Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Kindles and grumpy young men

In the last few weeks, a gaggle of people (read: seven) have asked how I feel about Kindle.

For those who don’t know, Kindle is a wireless reading device that Amazon sells. You can use it to read downloaded books, magazines and newspapers.

It’s like an iPod for reading, except you can’t upload your already existing library for free.

Sherman Alexie (National Book Award winner, author of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” fantastic writer) caught some flack for calling Kindles “elitist.” Most of the negative attention focused on him saying that he saw a woman reading a Kindle on the subway and wanted “to hit her.” (He wasn’t being serious.)

Alexie later clarified that he objected to the Kindle’s price. (They cost about $359.) He also didn’t like that one company controlled the content that was available.

In defense of Kindle’s price, one savvy writer noted that it would cost the New York Times half as much to give all of its subscribers Kindles as it would to print and deliver its paper. (Granted, I think that says more about the costs of newspaper production than anything else.)

But Alexie makes an interesting point. Like most expensive electronic gear — iPhones, for example — they have become status symbols. That may or may not be intentional. Alexie and I have similar knee-jerk reactions when we see Kindles. I called a friend “bourgeois” for having one and quickly regretted it.

Do some people use Kindles as status symbols? Sure, but at least they serve a function (unlike those stupid butterfly sunglasses).

I’m an anachronism. I was the last person under the age of 25 to get an mp3 player. I refuse to get TIVO because my VCR still works. I grumble about the minibloggers on Twitter. Throw in a case of cirrhosis and I’m my grandfather.

I like the feel of a book and the sense of accomplishment as the pages accumulate underneath my left hand. I like having a study in which I can relax, surrounded by my bookshelves. (Now, that sounds bourgeois.) But if you just want the words and have a few hundred dollars to burn, there’s no reason not to use a Kindle.

We all use computers to read already. (If you don’t, then how are you reading this blog?) Kindles represent the next step, but it’s probably a step that I will take hesitantly. I don’t want to sacrifice my hardcovers and paperbacks any more than I want to get rid of my CDs.

If that makes me the world’s youngest grumpy old man, so be it.

-Jason Lea,

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