In today’s New York Times, Charles McGrath writes about his experience with the Kindle — from the POV of a “by-the-book reader” — and it’s an interesting piece for anyone considering buying one.
It’s also interesting for anyone who already has one. I like our Kindle for many reasons, and most of them have to do with avoiding the clutter that threatens to overtake the household: having the New Yorker delivered and stored there, rather than smashed into the mailbox and subsequently left scattered to the far reaches of the apartment; storing dozens more books without having to give up another inch of space.
But for me, as for many readers, it will never replace going to bookstores and wandering the shelves (it’s decidedly less fun to scroll through book titles on the Kindle, though it might be more efficient). It’ll never replace the feel of books in my hands or inspire me to get rid of any of my favorites, no matter how much more storage space I’ll need to rent. But there is one unbeatable aspect to the Kindle, which is that it’s truly excellent for traveling (especially with the airlines charging you for every pound these days). My only problem is that because John and I share our one Kindle, we’ll either have to book separate vacations or lug a few books around anyway.
In the article, McGrath mentions the “sameness” of each book as it appears on the Kindle — something that had occurred to me as well, first as a reader who’s used to books in all shapes and sizes and weights, and also as an author, as I prepare Forgetting English for its Kindle debut. I had an excellent book designer for the printed book and envisioned a similar design for the Kindle before realizing that, in fact, the font and layout are basically the same for every Kindle book.
The last time I checked out the Kindle “bookstore,” I noted that there are 275,000 books available, of which 111,000 are fiction and 8,511 literary fiction (soon to be 8,512!). However, as McGrath notes, “Most current books are available there, but the backlist is strangely spotty…The poetry selection is particularly skimpy.”
Though a lot of book lovers and writers are anti-Kindle, McGrath believes that “the future will not be as hard to get used to as you imagined.” And I completely agree. The Kindle will evolve further (as McGrath notes and most Kindle users will agree, it needs backlighting for reading in the dark, among other things), and as it does, I hope we can all coexist — that readers will appreciate it for what it can do, and keep returning to their favorite bookstores for all that it can’t.