On eReading

Many years back, when the Amazon Kindle first came out, I bought one but quickly returned it. The screen flickered too much, and the lack of touchscreen navigation made it cumbersome to navigate.

Then I went on a mini-Luddite trek, where I swore that nothing would ever replace the ‘analogue’ feel of real physical books. I still believe the latter, but it’s not necessary to be mutually exclusive on the matter.

About six months ago, I bought a Kindle Voyage and absolutely love it. They now have the form factor down pat, including Amazon’s incredibly versatile butterfly origami cover which provides great protection, instant turning on/off of the Kindle when the case is opened, and a fantastic magnetic origami back that is the opposite of cumbersome. (The Kindle magnetically nestles to the case, which allows me to easily take the Kindle out of the case, which is how I prefer to actually read with it.)

In terms of space, eBooks take up very little memory, so 2GB of storage space is relatively enormous. In torrent land I can find books and collections I would otherwise never be able to get my hands on. Having a wide variety of reading materials at my fingertips (e.g., the Collected Works of C.G. Jung; novels; webpage URLs that upon emailing to your free Kindle email address immediately go to your Kindle) on such a small device is just great. Instead of lugging around 5 books on a vacation break, I now just take the Kindle which will keep me more than satisfied for the trip. Tap a word to get the word’s dictionary definition, tap a name or phrase to open Wikipedia — both of these features are wonderful aids when reading, greatly increasing reading efficiency.

In a piece where he discusses the pros and cons of eReaders, Michael Dirda writes:

Today, many people similarly bluster that digital books and our increasingly screen-based culture herald the end of serious reading. This is nonsense. There are consequences, and sometimes drawbacks, to all new technologies, but human beings can’t live without stories and poems. Young lovers will always read Sappho, Donne, and Keats. Madame Bovary and The Great Gatsby will remain irreplaceable commentaries on our proclivity for romantic illusion. Older folk, hoping to make some small sense of life before its end, will continue to study history and philosophy. Whether people turn pages or look at pixels on a screen is secondary.

As an aside, that penultimate sentence above unsettles me. It’s how I intend to spend my retirement, should I make it that far.

Dirda does a good job of highlighting the pros of eReading and a bad job of providing legitimate criticisms of eReading. In his conclusion, he offers a great paean to the sublime joys of physical book browsing, particularly when in a used bookstore, the latter among my absolute favorite pastimes:

In my own case, I am grateful to have passed my life in what now looks to be print’s golden twilight. To me, books have long been things of beauty in themselves, as well as containers of knowledge and purveyors of adventure and romance. In those pre-Internet days you had to go out and actually find physical copies of a favorite writer’s works, whether in libraries or bookstores, in thrift shops or at yard sales. The hunt, sometimes extending over years, was part of the excitement. Even now, after a half a century, I continue to feel about books as I did when I was a 12-year-old boy riding a bicycle around Lorain, Ohio, stopping at Clarice’s Values, the Salvation Army store, and the St. Vincent de Paul charity shop, looking eagerly for something good to read.

Perhaps my generation will be one of the last to have enjoyed ‘print’s golden twilight’, just as we may also be among the last to have enjoyed the used record store, or to have experienced the joy of making someone a carefully crafted mix tapes.

Rock is dead.

Long live rock.

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