Perversely, Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist was the first book I bought for my new Kindle. I chose Baker specifically -- he's a fierce defender of paper and I happen to love his writing. (Among other things, he recently wrote a negative review of my new favourite toy.) Choosing him was a bit of a private joke -- downloading my first book felt like an historic event to me and I wanted to mark the occasion. Because, while I love paper and while I expect paper to be around in its many forms for a long, long time, I think it's pretty much a no-brainer that the future of books is in e-readers. Not necessarily in the Kindle, or in the Sony e-reader, or in the Nook, or even in the hotly anticipated yet weirdly still nameless Apple tablet thingamabob, but in some device, or in many devices, like these.
What do I love about the Kindle? I absolutely love the device's size and its weight. I absolutely love the way I can download a book from almost anywhere, almost instantly. A huge plus for me is that on the Kindle this wireless feature is free -- I'd like to own an iPhone but I'm not willing to pay a hundred bucks a month to use it. That's a lot of diapers. I am also thrilled that I won't need to buy any more bookshelves in the near future.
Well, that's a bit of lie, actually, because I still have tens of boxes of books in the attic. And there are still many books I'll want to purchase that are not yet available in electronic format. And the kids need picture books, although I imagine there will be a good picture book reader available some time in the next ten years. But my kids are likely to be pretty much beyond picture books by then. Of course we'll still buy art books -- books of photographs or books that are in some way works of art themselves -- so there still will be plenty of paper entering this house and demanding shelf space over the next ten years. But as much as is possible, I will be buying electronic books. They save space and they're cheaper. And the five books I happen to be reading at any given time are much lighter when they're carried around in a Kindle instead of in a shopping bag.
I also really like the Kindle's dictionary application. Whenever I happen upon a word I don't know, I can instantly look it up. It's a bit clunky, though -- if I want more than the first line or two of the definition and click for more info, I am taken into the dictionary itself and can't simply click the "previous page" button to return to my book. I have to hit the "home" button and reenter my book from there. Of course this is a bit like complaining that I like soup but it's a huge bother that I have to tilt the spoon when it gets to my mouth in order to eat it. Still. Spoonfeed me all the way, please. (I haven't even used the clipboard function or the note-taking one yet but I expect them both to be very helpful. If you're interested, watch this space for updates.)
Now there are definitely some things I don't like about the Kindle. For instance, I've found, like Baker did, that it's a bit too easy to accidentally turn the pages when you pick up the device, simply because the buttons for page turning are awkwardly placed on either side of it, right where your hands naturally hold a book. I don't know why they didn't put that button on the top right-hand corner of the device, which is where your hand instinctively goes if you're used to reading paper books.
And, like Baker, I think the display screen itself -- what passes for a page of text -- is too small. It should be at least a third bigger in order to approximate the size of the pages of a medium-sized book. The Kindle also requires a built-in nightlight. It's the perfect size and weight for reading in bed -- in fact, it's much easier to manage while lying down than a conventional book -- but because of the odd Vizplex screen meant to approximate the look of a real book, it doesn't glow like a conventional electronic screen. I happen to like the appearance of this Vizplex screen and I don't at all mind reading text on it the way Baker does. In fact, I quite like it, but I don't like the fact that I still need to use my nightlight to read in bed without disturbing my husband or my kids.
I do, however, vehemently agree with Baker that the graphics are deplorable. Luckily for me, graphics aren't usually a factor in the kinds of books I read. I also join with Baker in grousing that there simply aren't enough Kindle books available yet. It's not like there isn't a good selection -- I've purchased eight or ten Kindle books in the past couple of weeks which is, frankly, more than I can afford -- but ideally, I want everything that's available in print to be available for my e-reader.
Ideally, everything that's available in print would also be available and all of these electronic books would be published in the same format, one not owned by any one publisher or giant online store bent on world domination. And all these electronic books would be readable on all the different kinds of e-reader devices. I am uncharacteristically optimistic about this -- it is my expectation, as well as my fervent wish and desire. I will admit, however, that I'm concerned, so much so that I wonder if it should somehow be legislated. It's that important. Because as much as I love my Kindle, I don't want any one company to have a monopoly on book publishing. I can't imagine how that could possibly be good for the state of literature -- for writers or for the readers themselves. But overall? Yes, for right now, I am obsessed with my very imperfect Kindle.