Books for Me, Thanks

[For more on these Kindle investigations, see ten arguments against the Kindle, the initial query concerning blog content being redistributed without permission or compensation, the first wave of Kindle blogger responses, and the the second wave of Kindle blogger responses.]

Ten arguments against the Kindle (one against the promotional video):

1. A book does not require a battery. Let’s say you’re on the second to the last page and the battery goes out. Then you have to hunt around for the damn charger. But where did you put the charger? In the same time, you could have finished a compelling book.

2. If you lose the book, you can borrow it from a library or buy another copy or read it at a bookstore before they kick you out because you wore the wrong T-shirt or you slept with the wrong bookstore employee (but that’s a side issue). If you lose your Kindle, you have to pay $400. Oh sure, it’s always “backed up online.” But you’ll have to pay $400 to use it again. (I’m assuming likewise that the specific text use here is proprietary, meaning that you can’t view a Kindle text in another format on your computer. Hackers will almost certainly crack this and who knows? Maybe we’ll see a piracy problem for publishers.)

3. Thirty hours seems like a lot of battery life. (“You can read for days without having to plug in,” my ass. Thirty hours is thirty hours.) But let’s say you want to read Against the Day or The Recognitions in one long sitting. And what if you fall asleep reading? Will the Kindle stay on?

4. Can you really read with the Kindle in the bathtub? If you drop the Kindle into the tub, will it survive? Or will the LCD screen be toast? How durable is this little bastard anyway?

5. This whole business of flipping the page is rather arrogant of Amazon, isn’t it? In one fell swoop, Amazon wants to usurp the reading experience by having the page buttons on each side of the display. But what if you want to flip back? Well, that glorious sense of the index finger and thumb clutching the right corner of the page is now gone. You don’t feel that palpable sense of being one with a book. It’s more like a game of Bioshock.

6. What about those of us who enjoy looking up arcane words in the dictionary? Is the Kindle Dictionary an unabridged? Or is it one of those yuk-yuk high school dictionaries? OED plug-in? Can you highlight a specific phrase or just a line? (The video skips through the “highlighting” part quite rapidly, suggesting that we shouldn’t pay attention. But, dammit, it’s important.) How will this compare with highlighting or flagging a specific passage with a Post-It? All we get here is an option to dog-ear a corner. This is eminently unsuitable for reference. (I will say, however, that finding all citations of a word in a book is very helpful, although will this discourage people from memorizing poetry or specific passages?)

7. The font size option seems nice, but what of specific typesetting choices? How, for example, can a book like Only Revolutions or The Raw Shark Texts or even Alfred Bester’s enneagrams be enjoyed this way? And what of the juxtaposition of illustrations with text? There is sometimes a specific reason for why a photo or an illustration appears in relation to a particular page.

8. “The same wireless technology as advanced cell phones?” Great. Guess I’ll have to turn the Kindle off then during a transatlantic flight and waste twelve hours watching that shitty in-flight movie. Thanks, Amazon!

9. The ability to hold a mere 200 books for $400 (plus extra for books)? I can buy a 4 Gig Compact Flash card for $80.

10. This guy in the blue shirt looks like he sells insurance or some kind of corporate mercenary. I wouldn’t trust him to buy me a beer if I gave him the money. He’d pocket the Lincoln and then ask me for the five bucks I “didn’t give him.”

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15 Comments

  1. And what’s with the name? Is it in reference some secret Google plan to incinerate every book in existence, thus creating a monopoly for electronic book readers? “Ooops, sorry about that little fire. Good thing you can still read all those books on the Kindle, now available for $400. Bwah-ha-ha-ha!!!”

  2. If the Kindle cut its price by $200 and allowed me to check email constantly, then I would buy it. Since neither of those things will happen, I guess I won’t be buying it.

  3. Gee, I guess the next time I cut down a multibillion dollar company with a pithy remark, I should really have a better idea who the actual target is. That comment of mine above might have been appropriate for Google, but not necessarily for Amazon who, I just now realized, is the company that’s putting out the Kindle. My bad.

    Which is not to say, however, that Google DOESN’T have a secret plan to burn every book in the world, that is.

  4. I have no interest in reading anything on an lcd screen; as it is, I can only take so much reading on my computer screen. Call me a luddite if you must. Reading from an actual book is a singular pleasure that I hope will not die for the sake of convenience.

  5. I don’t think any of these reading boards use LCD-screens, but rather e-ink. The only one I’ve tried was the Iliad (which seems to have by far the most features of the various boards coming out, but which also is damn expensive) and its screen was -very- comfortable to look at.
    Also, I used to have a phone with an e-ink screen, and it was very readable from all angles and in direct sunlight etc (no glass-plate above the display, so it looked like a toy-phone with a sticker in place of a screen). It may well be more comfortable to read than a page, there’s less reflection of light. The only real downside with those screens is that they’re much slower than LCDs etc, so animation and scrolling etc isn’t at all practical. Colors are out as well. Re: point 9, I know at least some of these tablets support generic memory cards.

