Crazy Little Thing Called Kindle
/by Erica Brooks/
So, I want to talk about the new love of my life. It’s been a whirlwind romance. I’ve been swept off my feet completely, head-over-heels. And I also feel very, very dirty about it.
Yeah, it’s a Kindle.
I feel obliged to note that I didn’t buy it for myself. No, my parents and a couple of friends went in on a Touch model for me for my birthday last November. It’s not my fault. I didn’t do it.
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only writer (or reader) who feels a bit defensive about her shiny new reading machine. There’s a long-running thread right there in the ShortbreadStories forums with more than a few conflicting feelings on display, even amongst the converted. And whenever I show it to my intelligent, literary friends, instead of getting the rapturous reception I feel my new baby deserves I hear versions of these lines (stop me if you’ve heard these):
‘I could never read on a screen.’ (The last word pronounced with elegant distaste.)
‘I like the smell/feel of a real book.’ (Cue elaborate and poetic descriptions of curling up on a sofa with wine, turning dog-eared pages, etc.)
‘Those things are putting bookshops out of business.’ (Accusing look.)
You know. All those things I used to say. I was passionate, vehement in my opposition to these Orwellian little instruments of rank capitalism and technology, these harbingers of a dystopian future full of clinical white walls and sanitised, State-approved fiction.
The whole question of e-books takes on a different dimension when you’re looking at it from the perspective of a writer. There are the Corporate Overlords to think about, for one thing – the Amazonians who force publishers into Faustian bargains that drive prices down to Asda-level consumer-friendliness. Although that was happening long before e-books, back when we were all complaining about Barnes & Noble stealing the dusty mojo of more independent booksellers and pushing publishers towards display-friendly blockbusters at the expense of riskier literary fiction.
Then again, on the other end of the spectrum, the rise of e-publishing has created an unprecedented space for writers to sell their own stuff. The notion of self-publishing has crept away from connotations of bad poetry being sold out of car boots, stapled together at the bindings. Instead, it’s starting to look more and more like where all this is headed. That Shortbread thread I linked above is full of some great advice for selling yourself in the busy Amazon marketplace. And the bestselling Kindle book in the last three months of 2011 was a self-published one.
Then again, my writerly heart sinks a little at the thought of giving up the dream of things like the magical Letter of Acceptance from an established publisher, or the day my freshly-minted novel arrives in the post. The post, mind you. Not Whispersync.
But I’m maybe getting ahead of myself.
In a way, as with all matters of love (and lust), none of these arguments holds any sway in the end, because (be honest) we don’t really care what people tell us about what’s right or wrong. When my friend waxes poetic about how a book smells, she’s not thinking about Macmillan’s dispute with Amazon or the threat of digital piracy. She’s thinking about Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (She has excellent taste. I’m still trying to convince my English husband to start wearing tweed.) When I was railing against the Kindle in defence of the higher good of bookshops, I wasn’t thinking about pricing models. I was thinking about Bernard Black from Black Books. It’s an identity. We’re Book People. Give us our dusty shelves and our non-quantifiable little pleasures. Give us long, quiet hours of concentration while the rest of the world races frantically from one hyperlink to another.
And that’s still me, it really is. I still have a tweed fetish and a relatively long attention span. It’s just that when I’m curled up on the sofa with a glass of wine in one hand and a book in the other, that book happens to be a sleek little miracle of design, a machine for Book People, the odd little bastard child of old-fashioned book love and the Digital Age. Technophiles don’t get it. They don’t see the appeal of a tablet that only does one thing, and doesn’t even do it in colour. But it wasn’t made for them – it was made for us.
So yeah, maybe I’m still a little defensive about it. But I know I’ll keep coming back to that sweet, sweet e-ink, to the glorious balance of the thing, to the one-handed page turning and the free sample chapters and the dirty pleasures of the ‘Buy now with 1-Click’ button. I’ll tell myself it’s the way things are going anyway, that it’s the words that really count, and that I’ve read 16 books in the last two months, after all.
But none of the arguments will really matter, because my heart is already made up. If owning a Kindle is wrong, it whispers, then why, why does it feel so right?