The Kindle Swindle!

On November 4, 2010 by Eden M. Kennedy

So I got a Kindle for Christmas last year, and I have to confess: I don’t really love it.

Lord knows I’ve read the effusions of converts across America, people who can’t believe how much they don’t miss holding an actual book in their hands. People who could give a shit about cover art, whose singular joy comes from text alone, from the story that gets planted and flourishes in their head. And I’ve mulled it over, wondering what’s wrong with me that I don’t like clicking pages as much as turning them. Certainly I’ve enjoyed the advantages of traveling with eight books loaded into a machine the size of a single trade paperback, and of being to download something new to read while standing in a 45-minute-long line for airport security. There’s no disputing the miraculousness of literary instant gratification, if you can afford it.

It’s just the act of reading on the stupid thing that bums me out.

And I’m not one of those people who also mourns the death of vinyl, cassettes, 8-tracks, reel-to-reel tapes, and CDs, because iPods fucking rule. I don’t need a shelf full of shitty plastic cases or warped cardboard sleeves that were shredded by a cat who’s been dead in the cold, cold ground for longer than half of you have been alive; I’m glad to be rid of it all. Turntables sucked. Anything you have to tape a penny to in order to function needs some serious rethinking.

But books didn’t need rethinking. Apart from them being flammable, I guess, but what isn’t?

Amazon’s now selling more Kindle downloads than actual paper-and-glue books (which is why they’re not cooperating with libraries)(my local library is able to lend e-books to Sony and Nook owners only).

I get that it’s Greener to magically send books through the air than it is to cut down trees, toxically process them (paper mills are the worst), dye their jackets with God knows what, load them into a truck that gets 7 miles to the gallon, and drive them to my house. I also understand that despite the lack of satisfying graphics I can still electronically underline stuff I want to remember and e-mail whole favorite paragraphs to myself. I know they’re working on a function that lets your friends “borrow” a book when you’re done, and the fact that they don’t have to touch the same pages you sneezed on as you read them is a victory for germophobes the world over, I know, I KNOW.

You’re going to tell me to get an iPad, aren’t you? Jesus.



57 Responses to “The Kindle Swindle!”

  • I’m going to send you a toxic paper-milled book this winter, in a motherfucking AEROPLANE that eats ozone, shits it out on baby seals’ heads and gives them cancer. I think if you like Nancy Mitford, you’ll enjoy it.

    • If you could somehow reanimate Nancy Mitford using a nuclear reactor, put her in a seal-skin coat, and have her hand it to me in person, that would be the icing on the cake.

  • I love this post! Owning and using a Kindle would work for me too, on paper. (Pun totally intended) However, I just can’t do it. There is just something wonderfully awesome about real pages to turn.

    Now, I must go. There are kids on my lawn. Where’s my cane?

  • One of the reasons I’ve been super hesitant to get an e-reader is because I like the actual feel of a book in my hands. I like the smell of the pages and glue. The look of the typography and how it feels when I turn a page. And a lot of the books on my list to read are books that aren’t available in the format.

    Plus, I don’t have to worry about a book’s battery dying on me.

  • Don’t worry, CP, our kind will die out eventually.

    Amber, the battery thing has happened to me a bunch of times, which is a drag. The availability of backlist books will catch up, no doubt.

  • Actually, it’s not that bad: Amazon is only selling more Kindle downloads than hardcover books, not physical books in general.

    What this should tell the publishing industry is that hardcovers are stupid. Lots of people don’t buy the hardcover and wait for the paperback of a book to come out, but no one decides not to buy a book because it only comes in paperback. Paperbacks are cheaper, lighter and take up less space on the bookshelf. The only thing a hardcover is good for is author prestige.

    As you say, the Kindle does have a use, for travelling. What the modern world needs is downloads and paperbacks. We can still have both. It’s the whole “hardcover and paperback” thing that belongs to another century.

  • I think this is what I’ve been trying to articulate for so long and just couldn’t. I just don’t WANT a Kindle, I’m sorry. I like looking at my bookshelves, all crammed and jammed with paper. I like opening up a book jacket to see “Holly Burns. 1998″ scrawled on the inside in pink marker (or, in some cases, “Holli Burns 1991″ because that is the year I decided to spell my name with an I. And a heart over the dot in the I.) Ehhhhhh, I just don’t want one. Never will.

