11 February 2009

Kindle or Kindling?

My friend Brad over at IndyBookMan recently posted his misgivings about Kindle and the whole E-Book idea. I was about to leave a comment, but the more I thought about it, I realized that my thoughts would be too long for a comment. So here's my hat being thrown into the ring:

In a nutshell, I don't like it, I don't want it. Kindle can bite my bytes.

When I'm sitting at my writing desk, surrounded by stacks and stacks of books, I can feel their presence -- hear the whispers of hundreds of stories. They are my friends, my comrades, my muses. I could have all the "information" contained in those books in a little chuck of plastic and metal on my desk, but I would feel nothing from it. No matter what is stored in it, it's still just a lifeless chunk of technology -- without a soul. Books, actual books that I can feel and smell, have souls. Books that can rest on my chest as I fall asleep; books that I can read in the bath and drip water on their pages; books that I can shield the sun with as I lay on my back reading in the tall grass; books that I can underline, scribble in, dog-ear, press flowers in, tuck feathers in between pages that mention that bird, and throw across the room when they piss me off.

And every book on my shelf has a story to tell, beyond the story that's printed on its pages. The story of where I got it. Some were gifts, some from trades with other writers, some found at quirky little book stores in towns I was passing through, some discovered at a Salvation Army hidden between romance novels and Christian self-help drek.

My most treasured came directly from the author and are inscribed personally. Jim Harrison wrote "to a fellow poet" and drew a one-eyed self-portrait; Peter Matthiessen honored me with "Namaste'" and "keep up your good work"; Bill Heyen said "prune for shade" and "let's keep on keeping on despite the diminishments we feel"; Country Joe McDonald, John Sinclair and Ed Sanders all signed "with love" -- Joe throwing in "peace" along with a peace sign; and Al Hellus, in the last thing he ever wrote to me, "friend and fellow traveler." How could these fellow travelers and mentors sign their folder stored in my E-Book reader?

Which gets me to my biggest isssue with all of this. It seems to be just one more way to de-humanize and disembody the art of writing. To further remove the reader from the writer, so that the writer becomes a function of upload and the reader a function of download. That behind the beauty and wonder of the word is nothing more than strings of 1's and 0's, pulses of electricity on a curcuit board; rather than a living, struggling, dreaming and feeling person.

And when times are tough and it gets really cold here in this mountain cabin; a fire of these books would keep me warm and give me light to write by. No Kindle can do that.


Sunshine said...

One of the many reasons why I love you.

Anonymous said...

By the same token, a hand-written letter is more intimate than an email. Yet you do email, don't you? The reason Kindling is a terrible idea is that it is a monopoly-in-the-making. This essay discusses why Kindle's current business model is untenable and how it can evolve beyond an emblem for the trendy: http://incogrito.blogspot.com/2009/03/rekindling-reading.html

Marc Beaudin said...

Anonymous, are you the author of that article? It's a good article, more technical than I'm able to really comment on, but it seems that the author shares my affinity (perhaps nostalgia) for a physical book.

As far as letters, yes, they are more intimate than e-mail, which is exactly why I only use e-mail for "light" communication, but when I have important or intimate words to share, I use letters. In the same manner, the thoughts I post in blogs don't carry as much weight (to me) as those I publish in my books.

Thanks for commenting.

Stenkle said...

I think you're still allowed to buy paper books if you own a Kindle -- although I haven't read the terms of service in detail.

So if you want an autograph, why not buy that book as a paper book?