Ed Driscoll

'How Kindle Is Changing the Way a Reader Reads Books'

At her Accidental Futurist blog, Kate O’Hare writes:

Last year, I spent some time on Twitter musing about whether or not I should buy a Kindle to accompany me on a cross-country plane trip. In the end, I decided that it was just too pricey (this was before the smaller, lower-priced ones came out) and opted for audio-books downloads instead.

That worked fine, but when I came back, a kind pal gave me a Kindle DX — that’s the big one — as a gift.

I now read books. Old books. New books. Lots of books.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I didn’t read books before. I have always been a voracious reader and, in my time, have plopped down untold amounts of cash in bookstores and on Amazon.com.

But the way I read books is different now.

I tried getting books from the library. One was on a list, but when I finally got it, it proved to be a dense tome and had to be read slowly. I couldn’t finish it in time, and since it was on a list, the library wouldn’t let me renew it.

That’s the last time I went to the library. I put this book on my Kindle for a very low price (it wasn’t a new release), so nobody can tell me how fast I have to read it.

Facing a long train ride but not wanting to spend a whole pile of money, I took advantage of the many free books available for Kindle download. I went the American-history route and got “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin,” “The Federalist Papers (Optimized for Kindle),” Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” and Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America, Volume 1 & Volume 2.”

Then, for fun, I threw on “Pride & Prejudice” and the complete works of William Shakespeare.

For very nominal fees, I’ve added a couple of Bibles, a pile of Oscar Wilde and “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.”

And that’s only a fraction of the classic works available for Kindle (and, one assumes, for Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the iPad and other devices) at low or no cost.

I’m increasingly liking the concept behind the Kindle, though I have mixed emotions about the actual physical Kindle device itself. But the ability to read a book anywhere, and carry the digital equivalent of a massive stack of them onto an airplane via my Kindle, laptop or Android Tablet is pretty darn nifty. Not to mention the prospect of freeing up space on my overflowing bookshelves. As is the ability, at least on my PC or laptop, to cut and paste text from a book into a blogpost rather than have to physically put a book into a scanner and OCR the whole thing, as I’ve done for a few blog posts. And pray that a word doesn’t become gobbledygook somewhere in the translation process.

For a more Luddite point of view, naturally enough, we turn to the L.A. Times, for an article whose arguments are quite similar to those made when physical newspapers began to lose out to the Internet. As James Lileks said in one of the Ricochet podcasts a while back, everybody longs for that nostalgic Annie Hall-like feeling of having the Sunday New York Times spread out alongside the bagels and orange juice on the kitchen table. Or as Marshall McLuhan once quipped, “People don’t actually read newspapers. They step into them every morning like a hot bath.”

Similarly, I think everybody has that feeling of buying a book (or taking it out of the library), bringing it home, and taking it outside on a sunny day to become utterly absorbed in it. Perhaps that tactile feeling is lost or greatly diminished with the Kindle, but the flexibility it provides offsets it in many ways.

Of course for that reason, perhaps books are about to become luxury items, given at birthdays and at Christmas, the equivalent of giving someone an expensive necktie or sweater. Or these days, a compact disc, for that matter.

Related: The London Independent wonders if the home library will become a casualty to the Kindle, which is one of their less preposterous predictions.

Related: The dead tree equivalent of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, or life imitates the ending of Fahrenheit 451.