Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cross Currents on the Kindle

I’ve entered the world of digital ink, of whole libraries stored in a tablet the size of an old paperback book, torn down to the thickness of the cover with just a few pages.

My 6" screen Kindle just came today, so I’m still finding my way around. One surprise was the screen savers that appear when it goes to sleep: so far I’ve seen Jane Austen, Ralph Ellison, Virginia Wolf, and Jules Verne in classic line drawings. The most surprising was the medieval illuminated manuscript. A striking echo of the work of scribes, often monks, who spent their lives transcribing books by hand: “Had it not been for the monastic scribes of Late Antiquity, the entire literature of Greece and Rome would have perished in Europe.”

And so we of the electronic ink age stay connected to the history of literature. This advancement in technology is not meant to cut us off from the past.

I first started paying attention to this new device after reading Nicholson Baker’s “Annals of Reading” article in The New Yorker in August 2009. He was a skeptic all around: he didn’t like the name: “It was cute and sinister at the same time-—worse than Edsel, or Probe, or Microsoft’s Bob”; and he reacted to the $395 price: “Sure, the Kindle is expensive, but the expense is a way of buying into the total commitment.”

It’s much, much less of a commitment now, and I like the name. I never seriously considered the Sony Reader or the Nook (talk about a bad name).

Baker was ahead of the curve when he talks about reading books on his tiny iPod (these still being the days before the iPad).

“In print, The Lincoln Lawyer swept me up. At night, I switched over to the e-book version on the iPod ($7.99 from the Kindle Store), so that I could carry on in the dark. I began swiping the tiny iPod pages faster and faster.

"Then, out of a sense of duty, I forced myself to read the book on the physical Kindle 2. It was like going from a Mini Cooper to a white 1982 Impala with blown shocks.”


The Kindle is not illuminated, and the current version 3 doesn’t even have a brightness control for the screen, which is a huge design flaw. It is not a touchscreen, which for a woman whose first cell phone was an iPhone is a little frustrating to navigate.

And yet, I want my library to be separate from the universe that comes with the internet on an iPad. I’m happy that my liquid books have their own space, and in the modern age, they have their own gadget.

My First Kindle Book . . .

A modern rite of passage. What would my first download be?

When I saw it on a list of Top Kindle books, I knew it was the one:

Keith Richard’s Life.

I loved Tom Watson’s post about seeing Richards at the NYPL talking about his book. It sounded like a fascinating read, part cultural history, part dispatches from the drug wars, but it’s not the kind of book I want on my spatially challenged bookshelf. It's a perfect ebook.

I just started reading it, but something jumped out that totally grabbed me.

Keith has short summary blurbs at the start of each chapter:

“In which I am pulled over by the police officers in Arkansas during out 1975 U.S. tour and a standoff ensues”

“In which I go to art college, which is my guitar school”

That style is a loud echo of Alexandre Dumas in The Three Musketeers and its sequel, Twenty Years After:

“In which M. Seguier, keeper of the seals, looks more than once for the bell”

“In which it is proved that in the most trying circumstances brave men never lose their courage, nor hungry ones their appetite”

Which isn’t surprising. Keith is a literate guy with a good ear, and The Three Musketeers is in the DNA of every generation of young boys. We have to give Mick D’Artagnan, but Keef is our Athos, from the hard drinking to the skill with the sword, I mean guitar.


dorki said...

Nice write-up about e-booking. I have thought about getting into that and had hoped that the iPad might have gotten me to jump. The iPad is a great device but the "Walled Garden" of Steve Jobs in addition to the e-book "license to read" versus really owning the copy is a bummer. There is jailbreaking of the iPad and ways of getting book files on better terms but for me the hassle says no for now.

Keith Richard’s Life? Great hairy Ned! I guess I need to read this book too. Anyone that has done what he did and is not only still alive, but seems still to be almost human must have some secret for avoiding the Darwin Award. Might he be the vector of future human evolution? (shudder).

By the way, is the decoration on the Kindle's casework a custom item? Nice.

M.A.Peel said...

Hi dorki. The Kindle vs. iPad for e-booking is definitely a question for our time. The Kindle is more "literary" than the omniscient Pad. The decoration on my Kindle is an $18 removable 3M vinyl. It is a nice way to brighten the greyness.

Jean M Bsquared said...

I keep thinking I want a Kindle, but I also think about an iPad which might help my eyes with email, blogs, etc,instead of using my iPhone. Curious as to why you went digital. Space? A 21st M.A. I have not yet met?

As for Richards' book -- have read so many reviews on it that my curiosity is more than piqued.

M.A.Peel said...

Jean, iPad vs. Kindle is one of the great questions of our age. For me, I wanted a book reading device that isn't connected to the Internet/email.

For going digital at all space was a factor, in the apartment and for travel.

The one downside of the Kindle is that it is not illuminated, and it's a little dim. I think the Barnes and Noble Nook is a little brighter.