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.
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!