    Anyways, as far as comfort for the eyes goes, these things can be pretty excellent. The one I tried also had lots of good tools for annotating, marking etc. It IS of course very different from reading a book, and I think I’d mostly like one not so much as a book-replacer, as a better place to read blogs and online articles (Harper’s vast archives, for instance!) and to some extent as a research tool. Working as a programmer, I generally don’t want to sit much in front of the screen to read at home, so there are a lot of good articles online that I never get around to reading.

    Though I guess I’ve modeled myself as a sort of defender here, I won’t be buying any of these second-generation reading tablets within the next few years. I’d be shocked if I -don’t- own one of these in 2017, however. By that time they’ll probably be much more open for enthusiast developers, so lots of useful programs/plugins will be available, and the interfaces will probably have gotten an excellent look-and-feel. Not to mention that prices will have come down.
    Thankfully there won’t be an either-or relationship between these tablets and books, at least not for a good number of years yet. I’m a bit too sentimentally attached to books as objects to be comfortable with some people’s idea (hopes, even!) that they won’t be produced in any large scale anymore.

    (Pardon the rambling nature of this post, I -am- at work, so I’m kind of throwing this out there, and don’t have time to pare it down)

  6. Does Amazon really think Kindle will have 1/10 the impact that an actual book has? Granted reading levels are down, but in one way is a $4oo dollar electronic device the answer. This is another version of the ebook. I don’t care how many people sing its praises. Books are here to stay. So deal with it. I love the feel and smell of a book, and no batteries.

  7. It’s not a bad idea for textbooks or other reference material, I guess. But why mess with perfection?

    Oh well: they’ll take my books when they pry them out of my cold dead etc.

  8. All true.

    But.

    For those of us who have to wait a month (if we’re lucky) and pay extra shipping fees plus full price just to be able to read new books, it is certainly something I am hoping to be able to purchase soon. (The prospect of being able to buy a new book at an affordable price and have it within two minutes makes me giddy.)

    Once the price goes down by about $200, of course.

  9. 1. Kindle’s battery lasts a week with the wireless turned off. Sony Reader, a device that uses the exactly same technology minus the wireless, lasts about 7500 page-turns before a battery recharge is required. (And page-turns is what the battery performance should be measured in, since E-ink devices only use up energy to change the contents of the screen.) From what I’ve heard Kindle’s battery is just as good, if not better than Sony Reader’s. 7500 page-turns – that’s a lot of pages. Can you really read that many without once remembering or having an opportunity to recharge?

    2. Well, that’s the danger of using expensive portable equipment, yes. Doesn’t stop anyone from buying Ipods, though.

    3. Like I said, doesn’t use up energy to actually keep showing you the text. The battery is only used to turn the pages or use the wireless connection. And the device turns automatically turns off when not being used.

    4. The screen is not an LCD. It’s E-Ink. And I wouldn’t read anything in the bathtub, if I were you. Book or e-book.

    5. That doesn’t seem to be a problem to anyone who actually used the device.

    6. Kindle apparently comes with a copy of the New Oxford American Dictionary. It’s not Oxford Dictionary of English, but it’s still pretty good.

    7. Well, the ability to format the text is there – the proper formatting will probably only be available in one font size, though. But how many books with gimmicky typography are there?

    8. You can turn the wireless off.

    9. The memory isn’t the selling point here. 200 books plus extra space if you use that $80 Flash card of yours is more than enough, trust me.

    10. Yeah. He’s shifty.

  10. So….how many of you with favorable comments about the Kindle are actually well-paid and MBA’d “guerrilla marketers”?

    I think this device is silly, designed for rich people who don’t actually read anything.

  11. Ebook readers are a solution to a nonexistent problem. There’s also a problem I have with the ergonomics of the Kindle and many other portable devices. They’re all made of hard, unyielding plastic or metal. The Kindle is all hard angles and edges. Uncomfortable to hold. Why can’t the edges be covered with some silicone or simlar material, so the pressure of your fingers holding is dampened?

  12. Most of the arguments I’m reading here aren’t really arguments against the Kindle, so much as they’re arguments for physical books — or maybe just kneejerk, “Don’t take my books away from me!” reactions. I haven’t used the Kindle, I have my reservations, and I think the price tag is much too high — but I’m intrigued by the possibility of having a small portable and lightweight library with the size and readability (if not the texture and tactility) of an regular book.

    I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t carry around 200 regular books with me even if I wanted to.

  13. […] It also really scares me that at the end of the Bookslut interview there’s an ad for the Kindle. Anyway, I wonder if Tao Lin will google his own name and find this. Seems like something he would […]

  14. The kindle 2 is igniting a spark to ignite and end Literature..This is it everyone, we actually have something to reaad for us. I fear for future generations knowing that everything is going to be done for us. I know im being a little crazy. IT IS just a little gadget, but then again so was the atomic bomb..

    -Resist the temptation of buying the latest technology, and hope the best for the kids.

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