Tuesday, 12 May 2009
Kindle: the new e-book reader
What is this?
To kindle... to light a fire, to grow flames from very little. Kindling... the small, easily-lit bits of wood or paper used to light a fire. To animate, to inflame.
So, calling a new electronic book reader a 'Kindle' implies... what? That a new love of reading will be kindled by this device? The name certainly hints at something new.
And that 'something new' is where I am divided on this matter.
Reading is nothing new. I myself have been doing it for a good number of years and I am given to understand that others before me have discovered meaning in all those funny squiggles.
I am a book lover. I love books. The very sight of books excites me and I become positively giddy inside a library. It isn't just the words; it is the feel of the paper, the binding, the smell, the weight.
More than that, to own a book is to possess it. There are many, many people like me who cannot bear to part with a book, even if they know they are never going to read it again. To give it away would be like losing a friend. A book is a world more than the words which physically inhabit it.
So how, then, is this electronic device going to kindle something that a book cannot? How can it replace the joy felt when a new book is opened for the first time? How can something so cold and sterile take the place of something so beautifully tactile as a book?
Ah, so back to that 'something new.'
A Kindle cannot replace a book for the simple fact that a Kindle is an electronic device and a book is a book. Printing still has not replaced manuscript illumination. The production of hand made and bound books is enjoying something of a renaissance. The British Parliament still record their laws on vellum as it is far more durable than paper.
So instead, what new experiences can the Kindle offer?
Imagine you were travelling for a year (lucky thing). You would be able to fit every Lonely Planet ever written and several small libraries in your rucksack. You'd feel like a geek on the beach but you'd still have a straight spine at the end of it all.
Imagine you're going to a conference. Before you board the plane you have downloaded all the relevant papers plus background chapters of books. It doesn't matter that you don't have the actual hard copies: you don't want your house filled with books about the hydraulic analysis of unsteady flow in pipe networks anyway.
Imagine you're a computer nerd. Books about C++ and suchlike are out of date by the time they even get to the printers. You can download e-books the moment they become available and delete them when they're obsolete. Without chopping down a single tree.
I would even like to remain optimistic about the future of a publishing industry that has such a low-cost method to reach new readers.
I'm not rushing out to buy a Kindle but neither am I sneaking out at the dead of night, burning pitchfork in hand, to destroy them. Let's see what, exactly, is kindled by this e-book revolution.