Kindle

My Kindle died this week.

Or during the move from Manchester to London at some point in any case.

The screen is entirely frozen, mid-update and it will not longer charge. It is, Amazon say, unfixable and since it is out of warranty, it cannot be replaced. If I want a new Kindle, I will have to buy one.

That means that I lose all of the novels and short story collections that I bought when I first got hold of my device, books that I paid actual money for and now, cannot access without forking out another £70-£100. I owned a few novels on there, some of which I had read, some I had started and not yet finished and now I cannot finish them.

But you know what, I’m happy. I don’t want another Kindle. I don’t need another Kindle.

042011-busted-rouged

Never mind that it’s actually cheaper to just buy all of the books I want again, that’s neither here nor there really, I genuinely prefer the act of reading a physical book. There’s something about buying a book, holding it and reading it which works. A Kindle doesn’t demand to be read, simply because it can be switched off. A book, which sits in front of you, bookmark poking out, needs to be read, needs to be finished. You cannot get the same effect of a bookmark with a percentage bar which, no matter how accurate, can’t ever convey the same desperate feeling you get when you reach the final 50 pages or so of a novel.

I was out with a friend at the weekend and we were discussing what we’d been reading. He really enjoyed a Jon Ronson book, and when he talked about it, he sold me on it, and made me want to read it. I asked him if I could borrow it. “Oh,” he said, “I read it on my Kindle,” which is now shorthand for ‘no’. The Kindle may be a tool for reading, but it is a barrier to the shared experience of reading. It can get you books for cheap, but instances of thrusting books at other people for them to read are farther and farther apart.

The opinion of writer’s on the device varies, Nicholas Royle’s brilliant novel First Novel opens with the main character dismantling a Kindle, “I lift the Kindle up off the desk and hold it to my nose. It doesn’t smell of anything.” There is certainly that view that books are an object worth keeping and displaying, and the look and smell of them is worth the purchase. Host of Stirred and Page Turner, Anna Percy says, “I can’t afford electronics very often so for me a book is still the best option, it needs no batteries and even if I dropped in in the bath or left it out in the rain it would still work.” Valerie O’Riordan highlights that, “I’ve had one for a couple of years and I rarely reach for it, though I guess it’s handy in a pinch. I like the tactile nature of physical books – not simply as aesthetic objects, because I’m not precious about my books which are often tattered and stained, but for various reasons: annotation is a fuck-load easier in real life; if my book breaks I get another for a fiver, but if the kindle breaks, holy shit; I like a bit of clutter in my life and a houseful of books is a lovely thing; I like the paratextual stuff, ie, the covers, the fonts, the heft of it, all of which can well be important in any given text…Also, and this is a big thing for me, if not for everyone: kindles in particular tie you in to a monolithic system of monopolization and support an economic model that’s exploitative capitalism at its worst, from tax-evasion to eradicating workers’ rights.”

That final point is one of the biggest problems with the Kindle. When you purchase a Kindle, you are forced to purchase e-books from Amazon, and in doing so, you hand over your reading habits, and control of your books to the organsiation. Five years ago, when the Kindle first came about we saw what Amazon could do when they deleted vast numbers of the book 1984 from users’ Kindles in a move seemingly unaware of the inherent irony. Bookseller and writer Fat Roland, “Our industry is in a huge state of flux about digital content but perhaps expect Kindle to face some serious challenges in the future in a world increasingly concerned about the ethics of companies.”

However, it’s not all negative views. Author Rosie Garland points out that, “Whether or not I like/don’t like Kindles/ books – the question is ‘are people reading?’ If the answer is yes, then whether it’s electronic, paper, wax tablet, carved on sandstone or woven macramé wall hangings matters not one jot.” And Guy Garrud highlights their undeniable value in the self-publishing world, “Kindles (and e-readers in general) have served an utterly invaluable purpose by making self-publishing a viable option for thousands of aspiring writers.”

