Huffing the Kindle

August 04, 2012

I made mention online about reading ~3,000 pages of 7 novels on my Kindle in 2011, knowing that would spark conversation amongst my friends, many of whom are in the Amazon-and/or-ereaders-are-evil camp. I don’t blame them. I’m probably the biggest luddite I know, at least conceptually. I’m extremely ambivalent, abhorring the digital age while completely immersed, every night cuddling up with my bedful of gadgets in a wholly unsatisfying metal orgy.

One comment questioned the quality of reading people are getting out of the Kindle, which got me thinking. I guess I had never seen a Kindle before I bought one, so it’s a fair question. I had heard their screens were similar to paper, offering an easy-on-the-eyes reading experience much different than the typical backlit LCD screen we all stare at for 10 hours a day. Turns out this is very true. And when it comes down to it, how is reading on e-ink any different than a book? Sure, you’re missing the page turns, the heft of the object, the smell of the print & paper, and production value on the cover, spine and endpapers. I don’t disagree this is a downside. Some of my favorite illustration jobs in the last decade were book covers and book design, and getting a box of physical objects representing your 200 hours of sweat and tears is a singular joy.

Yet reading an e-book compared to a physical book is not nearly as much of a downside as other possible crossover formats. You’re not losing any fidelity as you might reading a comic on a tablet. You’re not missing the mental imagery if you were listening to the book on tape or watching the movie adaptation. They are still words on a flat surface you churn through page-by-page, hour-by-hour, organically piecing them into a story in your brain.

After finishing my second 600+ “page” (in print equivalent terms) book on the Kindle, I think it’s fair to say it is an engaging reading experience. I rarely read physical books that large. One reason is that it’s so daunting & stressful to start in on a large novel when you see it’s heft in paper, a mountain of potential failure. I’m sure some people get eager seeing the unopened behemoth. They probably have no qualms sitting down to a big, blank white sheet of paper as well, the assholes. But I’ve watched my copies of Murakami’s 1Q84 and DeLillo’s Underworld and Wallace’s Infinite Jest sit unread on my bookshelf for years, taunting me with their hulking frames. The skinny, rubbery, unassuming Kindle democratizes novels into an inviting one-page-at-a-time experience. The lack of physical context is a blessing.

Though I will say that I’m a generation (or 2?) behind those willing to embrace reading comics on a digital medium. Just doesn’t do it for me. Of course I just speak for myself, but I have yet to meet any cartoonist-afflicted peer who is gung-ho about having you read their output on lit-up glass by clicking NEXT, NEXT, NEXT as opposed to fingering their however-scrappily printed work on paper. Perhaps the device just hasn’t been made yet. Apple is already making devices with equal-to-print resolution. As soon as they can match the texture and flexibility of fine paper, I’ll be sold. Though I will surely miss huffing a freshly printed book to determine its process and origin. That’s one antiquated satisfaction I don’t see being replaced.