Somewhere, a pig is flying.
A few months ago, I wrote a blog about how the e-book will never be as popular as the good old-fashioned book. I confess, I am something of a Luddite and I like the feel of a book in my hands. I treat my books badly, though, dragging them to the beach and into the bathtub. I fold down corners to mark my place, bend back the spines, and splash spaghetti sauce on the pages. I like the disposability of paperbacks, and will toss out a banged-up pb with barely a twinge of guilt. E-books made no sense to me, and I never planned to buy one.
Until I went on a recent trip and wrenched my shoulder because of all the heavy books in my suitcase. Coincidentally, on that trip, a writer gave me a peek at her brand new Amazon Kindle. She raved about it with evangelistic fervor, demonstrating all its bells and whistles. She had dozens of heavy textbooks saved on it, and said she could travel the world with her medical library in her purse.
When I got home, I decided it was time to step into the 21st century. So I bought a Kindle too.
I admit, my first experiences were not good ones. To start off with, I live in Maine, which is a “Whisper-net” free zone. When I’m home, I can’t download a thing onto my Kindle via Wi-fi. If I’d known that earlier, I probably would never have bought it. So I first have to download the books onto my computer, and from there I transfer them onto my Kindle.
And here’s where the fun part of the Kindle comes in. I checked out the titles of books available for download and suddenly I was a kid in a candy shop. You can download the King James Bible for under two bucks, plus change! (I’ve always intended to read the Bible from beginning to end, but ended up getting bogged down in Leviticus.) Here was my chance to carry a bible around with me, for only a few bucks. Then there’s Herodotus’s “The Histories”, another book I’ve meant to read from beginning to end — and also available for under three bucks. Tempted by all the choices, I began downloading like a madwoman. I picked up classics and textbooks and novels. I downloaded an Egyptian hieroglyph dictionary. I had visions of traveling the world with my entire forensics library contained in my purse.
Then I headed out on book tour, intending to road-test my Kindle.
I found out that when it comes to reading novels, the Kindle is wonderful. The display is crisp and the battery lasts a very long time before you have to charge it (you can read about three books on it before it needs a charge.) And best of all, if you’re at the age when you’re constantly reaching for your reading glasses, the Kindle allows you to enlarge the font and make any text readable. I loved not having to actually turn a page; all I had to do was tap a button.
But when it comes to textbooks, the Kindle is just not going to work for me. I miss the ability to flip easily between sections. I miss being able to jump between chapters and scan for illustrations. I discovered that the hieroglyph dictionary is pretty much useless on a Kindle, because I can’t really search the files for particular symbols except by going page by page. Maybe I’m just not facile enough to figure out how to do these things on a Kindle, and I don’t really have the patience to teach myself the necessary techniques.
So here’s my judgment on the thing. It’s great for vacations, where you don’t want to load up your suitcase with novels. It allows you to bring both serious reading and light reading on the same trip. But when it comes to textbooks, I’ll stick with the real thing.
I’m sold on it as a pleasure-reading device. And believe me, I was a hard sell. I don’t know if I’m representative of some sort of consumer tipping point, but I suspect the e-book component of book sales is on an ever-steeper climb.
Which is a bit scary for those of us who write, because of the possibility of piracy. If the music industry can be ruined by digital theft, could publishing be far behind?