Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Light the Christmas Kindle

I have gone over to the Dark Side.

It is true. I have been given a Kindle for Christmas. I guess this means the demise of books, once and for all. Civilization will crumble. Libraries will topple. A book will now be nothing but a block of paper used to prop up a wobbly table, boost a small child up to its dinner, or decorate a shelf or coffee table. Or something to use as bookends to hold up books! Which you won't need! Because they'll be gone! Because of the Kindle! Not ever. Not in our house, anyway. I swear if we took all the books out of the house, there would be zero insulation in this drafty old place. We don't have enough horizontal surfaces to contain all the books. Nor will the Kindle prevent their acquisition or hasten their departure.

So why'd we get one? Well, for one thing, it was offered to me. I don't get very excited about gadgets and technology, but I do love search engines and library databases. When I was first asked if I'd like a Kindle, I couldn't be bothered, but then our library system started offering titles for the Kindle, and that was the first step on my slippery slope to the ebook.

Plans for its use mainly involve downloading fiction from the library. I have to take so many nonfiction books out of the library, for research purposes, that I quickly use up my allotment of "holds" I can place (you're only allowed to have up to 25 holds at any given moment). So I've often had to delete fiction titles I've placed on hold to free up space for books I need for work. My digital titles, however, don't count toward my physical-books-hold allotment.

I also have this notion that maybe I'll slog away more on the treadmill in the basement if I have the Kindle there reading aloud to me. Bad eyesight, bad lighting, and a bad bookholder on the treadmill have conspired to make reading while tramping an unworkable option.

However, the prospect of having tread-time stories read to me by the Kindle is kind of dreadful, considering the monotonous, robotic voice with which it speaks. It won't be like listening to Jim Dale read "Harry Potter" aloud. Still, the prospect of me never exercising is even worse.

And the robotic voice might turn out to be quite funny, actually. (I am thinking of the VTech electronic activity board a friend gave my daughter when she was about two, and how after the child went to bed, we so-called grownups found out how easy it was to make the board say Bad Words if you quickly toggled between the innocent buttons that read aloud letters of the alphabet and names of things like ducks.)

Certainly learning to tap the Kindle screen gently has been both frustrating and amusing. I have already repeatedly swiped when I should've tapped and launched myself to other stories in a Jill McCorkle short-story collection. I am also  learning to tap briefly and not press the thing like it's a keypad on a microwave. Pressing like that while reading makes the Kindle call up the Oxford English Dictionary and provide a definition for the word I'm touching. Thanks to this feature, I now know what "the," "dog," "is," "before," and "there" mean.

Which brings me to Reasons Why It Will Never Replace My Books (any more than my dishwasher will replace the kitchen sink, or my cell phone the camera).

Slapping a bookplate on a Kindle
renders it unreadable.
1. Nonfiction books crammed with information and gorgeous photos vs. a Kindle screen: no contest.

2. Beautiful dust jackets, old books with embossed covers and tipped-in color illustrations and quaint black-and-white images, random inscriptions or notes in the margins, deckled edges, the colors of those little headbands on the spine...the physicality of books is simply enjoyable.

3. All the hard work a book designer puts into the selection of fonts, the spacing, the relationship of a chapter number to the text, initial capitals, and the like pretty much vanishes on a Kindle, as far as I can tell.

4. Visits to libraries and bookstores = relaxation + (discovery x serendipity).

5. You can't inscribe a Kindle. You could stick a sticker on it, I guess, but stickers always become rubbish rather quickly, leaving a gooey strip for all kinds of gunk to adhere to. I cherish the few inscriptions I've received in books.

6. One day, the Kindle will wear out. Or be outmoded by new technology and you'll find that downloading books to your particular ancient device is like trying to download them to a toaster. However, I have a green solution planned for mine. It will simply become a brilliant little ice-skating rink for needle-felted mice in a Christmas display.

Most of all, I doubt the Kindle will ever carry the emotional history that some of my books do. My hardcover copy of "The Cricket in Times Square," for example--just picking it up transports me back to a hot, endless summer afternoon under a pink-flowered mimosa in my Long Island backyard, lolling on a chaise longue in idle 8-year-old bliss, reading the book for the umpteenth time.

And for good or ill, that book still contains an outline of a caterpillar that fell out of the tree onto the page, causing me to slam it shut in a panic. (Sorry, caterpillar.) Kindles probably have bugs, too, though of a different and less squishy sort.

Still, the Kindle's got one thing my books never had: its own personal hand-made blankie. Made from a recycled sweater by a friend, who didn't know she was making a Kindle blankie when she crafted it. (I guess Kindles can cavort with serendipity, after all.)