindle for free. That means the whole of Twain, Dostoevsky, Dickens, Swift, Tolstoy, and even Shakespeare can be yours at the low, low price of nothing at all.

NEGATIVE: The price of newer books has gone up.
-Post-purchase I started looking at a few recent and upcoming releases I am interested in reading. Most new releases are $12.99, which is a little much considering you aren’t buying a physical thing. Still less than Amazon’s hardcover prices, but not by very much. For instance, The Art of Fielding, a new novel by Chad Harbach, is $15.27 for the hardcover and $12.99 for the e-book. A little more galling is that the Kindle price doesn’t seem to go down when the novel goes into paperback. Jonathan Tropper’s This is Where I Leave You has been in paperback for months, but the e-book still costs $12.99. A paperback copy goes for $10.20 on Amazon. I don’t think I should pay a premium to read on the Kindle.

POSITIVE: All books weigh the same.
-Since my commute I’ve had a decided preference for slim paperbacks. I just haven’t felt like lugging backbreakers around with me on the NJ Transit system. But on a Kindle, The Brothers Karamazov is no more weighty (in terms of mass, if not intellectually) than a 220-page mystery.

NEGATIVE: Lack of community.
-One of the things I enjoy most about books is their ability to engender and facilitate conversation. I’ve had some great chats over the years that started with, “What’s that you’re reading?” To be fair though, this doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, or with the books I wish it would. The book that garnered me the most attention in this fashion was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I didn’t even like.

In a similar vein I have always enjoyed lending people books, even if their spotty record of returning them did occasionally rankle me. I’m not about to lend someone my Kindle for a few days at a time.

-I currently live in a room that I believe is ten feet by twelve feet. I have one wall of bookshelves that has been full for years. Books I’ve read since then have either had to force a previous occupant off of the shelves or have been piled up on the floor, the dresser, the headboard of my bed, or anywhere else there was room. I like having them there and like looking at them at odd moments and I love plucking one off every once in a while and looking through it again, but I have to admit: there’s nowhere else to put them. I set myself a challenge this year of reading fifty-two books (I’m almost done with #34). Say I did that next year too and the year after. If I was buying actual books I’d be drowning under them in short order. But on the Kindle they will all fit quite easily.

On the whole I think my purchase, however rash by my standards, makes a lot of sense. It facilitates reading more novels and more different kinds of novels, which is great. But I also can’t deny that I’m more than a little conflicted. My inner Luddite is revolting.

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