A couple of days ago, a writer I follow on Twitter shared a very rude email he’d got from a “fan” of his work. The fan was American and the writer English. The fan was furious that the writer’s most recent works were not available as E-books in America and got quite abusive about it (though what they hoped to accomplish by doing this is beyond me.)
The comments were, naturally, sympathetic to the poor writer who copped this abuse. But in their condolences, I could not believe how many people responded with variations on “Pah! E-books are shit anyway. REAL readers love REAL books!”
About five months ago, I blew a lot of my weekly budget on buying my first Kindle, a Paperwhite. (I won’t say that I blew “too much” of my weekly budget, because it was completely worth it, and I’d do it again.) I was, and am, thrilled with my gadget. Thousands of books, and they all fit in my handbag! I’ve gone on downloading sprees for hours.
So you can imagine how confused I was, reading all the scoffing (there and elsewhere; in fact, this has come up in almost every reading community I’ve recently read where the “K-word” is even mentioned). Generally, the scoffer follows up with a proclamation that they “prefer real books.”
I’m certainly not arguing in favour of doing away with traditional paper books. I have about three hundred of them (and I downsized, against my will, when I moved to a much smaller flat). All of them are special to me, from old university textbooks like As I Lay Dying or To the Lighthouse to my 1895 hardback edition of Sir Walter Scott’s poetry. Hell, I’m even the proud owner of two sets of The Lord of the Rings (paperback and hardback, and not including my Kindle version.)
Paper books are good.
But Kindle books are good too, and here are some reasons why having bought a Kindle has changed my own reading habits for much the better:
- As aforementioned, thousands of books now fit in my handbag. Just one of the paperbacks on my shelf would be difficult to stuff into my handbag, and most of the hardbacks wouldn’t fit at all.
- Kindles are a shield against intellectual snobbery. On a train, only someone who is nosing over my shoulder could possibly tell what I was reading. There’s no need for the reader to posture (or feel ashamed of what they’re indulging in), and no opportunity for others to judge them on their reading choices. When I was doing my degree, I had an acquaintance who was very clever but very pretentious. She owned thousands of books – so many that her bookshelves were stacked three-deep. I’d go to her house and just revel in them all, borrowing them one by one. But I noticed after a while that if I asked her what a book in the “front row” of her bookshelves was like, she’d say she didn’t know, and that she hadn’t read it yet. After a while I started asking questions, and she admitted that many of them (Dune comes to mind) were books she not only hadn’t read, but hadn’t the least intention of ever reading. They were there because they were “clever books” that she wanted to impress visitors with. Good luck doing that with your Kindle, folks.
- Downloading books from Amazon, and from other websites such as Project Gutenberg and Smashwords, is easy and provides virtually instant gratification. No trudging from store to store or waiting weeks for your book to arrive. A serious plus for people like me who are not the patient sort and who want to read a book when the mood takes them, not two weeks later.
- As someone who doesn’t have a bedside lamp and hates fumbling for the doorway in the dark, the internal light on my Paperwhite is a godsend.
- Since they’re battery powered, Kindles can theoretically run out of juice just when you’re in the middle of finding out whodunit or whatever. In reality, their battery life is immense. If I read an E-book on my phone, I’ll completely drain the battery in two hours or less. The battery of a Kindle lasts for around thirty hours. I once watched a woman read pretty much the entire flight from Singapore to London – a flight which takes about fourteen hours. Her Kindle was never plugged in at any stage, and it lasted the whole way.
Since getting my Kindle, I’ve had the opportunity to read basically anywhere. And because of that, I’ve already read twice as much as I had by this time last year. I’ll take that benefit. Yes, I will indeed.
Opponents of the E-book often cite the smell and feel of a “real book” as reasons for their preference for paper, and that’s a valid preference in taste. But I think it’s important to remember that the value of a book is not in what it smells like, nor what it feels like in your hands. The value of a book is in the words you read and the way you engage with it in your mind. If the words are the same, you can just as easily engage your mind on a Kindle as a “real book.” I love the smell of libraries as much as the next person, but I can’t get behind “the smell of books” as an absolutely inarguable reason why a page is superior to a screen.
Am I trying to convert the world to Kindle? No. (Unless Amazon would like to pay me, in which case, I’ll consider it.) I don’t mind at all if people prefer paper and stick to buying and reading in that format.
What I would like is a greater understanding among readers that the value of a book is not in its format, but in its content, and in how the reader uses that content to create a better life for themselves and a better world around them. Some people like to read that content on a Kindle, that’s all.