Goodbye, Printed Word

My wonderful family gave me a Kindle for my birthday. I was curious to see what the reading experience is like on one, and I have to say that I am a bigger fan than I expected I would be.

First, the screen is completely different from that on a computer. It is truly no-glare and very sharp in contrast. Second, the controls are ergonomically well-designed – going from page to page is as effortless and unconscious as turning pages in a real book. Third, the simple convenience of being able to carry hundreds of books and periodicals in a small, lightweight device is liberating. Fourth, the built-in dictionary and highlighting features are really helpful. Finally, the instant gratification of considering buying a book and having it downloaded and ready to read in seconds is irresistible.

There are lots of other features that aren’t essential, but they are certainly nice – such as the ability to play mp3’s while reading, changing the font size, text-to-voice, and a “My Clippings” file that you can transfer to a computer.

The first book I bought was James’ Gleick’s The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood. I also downloaded The Orthodox Study Bible, which has the best footnotes of any study Bible I’ve read. For classics lovers like myself, the Kindle is a dream come true.  I purchased the complete works of Charles Dickens for a whopping $2.99! The fact that I can have access to every word he wrote for less than 3 bucks is mind-boggling. I’m hopeful that I can find some G. K. Chesterton and Dostoevsky that are navigable and cheap.

A disappointment is the lack of decent poetry collections. I would like to have a Kindle edition of Harold Bloom’s The Best Poems of the English Language, but it is not available. Also, some poetry collections have terrible formatting, so I’ve learned to read the customer reviews before downloading.

I feel a twinge of guilt every time I switch my Kindle on. After independent Davis-Kidd bookstore closed last fall, Nashville is now losing a huge Borders store near Vanderbilt, and as far as I know there are no independent bookstores that sell new books left in the city. I think the only store in Davidson county selling new books is a Books-a-Million. One of my favorite things to do is just browse through a bookstore, perusing the shelves and checking out the latest titles. I guess that is becoming a thing of past.

Are books themselves becoming a thing of the past? I don’t think so; there will always be a market for attractive editions of literature and art. However, it’s hard to see how most journals, newspapers, and magazines will be able to keep printing hard copies. Getting a newspaper downloaded instantaneously to a Kindle is convenient and cheap. Environmentally responsible, too, when you think about it. I can foresee the day in the near future when my students will not carry a single book in their backpacks, but rather an ereader like the Kindle, and a tablet computer. I know of one school (Cushing Academy) that has already eliminated books from their library. I posted my notes from a presentation their head and English department chair gave at the 2011 NAIS conference here.

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6 thoughts on “Goodbye, Printed Word

  1. I doubt that books will ever go away entirely, but I can imagine them eventually becoming kind of like knitting. That is to say, book reading will go from something that everybody does to something that only a few people do, and those are generally the more old-timey sort of people.

  2. I loved your post, as it so well expresses my thoughts as I became a Kindle user. As a librarian for nearly 40 years, I understand the slight twinge of guilt about moving on to another form of reading, but after talking to many people reading ebooks, most of them agree that they read far more now that they have a Kindle or a Nook! I now have well over 200 Kindle books, and only wish Amazon could sell me the time to read them!

    • Thanks for your comment, Donna. I’ve had my Kindle one week now, and I have already read more in that week than in the past month. I just take it with me everywhere, and I read off of it when I get a chance. Maybe the Kindle is the antidote to Nicholas Carr’s concerns he writes about in The Shallows.

  3. Great post Tad. After working in the printing, publishing, and paper industries, you would expect me to be biased in favor of the traditionally printed word, but I have to admit to being a fan of the Kindle. While I expect there will always be a place for traditional printing of items such as coffee table books, the Kindle has some tremendous advantages when you are simply trying to disseminate content. For students, I can see how it would be much more preferable to carry a Kindle and a tablet computer to toting a backpack full of books.

  4. Mark,
    I think, like you, that the coffee table book will always be a marketable item, but you are exactly right when you talk about using ereaders to disseminate mere content. Devices like the Kindle are the future, and it’s happening faster than we are aware of.

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