Wednesday, 27 July 2011

To Kindle...or Not to Kindle

A pressing question...I know. With advertising for the Kindle as well as other e-Readers virtually everywhere, I have found myself thinking about the pros and cons, and, I am afraid, the answer is "No!" - I shan't be kindling, at least for the time being.

Having considered all of the advantages e - Readers have to offer, such as saving precious storage space, portability as well as access to rare and out - of - print books, I am still not convinced that e-Readers are the right route for me.

Thinking back to my time at university, my course required me to consult a wide variety of online publications. Confonted with the choice of reading them from the screen of my computer or printing them off, I always favoured the latter. I am aware that e - Readers should not be compared to simple PDF files and that the general reading experience is said to be akin to reading a printed text, but the similarities between the text display of an e-Reader and the text on a computer screen are all too obvious, at least for me. I feel that the screen separates the reader from the text and the text, stored in and displayed on an electronic device, somehow loses its physical presence. Perhaps it's just me, but apart from enjoying a good book, I also enjoy handling the book itself and, if applicable, being mesmerized by its cover art.

Deriving enjoyment from the handling of books comes in many different forms. Firstly, there is the aspect of having the physical books sitting on your shelf. Easily accessible and within reach whenever I want to pick them up. In my case they are grouped either by author or by genre. From time to time, it's necessary to clean the shelves and dust the books. When doing this, I often come across things I left behind amongst the pages. This could be as mundane as old bookmarks (or any type of flat object that could have served as a bookmark) or things that were tidied away as they were cluttering a space somewhere else, such as photos or greeting cards. I always feel that items stored in my books build a connection between myself and the book. This could be a photo or a train ticket, thus reminding me of a trip or the time in general when I read a certain book. Then there are second - hand books or charity shop books. Most of these have unique signs of wear or at least an indication of previous ownership, making the object all the more interesting. Compare this to the clinical sterility of an e-Reader.

Secondly, there is the aspect of cost. E - readers command a relatively high price tag. At this point, I usually calculate how many second - hand books I could purchase for the price of a Kindle, making an e-Reader a rather bad choice from a purely monetary point of view. The charity shops and second - hand book shops are full of cheap paperback copies. To "consume" these you are not required to purchase a specialist device. Just go in, choose a few books that interest you, part with a pittance and read for hours ever after. It really is as simple as that. Tying in with being stingy in general, I enjoy using my local library, especially for nonfiction, classics and foreign language novels. Even though it's only a small library, it's full of interesting titles, which are available for free, provided you do not let the fines mount up.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the proponents of e-Readers always highlight their portability. Portable they may be, especially when compared to a hardback, but I am not so sure whether an e - Reader would be suitable for the kind of journey I have in mind. I tend to read a lot of my books during my commute to and from work. Selected paperbacks are crammed in my handbag and get squashed by my lunchbox, umbrella and keys simultaneously. Now would I risk exposing my e-Reader to the carnage that goes on in my bag? I don't think so. Another downside is that e - Readers require charging. Now, I forget to charge my mobile phone on a regular basis and I am sure I would be faced with the same dilemma when owning an e - Reader. Tough. No charge - no reading time.

These are the main arguments that prevent me from making the jump into e-Reader ownership.  Perhaps one more is worth mentioning. As already discussed in other blog posts, I am a great fan of book cover art and illustration; and I fear that both will be threatened by the expansion of e-Readers. As an art form, both are generally under - valued and the craftsmanship of illustrators has traditionally not been sufficiently recognised. Removing the reader one step further from the physical experience of the book is likely to exacerbate the existing predicament of illustrators in particular and book illustration in general.
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