As the proud owner of a month-old Kindle – the sleek wireless reading gadget sold by Amazon – I feel like I’ve become a spokesperson of sorts. Any more talk of my new toy and how wonderful it is, and I suspect people will think I’m on the payroll. I’m not, of course, but I am seriously, if somewhat unexpectedly, happy with my Kindle. After writing in October about how much I love and prefer good old pen and paper to more recent technologies, I felt quietly determined not to like the Kindle as much as the real thing. As it would happen, however, I received my Kindle as a gift just before setting off on holiday, and the novelty of being able to download, store, and carry around more novels than I could possibly read over my two-week holiday quickly broke down my reserve. The one quibble I had at this stage was the price of these digital books. As I mentioned in my recommendations for December, the ‘classics’ are very cheap – literally pennies – but more recent releases sell for approximately the same as they do in Easons or Hodges and Figgis. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at this – downloading music on iTunes isn’t significantly cheaper than buying a cd, for instance – but I was, not least because of the apparent lack of the object, the book itself, when once downloaded. Technically, after downloading a given text, you own it just as much as you do a hard- or softback, and you can store it almost indefinitely on your Kindle for future reference. Nevertheless, there’s nothing to put on your bookshelf, no actual object to hold or put your name in, which is undeniably one of the attractions, at least in my mind, of books, even if I’m constantly wondering where to put them all.
Aside from this metaphysical issue of ownership and possession in the apparent non-presence of the object, my complaints about the Kindle are few. Reading from what Amazon calls the Kindle’s ‘High Contrast E Ink Screen’ proved incredibly easy and not all that different from reading a paper text. The buttons on either side of the screen allow the reader to use either hand to turn the pages, and the time it takes to upload the next page is remarkably quick. Although the experience of paper – its smell, its feel, even its sound – it lost with the Kindle, the gadget nevertheless manages to recreate the traditional reading experience to a greater extent than I ever expected. Of course, there are differences and quibbles – Kindle editions have no page numbers; table of contents pages and other such paratextual pages sometimes need to be searched for; and there appears to be periodic transcription errors that remind you of the human and thus fallible element behind the digital device. These are, however, minor issues. Moreover, several added features help to overcome such flaws, if we can call them that. The Kindle’s battery life is exceptional; its automatic book-marking makes page numbers almost redundant; the dictionary feature provides easy access to definitions of words over which you might stumble, and the ability to write notes to oneself whilst reading is definitely a plus. Finally, you can download books anywhere you can access wi-fi, and, while surfing the internet on the Kindle isn’t the quickest or easiest of activities, the option quickly to check your email just before you board your flight is, in my mind, a major plus.
The Kindle will never replace ‘the real thing’ in my life. I still prefer a traditional book that I can hold in my hand, stick on my bookshelf, and lend to my friends, but the Kindle is an incredibly handy gadget with a surprisingly accurate approximation of the conventional reading experience. If you’re still looking for a Christmas gift for the avid readers in your life, this could well be it!