I should probably start by apologising for that title. I imagine a billion other happy little book nerds have written blogs or reviews with this ‘clever’ title. I have no delusions of originality, here; I just couldn’t come up with anything better.
I have a history of being skeptical about e-readers. Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement – I have a history of outright, vocal disdain for e-readers. In fact I still think the name is ridiculous. Luckily for me, though, when I eventually executed a spectacularly hypocritical u-turn on the subject, I bought a Kindle, which means I can say “my Kindle” instead of “my e-reader” in much the same way people say “my iPod” instead of “my MP3 player”. I don’t have an iPod, by the way. Even my market-dominating status-symbol gadget of choice marks me out as a nerd, which makes me something of a no-hoper in the ‘coolness’ stakes. I’m sort of ok with this.
My main objection to Kindles (or whatever you use – I just don’t want to keep typing “e-reader” over and over again) was, perhaps a little paradoxically, “I like books”. Many people were confused by this, thinking that as a book-lover I should be filled with joy at the thought of a neat little device which would allow me to carry and browse through an entire library AT ALL TIMES, but no. When I say “I like books”, I mean it in the way people who collect vinyls mean “I like music” – i.e. “yes I like that thing you like, but I like it in its purest form and I am therefore superior to you, you serf.” When I say “I like books”, what I really mean is “I like looking at my gigantic overflowing bookshelves which contain absolutely no chick-lit and thinking smugly about what a great and true book-lover I am”. In this sense, toting around a little grey gadget thinner than the thinnest paperback I own doesn’t appeal to me. How are people on the bus going to see what I’m reading and start a conversation about it now? (This has happened more often than you might think, by the way.) If I had read Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ on a Kindle, how would I look back over the tattered pages and remember clearly where I was when I first read every life-changing passage (yes I am this pretentious)? In short, I had some valid – if incredibly snobby – concerns.
The weakness in my critical view of the Kindle was this: as much as I love books, I also love gadgets. And as much as I like books and gadgets, I like things which combine things I like with other things that I like. And so, the Kindle snuck up on me, and after several days of lurking on the Amazon Kindle web page and making surreptitious lists of my favourite books and checking which ones were available for download, I eventually thought: ah, fuck it. I’ll give it a go.
And so, as Stephen Hawking changed his mind about black holes or whatever it was (I’d find out the details but I’m in a bit of a grump about how much his books cost in the Kindle store) I changed my mind about the Kindle. I bloody love the thing. I take it literally everywhere, including the gym, because by god if I’m going to spend half an hour on a cross trainer I’m going to be as nerdy as humanly possible while I’m doing it. I am unreasonably delighted by how perfectly it fits into my favourite handbag. I spend hours lusting over handmade Kindle cases on Etsy but haven’t bought one yet because I like them all so much I can’t choose. It is frankly pretty fucking embarrassing how much I love this thing I used to have so much fun slagging off.
I love the user-friendliness of the Kindle. I love the speed of download, the ridiculously amazing battery life, the screen quality, and even the design. I LOVE reading single-handed! I love never losing my page! But what I love most about it is its simplest and most basic feature: it allows you – even encourages you – to read more.
In a world full of ringing phones and shitty TV and boring meetings and smelly bus rides, this is no mean feat. Carrying around a traditional book, bearing in mind my tastes lean towards lengthy ‘literary’ tomes of several hundred pages, is not exactly conducive to small handbags or a quick two-minute read in the queue at the bank. But with the Kindle, if I have so much as a spare 30 seconds I can slip it out of my bag and read a few pages. In airports you can read whatever you like for a decent price instead of whatever overpriced Tess Gerritson gore-fest WHSmith happens to be hawking that week. You can read while you eat your cereal, while you exercise, while you tidy the house – while you do pretty much anything that you can do with one hand. In a month, I have read nine books. Nine new, not previously read books. I consider myself a big reader and my average before I got the Kindle was four books a month, three of which I’d usually read before, because I am not made of money. On the Kindle, books are usually far cheaper than their print counterparts – and if you really can’t afford to splash out at all, you can get hundreds of the buggers for free (as long as you’re willing to put up with old-timey – i.e. written over a century ago – writing, which I’m usually not, but still).
So, Kindle, I take it all back: you are lovely, and I’m sorry about all that stuff I said.
On the other hand, Haruki Murakami’s books are currently not available on the Kindle, and nothing will ever stop me buying the hardback of a book which has changed my life. I may love my Kindle, but my bookshelves aren’t going to stop groaning any time soon.