Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Kindle? Paper? Both generate sparks

Respected literary agent Rachelle Gardner posted on her blog yesterday about how much she likes her Kindle -- but also about how she still greatly values the unique assets of real books. I was happy to see someone admit so openly that she liked Kindles; I feel as if there’s been something shamefaced about their users ever since their debut. People still seem to feel they have to defend their use of e-readers, as if it must be a truth universally acknowledged that a reader in search of fine literature must express a preference for a brick-and-mortar, I mean paper-and-ink, product in her hands.

I don’t have a Kindle, in part because of the price of both the device and the books. I’m generally a library user, so most of my reading material is free. Even the $9.99 charge for most e-books would drive up my reading budget considerably.

Despite the absence of a Kindle, though, I’ve had the opportunity recently to have a taste of electronic reading. A friend lent me her netbook last month, and for the first time, I have a computer I can take with me rather than one that only sits on my desk. I use the netbook mostly for writing, but I also read the newspaper and other articles off of it, and I’m tempted to give an e-book a try, because I have to admit I’m kind of hooked on the electronic reading thing now.

At first I thought it was just the novelty. After I started reading the daily paper on line (and I hasten to mention that we still have a newspaper subscription, because my husband still wants a hard-copy version and because the major city daily that we read is also the one I write for, and I’d feel too guilty if I stopped supporting it), I started making my way to other publications. The New York Times, a variety of magazines, an array of blogs.

And I’m finding I really like the freedom it gives me. I can read on my exercise bike; I can read in bed; I can read at the playground. All of these were true before, when I read hard-copy materials (at least for the newspapers and magazines, if not the blogs), but it was always an issue of having what I wanted to read when I wanted to read it. I’d leave the New York Times Magazine in my purse, thinking I’d read it at the dentist’s office, and then I’d be upstairs in bed and wish I had it. I’d put a magazine in the car so that I could page through it while my husband was driving us somewhere and then want it while I was exercycling. I’d leave an article next to the exercise bike and then wish I had it while I was at the coffee shop. And so on.

Packing for trips was even worse. I don’t travel frequently, but when I do, I invariably packed four or five books to read – far more than I’d ever actually get through in the amount of time I’d be gone, but I wanted to be prepared and I could never anticipate exactly what I’d feel like reading. Then once I was away, I’d wish I’d brought for or five different books.

So even without venturing into actual e-books, I’m really enjoying the freedom of netbook reading. Although I understand the argument against e-readers by those who say “I need the look and feel of a book,” that’s not really me at all. I don’t even like keeping books in my house. I like to read books and pass them along to another reader. With books as with many kinds of objects in my life, I’m the opposite of a pack rat: I’m constantly stripping things away rather than accumulating them. While others feel comforted when surrounded by shelves full of books, I like open space around me. So the minimalist aspect of electronic reading appeals to me as well.

Nonetheless, I don’t have a Kindle, so for now I’m reading newspapers and blogs off my netbook while also working my way through a big heavy hard-bound copy of The Help. I’m not sure how reading a book like that on screen would be different, and it’s such a wonderful book that I’m just grateful to have any copy at all. But at least for now, while it’s still a novelty, I’m really getting a big kick out of the portable-library, always-at-my-fingertips aspect of my little two-pound netbook.

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