  • One of my favorite topics!

    I read both paper books and ebooks on the Kindle, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I can read certain books on the Kindle, but not others. Books for the Kindle: memoirs, non-fiction (searchable!), essays, books that I will read once but never again, some popular fiction (but not period fiction). I also find the Kindle useful as storage for things I wouldn’t normally want taking up space in my apartment, including PDFs, manuscripts, and hefty classics I’m not sure I’ll ever get around to reading (stop staring at me, George Eliot’s Middlemarch!)

    Books impossible for me to read on the Kindle: most serious fiction, books I suspect might go on to become favorites, and almost anything set in centuries previous to this one. (I’m also the person who refuses to read Hemingway and Fitzgerald in modern paperback editions.)

    Just remember that it doesn’t have to be either/or. So why not read both! And if you’re worried about the environmental impact of books, buy used books and use your local library.

    My two cents (one digital, one not).

  • I wouldn’t mind an e-reader (but not a Kindle, because I’ll be damned if as a librarian-to-be I buy a machine that won’t play nice with libraries) but I know that economically, it wouldn’t make sense for me. I read around 200 books a year, and I would say that maybe 10% aren’t from the library. I can’t afford to buy books; hence, I cannot afford to buy e-books. And 200 e-books? No way, man.

    The library does lend out e-books. But limited quantities of them, and the waits are sometimes horrid. So I’m going to be reading actual papery books for a long time. And I’m a-ok with that. Even if I do have to drag 10 books with me on a 10 day vacation.

  • I bought a Kindle when they first came out (and were uber-expensive), and I gotta say, I liked it a lot. I have no space for the amount of paperbacks I tend to read, so it worked for me. Different stuff works for different people.

    But here’s a question: I worry that I should read books (like physical paper books) in front of my kids to set a good example. But I don’t really do that anymore. Should I ‘fake it’ for my kids? Or can I just explain to them that yeah, mama’s reading a book on her phone?

  • I love to read, but I can’t bring myself to want a reading device, even with all of my book club buddies taunting me with their Kindles. That said, I would totally take an iPad if someone wanted to give me one. I just can’t promise I wouldn’t use it mostly for surfing.

  • I think Zan’s response is so wonderfully sensible that I may recharge my dead Kindle after all. Margaret, maybe you can wrap your phone in an old dust jacket.

  • I’m with you. I refuse to even try a Kindle. New book pages are awesome. The smell! The feel! Bookstores are awesome.

  • My husband bought a Nook when we were home this summer and it’s fine. We can subscribe to the New Yorker (even though we live in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso). We can buy English-language books (very difficult here). But I’m with Zan …. I wouldn’t want to read everything on it, and I will never ever love it like I love books.

  • I can’t take that weird flash of blankness/blackness every time I turn the page. But I say this as a non-Kindle-owner so maybe it’s bullshit? Also? My husband thinks it’s a terrible thing to not actually *own* your books, but rather to have to sort of license them from a 3rd party, and then if you don’t want to have the device anymore, your books just vanish out of your hands. But I am not entirely certain that is true….
    Oh, and also? (sorry): to Zan, Middlemarch is excellent, both deeply fun and satisfying.

  • One caveat on Zan’s sensible post: remember that authors don’t make money off of used books. I try to stick to used books that are out of print or by dead writers. Gotta keep those writers fed if you want them to write more books.

  • And a sensible nod of approval to wombatarama’s caveat. Support your favorite authors! I’ve often wished that writers all had Paypal accounts you could pay into, like the buckets they pass around for the band at “free” gigs, for those times you’ve borrowed a book from a friend and loved it so much that you want to show your support (usually I just end up buying a copy for someone else to make up for it).

  • I’m with you. BOOKS RULE!

