how the kindle has changed reading for the better
As I read Mark Valdez’s recent article “Nonfiction and Fiction: The Timeless Value of Physical Books,” I was called back to a time in my life when while packing for a trip with my family, I would struggle to fit many more books in my suitcase than physically possible. On the long plane ride, I would finish the one book I could manage to pack and then I’d pester my parents constantly until we ended up racing through foreign cities, looking for a bookstore that might have something I could read. I often read books that were inappropriate or way above my reading level just because they were the only books I could get my hands on. I became unusually well acquainted with the discarded texts that populate hotel libraries. Think abandoned young adult books that aren’t quite up to snuff or well-worn paperbacks that might have inhabited an airport bookstore many moons ago.
Even though I understand Mark’s sentiment regarding the irreplaceable value of a physical book, his piece sparked a different feeling in me: an appreciation of my Kindle. I feel that as a society we regard the Kindle, or electronic reading, as destructive to our reading habits. There are so many people, Mark included, who have taken the time to remind us of the joys and advantages of reading from a physical book in an age when much of our reading has gone digital.
But I couldn’t disagree more. From the second I heard about it, I knew the Kindle would change my way of life. The idea that I could carry up to 200 books (now over 1000) in one small device and could download any one of them in under a minute was the greatest news I had ever received. Gone were the days of racing through foreign cities looking for bookstores, of reading random books on my grandparents’ shelves, or, the horror, of having nothing to read at all.
And once I purchased a Kindle, there were other subtler bonuses: I could read longer in bed, without the physical exertion of holding up a book and turning the pages. All I had to do was lie on one side and click a button. It was also cheaper. I no longer had to spend money on pricey hardcovers; now I could read much more for much less. If I needed something for school urgently, I could have a book in seconds. Mark writes of the pleasure he gains from looking through his notes in the margins, but on my Kindle I have “My Clippings,” a selection of all the passages that I have found beautiful over the years collected into one handy document, a one stop shop for any time I need inspiration or comfort. Mark’s right in that I don’t have my favorite books to display on my bookshelf or coffee table, but I do enjoy arranging them on my Favorite Books shelf on Goodreads, a website where I can showcase them to other avid readers.
A survey by Pew Research Center reveals that 42 % of readers of e-books are reading more “now that long-form reading material is available in digital format.” Another recent survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associate International this past January revealed that 50 % of Americans now own some sort of handheld device, like an IPad or Kindle, designated for electronic reading.
While many people now own devices specifically intended for e-reading, the fact that anyone can download the Kindle app for free on their smart phone or computer and start reading nearly anything in seconds makes reading more accessible than ever before. Amazon even offers certain e-books for free. You don’t need a pricey new device or parents that are willing to support an addiction to literature (as mine were). Essentially all a kid needs to do these days to get his or her hands on a book is a connection to the Internet. Think about how much happier Roald Dahl’s Matilda would be if she lived in our time.
As much as I think the Kindle is the greatest invention of all time, I didn’t write this piece to bash the physical book. I too value and treasure the many books that still occupy the shelves of my childhood room. As a reader, how could I not? But I don’t think it’s right to dismiss a device that changed my life for the better and many other readers’ lives too. As someone who plans to work in publishing, however, I often wonder if I’m allowed to feel such love for something that many view as a destructive force for the industry. The emergence of e-reading has provoked serious doubts about the future of publishing: disappearing bookstores, self-publishing, a merger between the two biggest publishing houses, the power of Amazon. All are in some way related to the rise of the e-book, and all commonly cited as reasons the publishing industry may be in trouble.
There is one immensely bright silver lining amongst all the turmoil, and that is that people are still willing to pay for books. That aforementioned Pew study also reveals that e-readers are “more likely than others to have bought their most recent book, rather than borrowed it.” And this interesting article points out that “more than any major cultural product [in contrast to music or movies], [the book] has retained its essential worth.”
My personal conclusion is that even though the Kindle has wrought irrevocable change for publishing, including a diminishment in the prevalence of the physical book, something will always stay the same: People will always read. That’s why we don’t have to worry or herald an impending book-apocalypse. From Hamlet to Silent Spring to Gone Girl, there will always be a need and desire for texts that explain and expand our conceptions of life.
It may be nice to submit to nostalgia and treasure the physical book, but I’m not for living in the past. Reading digitally, whether on a Kindle, IPad or something else, is the easiest and most convenient way to read. I vote that we embrace progress and accept that as long as we all keep reading, everything will work itself out.