Lost between a State of Wonder and Bossy Pants
The moment when I got my Kindle occurred sometime right between Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder and Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants. I remembered yesterday when I spotted State of Wonder towards the end of my bookshelf. I may have swooned a little as I ran my fingers over its bound, deckled-edged pages. At the same time I remembered that Bossy Pants was the first book I bought on my new reading device.
Judging from this bookshelf, the record of me, and what I had been reading at a certain place in time up until Bossy Pants, stopped. Without meaning to sound overly dramatic, it seemed like an abrupt halt to physical evidence and representation of me.
I was skeptical of virtual readers at the beginning, but not skeptical enough to let it stop me from falling head over heels with “the Kindle,” of which, if we’re being literal, there have been three. A few years in, while attached to “it,” I’m also convinced that virtual bookshelves hold none of the same appeal as real ones.
I have noticed a couple of things about my reading habits, since mostly switching to Kindle a few years ago.
1. I’m less apt to finish a book I’m not enjoying or am finding too challenging. It’s too easy to switch to something else, saying I’ll come back to the first book later. I don’t even have to think and there are no feelings of guilt. I don’t even have to get up out of the chair.
2. Besides, it’s hard to return to reading a book I can’t see. Without the physical existence of it, with a real bookmark, it’s much harder to get re-oriented and pick up where I left off.
3. Instead of selecting books by wallowing in the aisles of a physical bookstore, I read user reviews on Amazon. Besides being hard to figure out if someone is enough like you in their reading to depend on their judgement, their voices get in your head and ruin certain parts of the reading experience.
4. Even though I can, I don’t make notes in books the way I used to.
5. I confess that more than once, I’ve caught myself trying to click on an ad in a real magazine. Everything about every reading experience has become more fragmented. I think of all the children growing up with iPads and Kindles as their first and main reading experiences. I wonder if we’ve really thought about what this means for the future.
6. I bought two physical hardback books this summer. I hoarded my time with them as if they were overdue library books and I would soon have to return them. They are my favorite books I read last year; their biggest advantage being that they are real.
7. It’s too easy to make impulsive decisions from one’s bed at 2am.
Lots of questions followed.
- How will people even know what their favorite books are if they can’t imagine the way the title looked on the cover and how it felt in their hands?
- Will my children inherit my Amazon library? What is it we really own?
- What if Amazon were taken over by aliens and our libraries deleted?
- What about someday, far in the future when Amazon no longer exists?
- Is it kind of creepy that “Amazon” can see what we all underline and write in our virtual books?
When looking at my books and dusting (which doh, I don’t do very often) in their bound, shiny, colorful, embossed, illustrated, tattered, dog-eared, loved, annotated, signed, slick, stained, rough, fragile, unread, read loveliness, I was reminded for a moment of both who I am and who I was.
Will these revelations be enough to make me give up my Kindle completely? Probably not. But I’m definitely going to buy more newly released hardback books this year. Based on the state of the publishing industry, I think the future of our reading lives depends on it.
It’s just too hard to feel sentimental about a digital book.
First stop? I need to finally go check out my friend, Bev’s used bookstore. I also need to try the used section of Amazon. I looked over there and there are lots of great selections for less than $5 (without shipping, but it isn’t too bad– especially if I give it a rest with the after midnight impulse purchases). And yes, when I’m eventually near a good one, I’ll try the library again.
What do you think? Do you have a Kindle? How has your reading changed in the past few years?