  • I have over 700 books on my Kindle. 500 or so are in the public domain. THink Austen, Bronte, Twain, Edgar Rice Burroughs, LM Montgomery and all the other books that are comfort rereads or free downloads from Amazon- they give away 10-15 a month, some of which I want to read. 100+ are Baen books- SF new and old, without DRM and allowing me to rebuy books that I already own for a few dollars and get groups of new ones for the price of a paperback or less.
    The rest are DRM Amazon books that I want to read but don’t fall into the categories that I won’t buy on Kindle: children’s books, books with illustrations, cookbooks, books that require post-its because I’ll be flipping back and forth to indices and books such as Terry Pratchett that I want right away in hardcover.
    Everything else- well, if it costs less in PB, I’ll buy it that way, although my husband got me the Kindle to reduce the piles of books using up our living space and save his back every time we move.
    I love the Kindle for running the kids around, waiting at classes or anywhere else, traveling (I hate to throw books away and in Europe the limit is 8 kg on local flights)- now I can read the entire Barsoom series on one flight. With a life of 11 days (with wifi turned off), I was stuck in London for 3 days with flight cancellations last year and never ran out of things to read (while sleeping on the floor of the airport).
    Never thought I would- laughed at those who said I would- but I love my kindle (and it uses non-DRM .mobi files too).Still hasn’t stopped me from buying the physical ones, though.

  • Sorry that was so long! You can tell that I am enthusiastic!

  • I have a Sony Reader that The Boy got me for my birthday last year and I have used it every single day since. I had a BAAAAAAAAD paperback habit (bad in terms of storage space and not all that discriminating in content) and the electronic reader has helped resolve that issue.

    I do miss paper and cover art and flipping to the back to read about the author and I totally agree with Zan that certain books will NOT be read in an electronic format and must be read on paper. I will also probably end up buying used paper copies of a couple of books I’ve read in electronic format.

    As much as I love real paper books though I do love my e-reader. I most often read in bed and I love not having a 5 pound book breaking my wrist as I drift off to sleep. I’ve also used it to store pdf copies of knitting patterns and a manual or two.

  • I really want a Kindle so feel free to send it to me. :)

  • I am vehemently anti-Kindle for all the reasons already mentioned…but I’m also anti-iPod and a lot of other things, so for me, it’s also sort of about being something of a neo-Luddite, in some ways. Just, for me, the convenience of not having to make room in my luggage for 5 or 6 actual books to read during a long trip could never ever outweigh the unhappiness at the lack of an actual book in my hands. (But I am also a book buyer much more than a library user, because I like to _have_ the books, and be able to pick them up and go back to them whenever I want to. This, of course, means I have way too many books for my tiny apartment. I’m okay with that.)

    I do like the Paypal tip jar idea for writers. Amanda Palmer has a lot of very interesting things to say about the concept of virtual “passing the hat” for artists of all types, and I think she’s right on about all of it.

  • I have the same trouble with reading books on the iPad – it’s a great idea and convenient and all that but it’s just not a BOOK.

    Yet I can’t explain why I find myself licking my finger to turn the page. Weird.

    And you cannot read a book on the iPad in the bathtub. I have long been a reader of books in the tub. Love that!

    But my husband has read many books on the iPad and it suits him fine.

  • Thank you for confirming my suspicions re: the superiority of actual books. Also, if you drop a book in the bathtub, you just blow it dry. Bonus: now your book has more body.

    On the other hand, though, toting around the hardcover of The Mitfords was rigorous. Good thing it was so awesome.

  • I love my kindle for lots of reasons, the biggest of which is that it doesn’t hurt my hands to hold it! I have a history of carpal tunnel and can’t even hold up a hardbound book, and holding the pages open of even the lightest paperback hurts the joint at the base of my thumb to the point that I can’t type. I had nearly stopped reading altogether, except for your blog ;) , before I got my kindle and being able to read again is such a relief.

  • I agree with so many things that everyone has expressed. I love books and writers. I love the environment. I only like my Kindle. But, as G said, I DO love that I can download so many public domain books for free. And I’m the kind of person who will actually read all those classics, so in that way it totally works for me. Also? There’s plenty of pop lit that I don’t really care about having on my shelf, but I probably want to check out so…why am I chiming in? Just to see myself type stuff that everyone else has already said apparently. Will this work day never end?

