Two months ago, my dad very generously bought me a Kindle Fire for Christmas. Knowing that I am a book lover, this was a very thoughtful and seemingly perfect gift. That is, if being a book lover equates to being a Kindle lover. But I’m here to tell you that, two months in, I’m not so sure it does.
So far I haven’t read a single book on Kindle. Well, let me qualify that. There are a number of free Kindle kids books available through the on-line Kindle store, so I have downloaded and read some of those with my son (who, born into this techno generation, is more adept at and excited about this new technology than I am). So I have read some of those, and reading these shorter works with him is fine.
There are also several great free books on the Kindle that I do want to read, including most classics and works of philosophy. There truly is a veritable bunch of really great, truly free stuff. I have made it as far as downloading several of these. But that is as far as I got.
In theory, the prospect of free books for the Kindle is about as exciting as it can be (almost as exciting as reading an entire book for free in Barnes & Noble, which I have, of course, never done, because that would be WRONG). But the reality of that prospect plays out somewhat differently.
First of all, I have about fifty actual books, at home, that I need and want to read: spread over several bookshelves, drawers, boxes, and other miscellaneous hiding places.
Second, the library, which I love in its own right, has countless new books to read, all the time. And this isn’t just about availability. I love the experience of going to a library, just as I love the experience of actually going to a bookstore. Browsing through a library, actually handling and flipping through and touching and smelling the books is nothing at all like scrolling through a bunch of impersonal thumbnails on your Kindle. Not even close. Ditto for the experience of actually going to a bookstore. I love it more than just about anything else.
And the library angle kind of leads into the third and maybe biggest issue, and that is cost. The cost of a Kindle (which admittedly, my dad was kind enough to eliminate from the equation for me) is not insubstantial. They are getting more affordable, I guess, but not more affordable than free, which is what the library offers. The books I already own are, at least going forward, free to me. Same for books I could and do borrow from friends. It is hard to beat truly free.
Also to be considered is the cost of books for Kindle. Many of the books I discover that I want to read can be purchased in hard copy for around $0.01 on Amazon, plus shipping (usually $3.99). You can’t buy new releases, or even many old releases, of popular books on Kindle for anywhere in that ballpark. There are also several really good used bookstores around here, with really good selection, and I can often get what I am looking for for just a buck or two. Still cheaper than any book you can buy on the Kindle.
Which ties into yet another point, and that is how limited the use of your book on Kindle is. You pay your twenty bucks, you read it once, and then what? It just sits in your Kindle’s memory bank. You can’t sell it. You can’t let a friend borrow it. You can’t even keep it forever yourself, because it will only last as long as your Kindle does, which, like most gadgets, is probably only a couple of years. So, really, it’s not the same as having a real book at all.
Obviously, I still have some hang-ups. I just like books better. Real books. And no matter how portable or affordable or transferable or shareable e-books become, I will probably always stay this way.
Do I like my Kindle? Sure. So far it has been great for listening to music on the Pandora app when I am working out, looking up a word in its built-in dictionary, surfing the internet when someone else is on the computer, and very recently, for playing “Words with Friends” (which could prove a very big distraction indeed). Will I eventually read a book on it? Probably. It is convenient and great for getting access to books when you otherwise couldn’t and portability and convenience and all that stuff. But so far, in the battle of Kindle versus books, the books are winning. And it seems like there is a good chance that this will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future.