At the Get Lit! festival last weekend, there was a lot of talk about the Kindle and all that it implies for publishing. John, who’d brought his Kindle along, pulled it out a couple of times to show writers how it worked — and reactions were similar to my first impressions. First: This is really weird. Then: I can get my New Yorker on here? I can take eight books on a trip on one thin, tiny device? This is pretty cool.
In this Wall St. Journal article about the Kindle, Steven Johnson describes his first “aha” moment in the adventure of electronic reading: He was sitting in a restaurant, “working my way through an e-book about business and technology, when I was hit with a sudden desire to read a novel.” He browsed through the Amazon store, bought a book, and read the first chapter before getting the check. It was in this moment, he writes, that he knew digital books would profoundly change the way we read, write, and sell books.
Johnson outlines the pros and cons of the Kindle — for example, making it easier for us to buy books, but also easier to stop reading them — and reminds us of the history of publishing and technology’s effect on ideas. He also imagines a world in which novels are impulse buys (great news for lots of us writers). He does worry, however, that because it’s so easy to switch from one book to another, one of the joys of reading — “the total immersion in another world, or in the world of the author’s ideas” — will be lost.
It’s an article worth reading — for both readers and writers. As a reader, for example, I love the Kindle’s dictionary feature, which allows me to simply click on a word for a definition; with a print book, I might be lazier. As a writer, I love the notion that I could sell Forgetting English as a book, or that I could sell the stories individually — and that this a la carte option might attract additional readers and a more diverse audience.
Like most writers, I don’t want to see print books go away, just like I didn’t want the Seattle P-I to disappear. But change happens…and maybe the best we can do is prepare for it, if not try to embrace it.