First of all I must admit this much:
I am a big fat hypocrite.
I remember about a year ago sitting outside a London pub one Sunday morning in the Spring sunshine with a couple of friends from university. We were hung over and crouched around a few pints. We were also competing amongst each other to be the one who despised the Kindle the most. Alongside remarks to the effect that people who used Kindles were posers, I vaguely remember saying something along the lines of, “Yeah, I dunno… I just like books.”
Cut to Christmas 2011: my father is handing me a lovingly wrapped package with a small grey electronic device inside that will revolutionise my reading life.
The Kindle is, without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest piece of equipment I have used in a long while. It is revolutionary; it is evolutionary; it is everything that reading and enlightenment should be. In short, Mr Amazon should go down in history with Herr Gutenberg and Dr Johnson; this is the future of literacy and literature.
Now, I am going to try to convince all those who would say, “Yeah, I dunno… I just like books” that if they do truly love books, they had best order a Kindle 4 from Amazon immediately.
One argument that is often used against the Kindle is its cost. Reading has historically been considered an expensive pastime. In the Middle Ages, books made from vellum (animal skin) and hand-written by a scribe were worth, quite literally, an arm and a leg. Because of this, a court usually just had one copy of a book. After a meal, one person would read aloud to the whole court. When Caxton furthered Gutenberg’s work in England in establishing a printing press he began a movement that started to make books more affordable. Since then, they have been getting cheaper and cheaper.
George Orwell penned an essay in 1946 entitled Books vs. Cigarettes in which he calculated the cost of his reading habit vs. his smoking in order to prove reading was not as expensive as smoking. In it he states:
“This idea that the buying, or even the reading, of books is an expensive hobby and beyond the reach of the average person is so widespread that it deserves some detailed examination.”
Well, I would like to update his argument for our generation. A Kindle costs 89 pounds at the moment, which, at first glance, seems a lot of money. However, when we take into account the existence of a website called Project Gutenberg, which currently has around 38,000 free eBooks available in multiple formats – including for Kindle – this indicates that there is ample free material for one to get started with. If one were to go into the average bookshop in the UK and buy 10 books, for the same price, one could just buy a Kindle.
10 books vs. 38,000 is not a difficult decision, especially if you “just like books.”
A Kindle weighs less than 170g
It holds up to 1,400 books
The average book weighs roughly 340g
1,400 x 340g = 476kg
476kg vs. 170g is not a difficult decision, especially if you “just like books.”
Kindle as a Reading Tool
One of my favourite aspects of the Kindle is the built-in Oxford English Dictionary. There’s nothing so satisfying as being able to look up unknown words in a matter of seconds – without even having to take one’s eyes off the page. Being able to highlight and save portions of text into the “My Clippings” file makes me wish that I had a Kindle when I was studying English literature at university 10 years ago. Definitely, one of the most useful functions of the device, especially if you “just like books.”
Kindle vs. iPad
Lots of people mention the iPad as an alternative to the Kindle. A fair point, but here are some reasons why the Kindle is better for reading:
The Kindle’s screen is not backlit and looks exactly like the printed page. This makes it much easier on the eye. You don’t feel like you are straining to read as you do when you stare at a computer monitor for too long. People often ask, “but if it’s not backlit, how do you read it at night?” The answer to this of course is, “the same way you read a book – turn the light on.”
The Kindle’s battery lasts for 1 month, the iPad’s lasts 10 hours. Obvious choice here.
I struggle these days to focus on things. I tried reading on my iPhone but the constant barrage of SMS, emails, Facebook messages, twitter mentions etc. makes it impossible to concentrate. The Kindle offers clear demarcation between reading material, and flashy communications toy. The iPad doesn’t really do that.
The iPad has a nice large screen, which is great. But the Kindle is tiny and can fit in a jacket pocket.
The iPad can reproduce photos in colour, which is brilliant for magazines and textbooks. However, for pure reading pleasure, black and white is all we need.
89 pounds vs. 399 pounds is not a difficult decision, especially if you “just like books.”
Kindle vs. Books
The first thing I should say here is that a Kindle is a book.
People often seem to think that if they buy a Kindle, they will never buy a book again in their life. This is not the case, no one is suggesting that.
However, the arguments against the Kindle made by “book lovers” are usually pretty weak. I lifted a few quotes from people online:
“I love books. I collect books. I confess that I am one of those people – I hoard and display impressive books strategically on my bookshelf, although generally only ones I have actually read. This is a disadvantage of eBooks – there is no public display strategy.”
Response: This is an attitude which clearly reflects that people, despite the common saying, do judge a book by its cover. Which is more important, the words on the page, or the pretty dust jacket?
“As much as I love my Kindle, there is nothing to beat cuddling down with a real book”
Response: Now, I’ve tried cuddling both a Kindle and a book, and I didn’t find much difference between the two. Both are pretty hard and emotionless…
“I’ve tried liking those things, but a real book , well.. there’s something tactile about it, I guess…”
Response: This person could’ve used the built-in OED on the Kindle to discover that the word “tactile” really just means something that can be touched. Last time I checked, I could touch my Kindle too.
No, I really should just end this by saying that there really is no “Kindle vs. Books” argument. A Kindle is just a new manifestation of the book. This is the way the world is going, and I’m happy to be part of it – to be embracing tomorrow. The digitization of reading material is making what once would’ve been out of the question, free and readily available to the common man. To flout all of these free classics that are being archived through the hard work of people like those at Project Gutenberg is a sin. Forget the colourful jackets and the fact that you can show everyone what you are reading – it doesn’t matter, it never mattered. Reading is a gift, it allows us to communicate with those who walked the earth and died before us. It gives us a peek into some of the greatest minds that this world has seen. All we should care about is what they wrote down on the page in black and white, what they were thinking. The pretty dust-jacket and the 10 pound price tag put in place by the money-grubbing publishers is all quite irrelevant, and will be forgotten before we are dead. However, the ideas and writing of all those who came before us will live on long after we are gone, in its full black and white glory.
When I thought about the name Kindle, the first thing that came to my mind was the idea that we can all use our books as kindling and start a fire because we don’t need them anymore. The more I think about it though, I’d like it to refer to kindling a new passion in readers – the idea that despite big-budget special effect Hollywood films, despite awful TV soaps, computer games, cartoons and radio: writing and reading is still what drives the human imagination to such great, sometimes unattainable heights.
Plus I like the fact I don’t need bookmarks anymore…
…and I can read while I eat.
Frankfurt am Main 2012