  • I am … not sure that the Kindle is actually greener. Production of electronics is pretty messy, and we don’t observe this any more after all of it got moved to the Far East. Fairchild Semi contaminated a whole lot of groundwater in San Ho back in the day, for example, and you can’t just pop your Kindle in the recycling bin if the cat wees on it or something. It has to go in a special recycling stream because it’s got toxics in it. Paper production is ugly but can be improved, and recycling limits new production demand. So hmm.

  • I just finished reading Journey Without Maps by Graham Greene, in which he treks across Liberia and bemoans the fact that the climate causes all books to molder and disintegrate. I’m sure he would have appreciated a Kindle (if they’d had them in the 1930′s) but other than for a walk across a humid tropical country, I don’t see much use for them.

  • I am with you 100% My dad asked if I thought my mother would like one for Mother’s Day and I was like “absolutely NOT.” And I would also like to use your platform to reinvigorate the world to write regular old letters to others — um, especially me. Because I love to get them.

  • The written word just doesn’t seem the same if you’re not holding it in your hands, quickly turning the page to see what happens next. Really. I have no desire to own a Kindle or to download books on my iPad. I like bookmarks and tears falling onto the pages and slamming the cover shut when the story didn’t end the way I wanted.

  • I still miss my damn records, especially those double albums. But I’m thinking I may bite the bullet and get the new Kindle for traveling, for reading one-handed at the gym, while at red lights (yup, I’m that person), crossing streets, blah, blah. I’m thinking I can buy the e-version when the book comes out then get the paperback if I love it. Because I’m with DITW’s husband in that I want to own my books now that I can afford to. I was an avid library junkie forever, but plowed through so many books so quickly, I never remembered what I read.

  • Confession: I sometimes buy books just for the cover art.

    I’m just not a kindle kind of gal. I want to hold an actual book. Preferably a paperback, so I can bend it and read with one hand while tending to children with the other.

  • I’m with Zan too! I love reading the morning paper on my Kindle. I get the news, but not all the paper advertisements. If there’s something I don’t know that I’ll like, I’ll get the preview for it, before I buy. If there’s a book I think I might fall in love with though, then it’s hard copy, all the way. Some things I want to hold in my hands, and flip through a thousand times. I also just love going to the book store and running my fingers along the book spines….

  • I tell ya, I do adore my 1st generation kindle, because carrying around Atlas Shrugged is a bitch.

    But when push comes to shove, I’d much rather have actual books, and usually have some in my bag along with the kindle.

  • I’m an English major who wants to be a librarian, and I love my Nook. I also wouldn’t trade my physical books for all the tea the British drink. I love the way a book feels in my hands; I love the smell; I even like how newspaper will rub off on your fingers. But I like my Nook. I feel like they aren’t mutually exclusive for me, but I do understand why some people don’t like them.

  • I have a first generation Kindle and I feel exactly as you: not only is it not the same, more importantly, it’s Not As Good! Boo!

  • I am a bi-curious reader, since I have never read a book on a device. Husband has an iPad (get one!), and I can see myself swinging both ways. I’m also anti- hardcover and part of me wants to be a greener reader. Heh. We are also running out of bookshelf space.

  • I love second hand books…or really old books… it’s the smell that gets me. There is nothing in the world better than an old penguin paperback!

  • All my life I’ve enjoyed snuggling into bed at night with a real, dogearable book. I may only read a few paragraphs, but it’s like comfort food to me. I can’t see the same cozy feeling from a lucite and whatever device.

  • I have been packing my magazines into the kids’ hockey bags and music cases, since I am constantly stranded without the large clunky book I’m in the middle of. A bigger purse would just mysteriously fill up with Spiderman gummies and broken crayons overnight, so I’m planning on buying a Kindle.
    From my perspective it will be encouraging literacy on the personal level. (There are only so many good magazines out there.) I might even care enough to charge the battery now and then. Unlike my cell phone.

  • I have the Cruz from Borders. I got it because I got tired of being the designated packer of the laptop on trips, because the husband wants to be able to have music and email access and his luggage was full of what? At least six hardback books.

