Friday, 11 February 2011


I know I said I’d post my review of Empty Chairs, but I’m holding back on that until it’s appeared on Booksquawk. It’ll be here as well, though, in due course. I’m still busy so this is just a quick musing on reading Kindle books.

The ease of buying them is terrific – see a review, remember a title, get a recommendation, whatever, and it’s waiting for you in less than a minute.


… with each of the books I’ve read on it (7 at the last count), when I finished, I felt deprived. I enjoyed each one a lot and so, when I switched off after the last page, there was nothing there to cradle, no unique object that held the story inside it. Yes, it’s still in the Kindle and I can return to it, but it’s just in there with all the others, as well as some huge freebies that I downloaded, and they’re all represented by the flat grey thing and a dead screen. So there’s no external thing that holds the emotions, laughs, sadnesses, delights, puzzles, and all the other things I get from reading – each time a different mix. Usually, when I finish a ‘normal’ book, I leave it on the desk or the bedside table before putting it back on the shelf and each time I see it, it reminds me of what’s in it and recalls some of the instants I enjoyed from it. The story has a physical reality.


(and here’s where it gets a bit weird), in a way, that gives the reading experience a different quality. Because reading – for me anyway – is an abstract thing. OK, I have physical responses to it – laughing, yelling ‘That’s crap’ now and then, flinging a book aside when it’s been carelessly written or is literally unbelievable – but when I’m involved in it, it takes me away from my physical context, even from my self. And the way the Kindle’s words flash onto the screen and then, as you ‘turn the page’, disappear to be replaced by others, that’s sort of abstract, too. There’s no rustle of paper, no feel of it in your fingers – there are just shifting words, forming on and disappearing from the featureless, unchanging slab in front of you. You’ve no idea how many more pages there are till the end, there’s not the growing chunk in your left hand and diminishing one in your right. Just one page, always one page – the perpetually repeating present of the story and of the reading experience. And when you finish reading the last one, you ‘turn’ it and the screen is blank, the book’s gone, the experience has flitted and there’s only the memory left. So the reader has no physical context, and neither does the book.

I’ll certainly use my Kindle a lot, but I suppose I’m a romantic and I’ll always want ‘real’ books, too.


  1. I'm guessing you're a kinesthetic learner/communicator...

  2. Great post, Bill. I love the convenience of the Kindle for ordering certain books (especially by overseas publishers), and I'm quite happy reading them from the screen, which I've found is very kind to the eyes.

    But I still love my physical books, mostly for the very reasons you've so eloquently described. I too leave a book lying for a while after finishing it and I might want to check something, or reread a part.

    I think the Kindle has a big part to play in the number of books I'll read, but they will most likely be the books I wouldn't (or couldn't) have the pleasure of buying from a UK book shop.

    By the way, I'm currently reading and very much enjoying Shadow Selves - on the Kindle!

  3. I adore my Kindle. It has clothes and its own dear snap-on LED reading lamp. I carry it from room-to-room, it nests in my not-so-capacious purse whenever I'm away for the day. I pop a book onto it with the frequency that one might pop a bonbon. I am addicted to a device.

    But it is a matter of lust, not love. It satisfies with a quick fix, a heady rush at the ease with which something new and tantalizing can be at my fingertips.

    What I do 'love' is the heft of words that only a physical book can give. Have you ever observed people in a book store, after they've found something new or found the next in a series by a favorite author? Do they swing it carelessly at their side, or set it down while they paw through the racks looking for bargains? No, they cradle that book in their arms, men and women—young and old—alike, with almost reverential glee. I've observed them at the check-out, stacking the pile just so, glancing furtively to the next register, curious as to what that person is reading.

    I guess one could do that with a Kindle or a Nook or a Kobo. But there's no book cover to admire, or pithy words on the back that draw you in. But-there will be page numbers, coming soon I hear. That will be nice. I miss those. And they have some sort of a lending system so I can pass my electronic words on to another for a couple weeks. Again, nice. Just not the same.

    What's interesting is that YAs have yet to embrace this technology, something that surprises and baffles me.

    In the meatime, Stanley sits on the kitchen table astutely observing my daily routine. I can smile at his adorable pout, something I can't do when he is hidden away in the bowels of the aether.

  4. I read my first e-book this week...on my mini laptop, not an e-reader. The not knowing how far I had to go really did bother me. It's sort of like turning on a movie on television and not knowing whether you're coming in at the beginning, middle or end, so not knowing whether to brace yourself for the big climax or settle in for the long haul.

    What I do love is being able to prop it up on the rack of my elliptical bike and read it without having to clip down the pages or squint because the light is crummy in that corner of my living room. And I can plug in my headphones. Music and words one shot. Makes me almost able to forget I'm actually exercising.

  5. Linda, if I knew what that meant, I’d either be flattered or embarrassed that my secret was out.

    Rosemary, yes that’s exactly my reaction. By the way, thanks for buying ‘Shadow Selves’ - that's the only book of mine so far that's only appeared in e-format and, bizarrely, I won’t feel that it’s a real publication until it’s in print. When your ‘Dangerous Deceit’ appears in May, for example, I’ll be buying a print copy AND I’ll want your autograph in it – that’s something Kindle can’t give me.

    Diane, you even manage to turn reading a Kindle into a sort of preparation for an orgy. (Not that I know what preparations for orgies are like.) Again, though, I agree with the physicality of the way we relate to print books – that’s not lust, it’s reverence. And, interestingly, while most of my remarks about Stanley are (meant to be) jokey and throwaway, I must confess that in the ebook version his presence is less insistent than it is on paper. Maybe that’s a good thing.

    Kari Lynn, I never thought of reading while exercising before. The problem, though, is that I either ride my real bike (on roads) or use a rowing machine. Having a rack on the bike would be suicidal, so I’d need automatic zoom glasses for the rower or some sort of arrangement that I could wear to keep the screen at a constant distance from my eyes as I slid back and forth. Any ideas?