Friday, 9 December 2011

Kindling enthusiasm

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker, Philip Berenson and Jack Steel)

Matt has mentioned Kindles in several of his recent blog entries, and in fact so have I, so perhaps it's time to come clean. I never thought I'd say this, but having just humped four boxes of books – a mixture of hard back and paperback – into the back of the car in Andorra, and then unloaded the same boxes at the house in France, I am beginning more and more to appreciate the sheer convenience and flexibility of electronic texts. I've always thought that I would much prefer the physical experience of actually holding a book in my hand, looking at the cover, reading the blurb, and then with a growing sense of anticipation opening it up and beginning to lose myself in somebody else's adventure.
            Of course, I still enjoy doing that, but it was something of a surprise to realize that I could also do almost all that on a Kindle. Again, you can look at the cover – it's monochrome, obviously, but you can still get a good idea of what it looks like – and you get access to the entire contents. The Kindle also remembers exactly where you were in the text when you stopped reading it, so there's no need to turn over the corner of the page or stick in a bookmark or anything like that. And if there's a passage that you want to refer to later, you can add a virtual bookmark to the page, and also add your own notes to the text as well, all without altering the integrity of the original manuscript. Personally, I always get irritated when people mark books, because I just think it's selfish to deface an author's work with your own personal opinions, but with the Kindle it doesn't matter.
            But far and away the biggest single attribute the Kindle has is that it's relieved the strain on my back. When I finish a physical book which I don't think I will want to read again, I put it in a box so that I can take it to a charity shop. The slight problem I have is that I live in Andorra and the charity shops I normally use are in Kent, hence the reason for loading the boxes into the back of the car.
            With the Kindle, all I have to do is delete the entry from the device and the book magically vanishes into the ether. And if I've made a horrible mistake and I've chosen the wrong book, I can simply go to my Kindle account on Amazon and download it again. No more boxes, no more backache.
            And when you also remember that you can load an effectively unlimited number of books onto the device, the further advantages of carrying your entire library in your pocket become very, very clear.
            In fact, it's got to the point where the first thing I look at on Amazon is not the price of the book I'm interested in, or the number of reviews it's had, or its star rating. It's whether or not I can buy it as a Kindle download and, if I can't, I find that in itself very irritating to the extent that it may well sway my purchase decision.
            I've even come to resent the fact that if I buy a hardback or paperback from Amazon, I have to wait a day or two for the book to be delivered to me, whereas if I buy a Kindle download, I can start reading the text within literally about thirty seconds. Talk about convenience?
            This device is so seductive, and so useful, that I genuinely believe that within a very few years almost anyone who reads more than one or two books a year – I personally read about that many every week – will have a Kindle and will use it in preference to buying a physical volume, for all the reasons which I've listed above.
            So does the Kindle mean the death of books? The question's been asked many times before by people who know far more about the publishing industry than I do, and the short snappy answer is that nobody actually knows. Personally, I don't think it does. There are a number of different types of book, especially non-fiction titles which are heavily illustrated, and the Kindle does not handle images particularly well because they are so small and they have to be depicted in varying shades of grey. If you're looking a photograph of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, say, you clearly won't be seeing it at its best on a Kindle. But for novels and other books that most readers will purchase, read once and then discard, the Kindle is absolutely the ideal medium.
            And that, I have to confess, does produce very mixed emotions in me.

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