Tangible reading

Well, it was an electronic reader Xmas at our house this year. Santa — or maybe it was Pappa Hannukah or the Festivus Fairy or some Saturnalia regalia, it happened while I was asleep — left an Amazon Kindle under the tree for me this year. It’s a sleek little thing that will fit easily in my jacket pocket or laptop bag. I will now accustom myself to reading from it and see what I think.

You may remember me babbling about the end of civilization as we know it earlier on this blog, commenting on the arrival of an iPad in the household. I thought that I could while away some quiet time in the woods reading Walden on the iPad. This has not proven to be the case. Only twice have I actually used the iPad for reading. (More often, alas, I use it for Solitaire.) There are several reasons why this might be the case. Foremost (I tell myself) is that there is so much else to attract my interest when I am at the cabin (and I don’t just mean Solitaire). Thus quiet times are not so common, and when they occur, they are often around a campfire. A second reason is that the iPad is backlit, which I’m told is no way to read. Apparently this can cause eye strain, though I’ve not been afflicted with this malady yet. Or it could be that it is generally impossible to pry the device from my wife’s hands when we are out there. Whatever the reason, I haven’t fulfilled the iPad’s potential as a book reader.

And perhaps I never should have for the new Kindle sitting on the table beside me may now take on that role. So far I have only downloaded one book — Walden again — primarily because it is unfinished business for me but also because it is in the public domain and so is free. (I’m thinking that I want to try out the reading experience before I begin spending a lot of money on books for it that I may not read. That’s called rationalizing, folks.)

That was not the end of the electronic reader gift giving in our household. Our soon-to-be-daughter-in-law received a Kobo reader from us in early December to accompany her on some traveling she was about to embark on. She was delighted with it. We chose the Kobo because she and my son spend a great deal of time at the Border’s bookstore studying (they’re in medical school together — it’s adorable!), and the Kobo is the store brand. My son’s soon-to-be-parents-in-law then gave him a Kobo as well.

And then my wife found a Kobo under the tree for herself this year too. Amazing!

When I spoke with my mother two days ago, she announced that she had bought herself a Nook reader, which is the store brand for the Barnes and Noble bookstores. So the family is all over the map on electronic readers suddenly.

Of course each system has a proprietary delivery mechanism, and the book you can download to one device may not be available to another device. Furthermore, I checked with my local public library — a well-funded jewel of an institution — and found that as of yesterday morning, they only had 60 novels available in ebook format.

I know what I need to do. I must purchase and download some contemporary novel that I want to read so that I will be compelled to use my new Kindle. That’s really how I am going to get myself to begin the ereader experience.

A lot has been said about how these ereaders lack many of the tangible qualities of cloth and paper books. I think this can be true, but it may also be a generational fetish. When you think about it, universal literacy is a fairly recent phenomenon — let’s say only within the last 150 years — so the established experience, reading books on paper, is not necessarily the standard experience. My grandchildren (not that that is ever going to happen!) will likely only see cloth and paper books in museums and perhaps even scoff at ebook readers because they will have some new mechanism.

Until then, however, I have a suggestion. I think ebook readers should have a feature added to them that emits a musty odor. Then a reader can experience at least that tangible feature of an old-style book. You heard it here first!

Update 2/1/11: My daughter recently attended a taping of the Martha Stewart Show. As a gift each of the guests in the audience was given a Sony Reader. I think that about covers the eReader range for the family.

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2 Comments on “Tangible reading”

  1. Pete Says:

    My wife loves her Kindle (and will be getting an iPad once the next generation comes out) but I’m still holding off. We gave each other iPhones for Christmas and I downloaded the Google Books app, and have downloaded several 100-year old public domain books that I couldn’t have physically bought anyway. I love traditional books and will never give them up entirely, but will probably come around to some happy balance that includes both forms.

  2. Eli Says:

    Wow you’re so lucky… I wish i got a good present…

    if you want to share what you got on a larger scale you can post it at http://luckysob.net/ thats where people post their lucky stories, pictures, or videos, and can link back to their sites for free!

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