“There’s more to life than books you know, but not much more.” - The Smiths
By Steve Weddle
I like to think that Nicholson Baker and I don’t often agree. Turns out, maybe we do.
I first read his stuff when I was at LSU. We’d been assigned “Books as Furniture” in our non-fiction class. The essay was smokin’ hot, looking at all those books stacked up on coffee tables and chests in the Pottery Barn catalogs. Soon I was reading VOX, his phone-sex novella, which was, ahem, smoking hottier. Man, I would have much rather been reading that on an ereader. Some folks kinda move away from you when they see you’re reading that one.
But I’m not so sure I’d want to read it on the Kindle, and here I suppose I tend to agree with Mr. Baker. His recent “A New Page” in the New Yorker explores the Amazon device that costs a little more than the iPod Touch and does a lot less.
Mr. Baker takes a close look at the Kindle and ereading in general. He is, of course, a very bright man. You know this because he writes things such as: “Everybody was saying that the new Kindle was terribly important – that it was an alpenhorn blast of post-Gutenbergian revalorization.” Haha. I don’t know what the hell he just said. Something about the Kindle being important because you can read the Steve Gutenberg biography, I think.
Anyway, the Kindle is fantastically popular, because once you spend a few hundred bucks or more on the device, you’re able to buy $10 ebooks. I’m not certain I understand why this is popular. I generally don’t understand why things are popular. (Except that slap chop re-mix on the YouTubes. That’s gold, Jerry. Gold.)
So it’s nice that Mr. Baker takes the time and the New Yorker’s budget to fly around talking to people about why they love the Kindle. “Maybe, I thought,” he thought, “if I ordered this wireless Kindle 2 I would be pulled into a world of compulsive, demonic book consumption, like Pippin staring at the stone of Orthanc.” Again, um, no idea. However, if I were reading this article on the Kindle, I could just connect to Wikipedia and look up this Orthanc thing. Turns out the name Orthanc, according to the great W, “means both ‘Mount Fang’ in Sindarin, and ‘Cunning Mind’ in Old English, the language Tolkien uses to ‘translate’ Rohirric.” I had to wait to find this out until my iPod Touch was within range of a Wi-Fi network, by the way. Still, I feel so much better now that I have access to all of this information I don’t understand.
I think this would be a problem with the Kindle, this linking to the world of information. If I’m reading a book or article on paper, I’m much less likely to go from rathole to rathole, searching out answers to questions I only vaguely understand. I’m more likely to just sit down and work my way through a book, in linear fashion. The problem with the Kindle, one of the problems, is that it opens up the whole world to you, by way of being connected to everything on the Internet. You want to download the next book in a series as you’re finishing this one? The Kindle is for you. If you’re a curious person, though, I’d think you’d be as tempted as I am to clicky-click on a word to find out more. (My attention tends to scatter off like birdshot after a drunk neighbor.) I read ebooks on my iPod Touch, so I’d have many more steps to find the information, which, as I've mentioned, would only be accessible when Wi-Fi was present.
I don’t know how you are (Seriously, how could I?) but I’m more likely to finish a book on my iPod Touch than I am a print copy. If I get to page 20 of a paperback and I’m not sure about continuing, I’ll just set it down. There it is, over on the shelf. I can see it. It exists. I can go get it in a couple of days if I feel like it. I'm not afraid to set it aside, because I can pick it back up and start reading again. But on the ereader, it’s gone. I close that file and open another one and it falls back into ones and zeroes, as if it doesn’t really exist. The new ebook acquires the space of the older one. I have no second chance with that book. In a couple of days, if I’m in the mood for a thriller, I’ll be unlikely to go back into the list of files on the iPod Touch and search for that one. I’d be much more likely to notice it laid sideways on the bookshelf, waiting for me to pick it back up when I’m in the mood. So moving from one ebook to another is forever. I have to keep reading the ebook or it’s gone. I have a couple dozen books on my iPod Touch. Every book I’ve started there I’ve finished, except Shutter Island, which I’m currently reading. That’s far from true about the shelves in my house.
On the iPod Touch, I can read books in many forms, unlike the proprietary Kindle files on the Kindle. (Buy a book at the Kindle store and you can only read it on the Kindle or Kindle-licensed products.) I have Stanza (pictured), eReader, B&N eReader , and the Kindle reader on my iPod Touch. Each piece of software offers various reasons to use it. The Kindle software syncs up with the Kindle store, allowing me to buy Kindle books without having a Kindle. Stanza has great links to online stores with a good deal of free content.
And that’s what this is all about, finally. Content. Would you read a book on a small screen such as the iPod Touch? I tried with the first Palm I ever had, the Palm M125 which I’ll blog about in a couple of weeks. Reading on that Palm did not work. Reading on the iPod Touch does. As Mr. Baker says about the iPod Touch in his essay, “The nice thing about this machine is (a) it’s beautiful, and (b) it’s not imitating anything.” Now that’s something I can understand.
The iPod Touch is my music player, my blog reader, my email checker, my soccer manager player. I use it to check the weather, read my Word files and update my Facebook status. The thing is always with me. That’s the main reason I get so much read on it. It fits into my pocket. Whatever book I’m reading is always with me as long as it’s on my iPod Touch. And isn’t that what we want? Books that stay with us.