Over beer and burgers the other night, my friend T. was talking up Kindle. T’s a smart guy and a savvy writer on things techy, and since I don’t fully get the Kindle phenomenon, I’d asked him what he liked about it. And T., in the course of his typically coherent response, mentioned something that I’d heard from other Kindle-loving friends. With Kindle, he said, you don’t have to carry around big piles of books. They’re all in one little device!
What’s odd about this (and I want to articulate this without veering off into the territory of the Luddite rant, because for all I know I will have my own Kindle someday soon and will be declaring my own love for the device for making my life so much better) is that in all my years of reading, I’ve never felt oppressed by the onerous task of carrying around books. I brought a half-dozen or so along on a recent weeklong trip to New Mexico and they caused me no trouble. If I’d had their electronic versions all loaded up in a Kindle it would have saved me a little space and a little weight in my bag, which I would have taken up with—what, more socks? But I like the physical, pulpy presence of books. I like even the weight of them. (We have some real behemoths laying around the house. One of them, the 1634-page Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, is currently holding open the door to our back porch. Try that with a Kindle on a breezy day.) I like carrying them around in a bag over my shoulder. They feel like Christmas presents waiting to be opened.
Books—physical books—sometimes even feel like a physical comfort. Here’s Nicholson Baker in his novel The Anthologist: “What I do is I sleep with my books. And I know that’s kind of weird and solitary and pathetic. But if you think about it, it’s very cozy. Over a period of four, five, six, seven, nine twenty nights of sleeping, you’ve taken all these books to bed with you, and you fall asleep, and the books are there.”
I ran across the books-are-too-heavy argument again in this story about a prep-school library that is dispensing with its books and replacing them with flat-screen TVs, laptop-friendly work stations and electronic readers loaded with digital material. (They’re also building a new coffee shop with a “$12,000 cappuccino machine.”) The piece quotes a junior who likes the idea because “the more we use e-books, the fewer books we have to carry around.”
For the pro-paper perspective, the story offers this from media critic William Powers:“There is a kind of deep-dive, meditative reading that’s almost impossible to do on a screen. Without books, students are more likely to do the grazing or quick reading that screens enable, rather than be by themselves with the author’s ideas.’’
That’s probably even more persuasive than Baker’s books-are-fun-to-sleep-with argument. But then I’m already sold on paper. I wonder what any Kindle-ites out there make of Powers’ point about grazing versus deep-diving. Would anyone miss the serendipity of coming upon a book while browsing the stacks? And, while we’re at it, do you ever sleep with your Kindle?