    It’s a long way from replacing my vast library, but it has sure lightened my luggage. And it allows me to read the borderline humiliating stuff you read on planes and still maintain a facade of intelligence.

  • My husband has a Nook and when he got it he kept pushing me to get one. I feel the same as you do about books. I love the feel and smell of a book and turning the pages. But I will say it’s great for traveling. When I went to New York, I was reading the latest Diana Gabaldon book which is like 5000 pages. Chris let me borrow the Nook for the trip. I liked not having to lug a fifty thousand pound book around. So I’ll give him that one, but for the most part I prefer the real deal.

    I do have an iPad but I use it for magazines and other stuff. The magazine thing is great because it helps with the clutter issue. Plus it’s easier to prop up the iPad in the kitchen to follow a recipe from one of the magazines (something I do often).

  • I don’t care how green (or red or purple or magenta) it is to read on an electronic device, I LOVE my books. Mostly paperback, because they take up less space.

    As for stuffing obscene amount of books into small-ish compartments. I did that this summer. I was so annoyed that I could only take 8. I wouldn’t have had any space for the rest of the holiday gifts :P

  • I read the newspaper online, I watch television programs online, and, being a tiny short person, I am rarely able to buy clothing from a store that isn’t online (no petite sizes in physical stores? Come on!). But my dedication to electronic conveniences ends when you put a Kindle or an iPad in front of me. I will not read a book in electronic form, no matter how much one tries to sell me on the process. Perhaps it is because I don’t hold newspapers, television, and shopping in the same high regard as books, but reading an electronic book seems pleasureless and sterile. I don’t just love reading, I love books. I dread the day when children’s picture books start being printed in electronic form. The thought of showing my kid an electronic version of a Richard Scarry book is depressing.

  • I read in pretty much every format but could never plunk down the cash for a Kindle. And I use the library extensively so I was concerned that I would start spending more on books with a Kindle. But when I got an iPod Touch I downloaded about eleventy-billion free ebook apps and enjoy reading on it. Mostly free but I have purchased some titles and some of the apps provide the cover art and author info. Still read paper books but am happy for the accessibility of electronic books. However, my partner went to China recently and decided to just bring his iPod and then sat there enviously watching people with books while they sat reading while all electronic devices had to be turned off (not even allowed in airplane mode!). So I’m thinking I’ll carry an emergency paperback when I travel.

  • I like both my Kindle and actual books. I find that some books read well on the Kindle and others do not. I pretty exclusively read fiction on my Kindle. If it’s any kind of reference book where I want to flip here and there, the Kindle is out. I got the original Kindle pretty close to when it came out, and last Christmas, I got the Kindle DX. I have to say that i like the DX better because it is more the size of a page. There is certainly nothing wrong with physical books, but I have so many of them now that I have to admit I really enjoy buying books without having to find a place to put them when I’m not reading them.

  • Omg an honest review on the Kindle. Not some snooty person saying they love it because they don’t want to feel like a moron for buying it! Thanks for this great post. It made me feel a lot better about the library book on my bedside table!

  • Am I the only person in the world whose eyes can’t take staring at a screen for hours? After a morning of writing, I read paper books to soothe my eyeballs. I could never read a Kindle book all at once like I can paper books.

  • not sure if this has been mentioned above, but a physical book can also more easily start conversations with with others. or advertise for the author.

    (that being said, i can totally see myself getting some e-book dohicky sometime in the future, but i’d still read real books.)

  • I bought a Sony reader instead of a kindle and i love it.

    Save the trees

  • Agree, I just love my books.

  • Didn’t think I would like a digital reader either, but I LOVE it. I got an iPad so still have the graphics. Also have kindle on my blackberry where it seems I do most of my book reading. Either way, it’s awesome to be able to read a book while waiting in line, at the dr., basically doing anything. I have been ripping through books now that I can take a bunch of them where ever I go.

  • I’m considering getting a Kindle or Nook purely because of the pain in my hands, especially my thumbs, from holding real books.

    I’ll still have my real books though, I have to be able to read something in the bathtub!

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