Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Why I Changed My Mind on the Kindle

I love books.  I love the way books feel in my hands, the sound of turning pages, the smell of new books, and the look of the covers.  There is something magical about looking at an unopened book, knowing that between the covers are the words that build possibility.  In fact, my "happy place" is being curled up with a book in my hands.  With my deep-seated feelings about books, I am a loyal collector.  Every time my family moves, the first thing we have to look for in a new house/apartment is whether or not there is enough wall space to support our many bookshelves.  So when I first heard about the Kindle, I was appalled that people would choose to read books on an electronic device rather than in real form.  I had never had any experience with electronic readers, and beyond using them to read newspapers or magazines or other documents, I couldn't imagine why I'd ever consider getting one.  One of my good friends, Sarah, brought hers on her trip to visit me last May, and I chided her for selling out.  I'm not sure why I felt that Kindles were signs of selling out, but that's how I felt.  I played with hers and shrugged, saying, "What's the big deal?"

Later that summer, I was getting ready to pack for a week-long vacation in Alaska.  Since I know I can't sleep on planes, I wanted to make sure I had plenty of entertainment for myself for the six-hour flight from Houston to Anchorage, but at the same time, I refused to pay to check baggage and was determined to fit everything into a carry-on.  The stack of books I had sitting by my duffel bag taunted me; I wanted to take them all but knew I'd have to stuff the bag to fit even one or two in.  Over the next few days, I found myself being drawn to the Amazon Kindle page; finally one afternoon, my compulsive index finger hit the "buy" button.

When my Kindle arrived, I still had mixed feelings about whether or not I would actually enjoy reading on my new device, but I trudged on and downloaded some books to prepare for my Alaskan vacation.  Out of curiosity, I started reading one of the newly downloaded books to take it for a test drive.  Once my eyes adjusted to the blinking dark screen when you hit the "next page" button, I found that reading on the Kindle felt like reading a book.  The actual feeling of the device is obviously different--there are no pages to be turned, and sometimes you feel like you fly through a Kindle page because only so much can fit onto the screen.  Yet, the words were still there that took my mind on an adventure and allowed me to revel in my 'joie de lire.'

Six months later, I regularly use my Kindle and appreciate the many free books that are offered (not to mention the books that are much cheaper on the Kindle than in hard copy).  And yet, I still hold a love of books--when I read a really good book on my Kindle, I have to stop myself from going out and buying the hard copy to have sitting on my shelves (though I'm still considering buying The Help because it was too good to not have on my bookshelves).  While I still buy books at bookstores, my bookstore-perusing habit has slowed as our apartment has reached its limit for book space.  It's nice to know that I can still buy the books I want to read without overflowing our small apartment because the Kindle doesn't take up much space. 

I'm not sure if it's actually the case or not, but I feel like I read books faster on the Kindle--there's something about it measuring your progress for you, with a percentage bar at the bottom of each page telling you where exactly you are in the book, that makes reading feel more fluid.  I also like the features that allow me to bookmark pages, highlight passages, and take notes; I have issues with marking up my copies of books because there is a certain voice inside me that tells me all my books need to be kept in pristine condition (when I finish reading a book, it looks exactly like it did before I opened its pages).  The Kindle lets me get past that since the pages are on a screen, and any marking can be deleted without showing traces of it ever having existed.  The one major drawback to digital books is that you can't lend them out to spread the 'joie de lire' with those around you unless you lend out your entire electronic reading device.

I work in an English department, and many of my colleagues feel like I once did about the Kindle: They turn their noses up at it and shake their heads that people would use such things.  I smile and nod, saying, "I used to think that, too."  After breaking down and trying out the newfangled device, I now have two places in my heart for reading: one for my shelves of books and one for my Kindle books.  If you find yourself rolling your eyes at anyone professing their love of an electronic reader, keep in mind that reading comes in many forms and that you, too, may find yourself using such a device one day.  It's a good thing my friend Sarah doesn't bother throwing around the phrase "I told you so."

Happy reading, whether you're reading a hard or digital copy of a book!


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Rob Velella said...

I think your experience pre-Kindle was the exact same experience as me. I thought it was selling out, that books were far too important, etc. I did lay my hands on a Kindle, played with it for a couple minutes, then handed it back. "I don't get it," I said - and I don't mean I couldn't operate it. I just didn't get it.

That said, many of the books I like to read are very, very old - and a few are long out of print. I read Paul Felton, an 1820s novel by Richard Henry Dana (Sr.) on Google Books because that's the only place I could find it. My guess is that it would have been an easier read on a Kindle then on a laptop. So, maybe some day...

Anyway, thanks for sharing your experience (and I'm not sure how I found myself here...).

Jessie Sams said...

Rob, thanks for your comment. As reflected in what I said in the posting, I also just "didn't get it" when it came to the Kindle before I got one.

To add to what you brought up about being able to find older (some rarer) books only in digital form, I also find it helpful to read long books on the Kindle, simply because lugging around large, heavy books can be rather cumbersome. I'm currently reading through the complete collection of Sherlock Holmes (a mere $2.29 investment on the Kindle), and I couldn't imagine having to carry around a physical book that contained that entire collection (novels, short stories, and all). I recently put a book back on the shelf at the bookstore because it was over a thousand pages long, making the book heavy and awkward to hold; I went straight home and bought it on the Kindle so I could enjoy it without maneuvering an awkward-sized book.

It's the little things that make the Kindle fun, and if you should ever decide to try it out (or something like it), I hope you also have a positive experience.

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