The Kindlers Are Coming to Get Me

E-books are not for everybody

Photo: Amazon.com

It’s summertime where I live, the first day of a nice long weekend. I swing by the library to return some books and scoop up a well-reviewed new novel, en route to an important and much anticipated rendezvous with a shaded lounge chair and a tall glass of ice tea.

The library, however, is closed.

Another woman and I arrive at the locked doors at about the same time, and turn away. ”Darn,” she says. ”I need a book for my book club assignment and I was hoping to read it this weekend.”

”No kidding,” I reply. ”I’m flat out of books.”

”Oh,” she says, whipping a new 9.7-inch Kindle out of her purse, ”I never have that problem,” and she proceeds to give me a 10-minute pitch about the many marvels that are Kindle. She was making this now-rare trip to the library, she tells me, because the one book she really needs, something printed a while back, isn’t yet available on Kindle, much to her dismay.

Now, I spend vast amounts of time in front of a computer. I also read lots of books, mostly fiction, and sometimes the nonfiction du jour. I read them in hard- and softcover, borrowed from the library or friends, or purchased from Amazon or a garage sale or a second hand bookshop. But I don’t Kindle.

For me, getting away from the electronic screen is part of the appeal of books. Books flip a little switch in my brain that tells it to kick back and relax, because what I’m doing when I turn those paper pages is, more often than not, purely recreational.

You think that’d be okay with people. My gym began tracking workout stats electronically years ago, but no one seems to mind that I still use the paper tracking cards, neatly filed under my last name in a drawer near the entrance. I’m no Luddite, but here, too, when I go to the gym it’s for a minivacation, not more screen time.

More and more, however, I’m running into Kindlistas of all ages, sizes, and readerly persuasions. The access-denied woman in front of the library is just the latest. Other true believers whose e-book– enlightened paths have crossed my paper-strewn one have been determined to convert the page- flipping, book-toting tree killers among us. Including me. And they just won’t give up.

I try to be polite. ”How convenient for you,” I murmur. But meanwhile, I’m thinking that even if I wanted to read books in an electronic format, which I don’t, having to purchase each and every book for US $9.99 or more would be a deal breaker, given that most of the books I read are borrowed, not bought. Conservatively, I’d say I go through three books a week. That’s about $1560 a year if I ever cross over to the e-book side. Ouch.

I finally ask this latest Kindle proselytizer about the cost. Does she find herself spending more on reading material? Well, yes, she confesses, she’s made a deal with her husband to drop all her newspaper subscriptions to help subsidize her book Kindling. And no, she hasn’t simply moved her newspaper subscriptions to the Kindle; she’s just pretty much stopped reading print and online newspapers altogether.

I’m sure my library lady won’t be the last Kindler who’ll try to convince me to throw off my book shackles and walk with dignity into the digitally gray-scaled light. And maybe, someday, when Kindles are even more portable, and colorful, and much cheaper, and a lot less breakable, and powered by batteries with months-long lives, and maybe, just maybe, when every document in the world can be within my reach for a few dollars in a few seconds, I will finally succumb to their electronic charms. But until then, if I see someone approaching with a Kindle in hand and a bedazzled look in the eyes, I’ll quickly open my book and whisk myself away to another time and place.

To Probe Further

A version of this column appeared in IEEE Spectrum Online’s Tech Talk blog on 9 July.

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