Sarah Jasmon adds, “I have a Nook rather than a Kindle, and it’s a useful adjunct. Don’t like it much for the sort of book where I want to flick back and forth to check details, but it’s great for journeys…Still get stacks of books from the library, which is my preferred method for reading new books. Yesterday, I wanted to check something I was quoting in my wip from Little Women. Miles from home and my personal copy. Got it free in under a minute, and could search for a specific phrase. Handy. And good for reading personal files from friends. They are neither the work of the devil or magical items. They have taken their place in everyday reading.”

It’s that final statement which particularly rings true. They have taken their place in everyday reading. With over 30% of the UK and US now owning and using e-readers, and over 40% of them being either a Kindle or Kindle Fire, they are now a part of the modern world. I don’t think I’ve been on public transport since I moved when I haven’t seen someone using an e-reader, and especially the Kindle.

They may trouble me, but perhaps Rosie Garland is right, would these people be reading if they didn’t have an e-reader?

Let me know if you have any thoughts on this, if you agree or disagree with any of the points in here. Pop a comment below!

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4 thoughts on “Kindle

  1. I would never buy any type of ereader (Amazon or otherwise) because I never re-read a book and quite like giving them away when I’m done. Maybe it’s because I am a middle-aged luddite, the idea that I can’t read something because the batteries are dead is one that I couldn’t really get used to.

    Plus god knows I don’t need any more screens in my life.

  2. I neither own nor want an e-reader, for exactly the point that Rob finishes on – I stare at screens all day, as a writer and as an editor, and the last thing I want when I go for down time is another screen. People sometimes say they’re great for travelling – carrying loads of books in one volume, which makes sense – but in my backpacking days, swapping books in hostels was one of the ways to meet people and get talking. Ultimately, it’s about choice for readers. My Dad swears by his Kindle – that’s his call, just like I’ve made mine.

  3. I’m torn on the issue of Kindles. I have one and use it a lot. I like being able to get hold of a new book instantly and I can certainly identify with Sarah Jasmon, I’ve used the free copies of older books to get quotes before. One of the biggest pluses for me, however, is the fact that I find it physically much more comfortable to read on a Kindle. When I go from reading on my Kindle to reading a paper book, it makes me realise how heavy and clunky they can be. It is much easier to read lying down with a Kindle, as I can hold it up without my arm aching. And I can turn the pages on my Kindle without putting down my cup of tea. I know these are minor things (and maybe I have particularly weak arms/wrists!) but I really notice the difference. Highlighting and annotating is a bit of a pain (especially on the new Kindles, I’m slightly envious of my partner’s first generation Kindle, which has a keyboard, even though it is a bit bigger and looks silly). However, I like being able to highlight and annotate without it being visually distracting when re-reading the book. I have some paper books that I can no longer read because I’ve highlighted and scribbled all over them and I find it too visually distracting. I don’t really think of the Kindle as *another* screen. The fact that it’s not backlit means it doesn’t really feel like looking at a computer screen, so that’s not really a problem for me. In fact, I use Readability, which lets me send articles from my computer to my Kindle. I find it much nicer to read long blog posts or articles on my Kindle than on my computer.
    You’re not only limited to books purchased from Amazon. The other week I bought a mobi file of a friend’s self-published book and was able to upload it onto my Kindle. However, the majority of the books on my Kindle were purchased via Amazon (the fact that you can buy the books just by searching on the Kindle makes this the easiest option) and I agree with you – for me one of the biggest problems if that you are supporting Amazon, a company with some very questionable practises that is hurting an industry I hope someday to be a part of. Even if it has allowed some people – like my friend! – to self-publish, I think we lose something vital if small bookshops and small presses can no longer compete in the market. So, even though I really like my Kindle and use it a lot – I still feel a lot of guilt about it.
    Sorry for the long comment – it’s an interesting topic!

  4. Haven’t bought one and won’t. Books for me will always be better in the physical form. They cannot be interfered with or altered . They cannot be deleted are dumbed down. They can be passed on or lent.
    For most people physical books are also cheaper . You have to read a large volume of ebooks and not replace your device for an average of 3 years just to match the cost.
    None of it adds up for me at all.
    And ebooks smell like petrol (paraphrasing Ray Bradbury)

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