Wednesday, July 6, 2011


I have a confession to make.

A few months ago, i bought myself a Kindle.

I know, i know. It's an abomination. Reading is a very sensuous experience. You can feel the feathery, silky pages under your fingers and the pressure of the book in your hands. You smell the rich and varied scents of paper, ink, and binding, ranging from the intoxicating freshness of a brand-new book (which, incidentally, is exactly what my boyfriend smells like), to the dusty, leathery musk of a used one. You see the typeface, carefully selected for that particular text, and you see the covers, the myriad shades of white according to the type of paper used and the age of the book, the tiny imperfections of the page, and the smudges in the margins of a book well-read.

A Kindle has none of that. All typefaces are converted into one, and while it is clear and easy to read, it has none of the individuality of a paper text, nor can "hand-written" notes in the story be seen in their original glory. It smells very faintly of plastic and the fake leather of the case. There is no variety in the smooth perfection of the virtual pages, and even underlining or comments in the margins create only a minimal disturbance in the pristine, black-and-white visual. It is clean, sterile, and heartless.

I have also been accused of contributing to the downfall of the publishing companies. This is just nonsense. First of all, i will still buy paper texts. The Kindle is mostly for travel and beach fiction. Secondly, the publishing companies are the ones who create and distribute the ebooks. Finally, most of the books on my Kindle are in the public domain, meaning that they are free and can be found on a number of websites (my personal favorites are Amazon and Gutenberg). Sure, publishing companies make money off of them, but only by reprinting existing editions with fancier covers (and yes, i covet those with all my soul, but i am not currently in a position to slap down $10 on a shiny new Jane Austen novel, when i already own three copies of it.) Furthermore, many of my Kindle ebooks are simply free digital copies of books that i already own in paper format, and that i paid good money to a publishing company to obtain. I just want a digital backup so that i can take my favorite books on the road or to the beach, and so that i will always have a copy, no matter how many paperbacks i read into confetti.

Why did i buy a Kindle? A few different reasons. First, i live in Massachusetts, and my family lives in Delmarva. When i go home for holidays, i spend lots of time either in an airport or in a bus/car. Then i get to the house, where everyone is at work or school. I have no car, and no job/school/friends to occupy me, and we are ten miles from the nearest shopping district. So i bring lots of books with me. Meaning i have to lug heavy suitcases around everywhere and i have no room for clothes. A Kindle means that i can bring thousands of books with me, in a package smaller than most paperbacks and weighing hardly more than my phone.

Next, i'll be starting grad school in the fall. Most Kindle ebooks cost less than $25. So i can buy one Kindle for $140 and a bunch of textbooks for $25 or less, or i can buy a bunch of textbooks for $100-300 each. I know that many textbooks can be bought used for much cheaper, and that is indeed how i got through my undergraduate education. But here is something else to consider: i find that i never really need to read my textbooks. Sometimes, sure, they are helpful, but for the most part i find that lecture notes are perfectly adequate. Kindle allows you to download a sample (usually the first chapter) of any book for free. If you want more, you can buy the whole book. If not, you can delete it. No harm, no foul. This means that i will only have to buy the books i'll actually use.

Finally, i have grown increasingly concerned with my usage of paper. Everyone is trying to be more green these days, but there are some areas where you just can't cut corners. For example, a hospital has to throw away all of their used tongue depressers, even if the person it was used on is perfectly healthy. They can't just sterilize it and reuse it. Hospitals use a lot of energy, water, and other resources, and no one in their right minds is suggesting that they cut any corners. Sure, they could maybe switch to more earth-friendly lighting, and one argument against keeping people on life support is that the resources keeping them in a vegetative state could be used to actually cure someone, but for the most part, every "waste" in a hospital is perfectly justified.

Now, i'm not saying that my artistic sensibilites are the same as open-heart surgery, but i am saying that i write better when i write by hand than when i write on a computer. I feel more comfortable writing by hand, or printing out a copy of a draft and editing it. I like to hold the pen in my fingers and feel the paper under my hand. I feel more connected to the work that way. So i use a lot of paper when i am writing. I try to use scrap paper when i can, and i recycle the old drafts, but there is still a lot of waste. So i cut corners in other places when i can. And there is simply no reason that i should buy a paper copy of a book that is in the public domain. There is no reason that i should buy a paper copy of beach fiction. There is no reason that i should buy a paper textbook.

My favorite books i will always own in physical form, whether purchased brand-spankin' new or lovingly used. I will read them until their bindings disintegrate and then i will buy a fresh copy. I will break their spines, dog-ear their pages, spill tea on their covers, and scribble incomprehensible notes in their margins. My cat will chew on their edges. They will be forgotten on trains, borrowed and never returned, faded by the sun, used to prop up wobbly table legs, and will fall off of moving trucks and be lost forever. And while i save up money for the coveted hardback copy with the decorative cover, i'll always have my digital backup.

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