Saturday, May 18, 2013

Kindle v Book…I’ve seen the future and it's kind of scary

Not liking it so much, that new lightweight high-tech pal of mine. Kindle.

'Kind' plus 'le'? Kindly? Is that what they were going for?

Let's Google it.

"Amazon Kindle is a software and hardware platform for reading electronic books (e-books), developed by subsidiary Lab126, first launched in the United States on November 19, 2007. Two hardware devices, known as "Kindle" and "Kindle 2," support this platform, as does an iPhone application called "Kindle for iPhone."

The Kindle hardware devices use an electronic paper display and download content over Amazon Whispernet using the Sprint EVDO network. Kindle hardware devices can be used without a computer, and Whispernet is accessible without any fee. These devices also provide free internet access to Wikipedia."

Lab126. Really?

Okay, gut reaction.

I do like the way this kindly little thing fits in my hand…and my purse. Love the instantaneous “I’d like to read that book” gratification button. It’s truly great I can change the size of the font in two seconds (make it bigger for night eyes!)

And yeah, neat that it carries a bookshelf worth of texts around and doesn’t weigh a nano ounce more. But it makes my heart pound.

So what don’t I like?

As a reader, I do not like that, with my Kind-le gadget I no longer have…

A) Page numbers. How many times have you told someone, check out the scene on Page 77! Or helped ward off Alzheimer’s by remembering to start on Page 143 the next day? I know it's available on some e books, but not on most. And I want it!

B) The name of the book on every other page. Repetition creates memory creates chatter creates sales. “Have you read The Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo?” I asked a hundred people (at least) after I read the name of that book on six hundred plus pages.

C) The author’s name on every other page. Repetition creates memory creates chatter creates sales. “Have you read Steig Larsson?” I asked a hundred people (at least) after I read the name of the author on six hundred plus pages.

D) The cover…in gorgeous color…to stare at whenever. How many books have you bought because of the cover. The cover you noticed in the bookstore, or in someone’s hands on a train or plane or (a really boring) at a dinner table?

E) Most importantly, I can no longer lend or give a book to my friend with an urgent ‘read this now!’

How many friendships were founded, and lost, over loaned books? That’s over?

As a writer, I do not like all of the above, plus something a little more insidious.

Sameness. All our little kindly readers look the same. Nice and flat and light and grey and rectangular. Does that sameness imply a subliminal message about…the sameness of content?

Does the homogeneous, streaming 2%, 13%, 72% rush of words and story in the most anonymous, all the same style text and format plant the seed in the human animal that you’re reading ‘story content’ versus a book by a real live (or dead) writer?

Does Kindle make books more of a commodity? The new Kleenex. Or Xerox. Or Coke. Not Scott tissue, or 3M, or Pepsi or RC Cola. Are we doing away with distinctiveness, and pushing the human mind to accept words, stories, IDEAS as single commodity?

Okay. I’m paranoid. Impractical. A worry wart. Prone to flights of fancy. (I told you upfront I was a fiction writer.) But still

I’m picturing a world where, as you subscribe to ‘cable’ and get film of stuff, you subscribe to ‘Kind-ly Books’ and get steaming words called books. Sorted maybe by comedy, drama, sci-fi, but not by Author.

Just a nice, easy (flavor) stream of words that make you laugh, cry or worry?

In that world, would Harlequin Enterprises let you buy a yearly subscription for ‘romance’ and then send you a stream based on content? Romance Content. 0 to 100%. Content based not on who wrote it, or a cover to die for you saw five people reading on a plane, or a recommendation and loaned copy from your best friend…but on subject matter. Kind-le subject matter you are known to like, and can buy and carry around with you, all you want, instantly.

Since I’ve had my little gadget, I also still buy books.

Lots of books. Hardbound when I just can't wait, and when I must (Sue Grafton. Walter Mosley. Because I love seeing the hunk of reconstituted tree and fabulous art design and smooth pages and writer’s photo on the back page), and paperback (John Green. Deanna Raybourn.) when I know I’ll devour and pass along to a friend with an opinionated , “I love this!” or “Not as good as his last” or a simple “You must read this.”

But it’s not so simple, what I mean when I say this to a friend.

What I mean is hold this in your hand, look at those smooth paper pages, all those beautiful pages of words that someone (a writer like me!) made up; look at that typeface, those page numbers, the photo and blurb ‘he lives in Maine and plays in a rock band’. Hold this real thing, made of real material, not air, in your hand and open it and learn something wonderful or horrible.

And then pass it on!I’ve often bought a dozen copies of novels I’ve loved and wanted to share with friends as a sincere gift of love. I don’t see doing this with an Amazon Kindle Gift Card. No way to bully my mates into buying the title I'm pushing, for one thing.

See...the thing about electronic publishing in general is that I don’t trust outside people with my work. Don’t trust the ones in power (accountants who run publishers, accountants who run distributors, bottom line folks looking to modernize and make more bottom line). I worry that all this e-book phenomenon is going to be one of those examples, three hundred years from now, of ‘unintended consequences’.

Because what’s to prevent, sometime in the future (and tomorrow is the future) someone, anyone, some crazy techie or some person in power with an agenda of ‘their truth is best’ who doesn’t like Willa Cather or F. Scott Fitzgerald or Faulkner or J.K. Rowlings decides to, poof, stop one of those wonderful writer’s stream of words (i.e. novel) from being shared?

You can burn a book. But you have to find a match and start a fire. It has consequences. And, chances are, you won’t be able to burn them all as there will be a lot of other copies of that book under beds and in closets and stores and at the bottom of my purse.

But with a Kindle, full of streams of ‘information, data, words’, what happens if some gatekeeper at the source just deletes a file, or 10, or all of certain authors work? Someone with a “I know what you should read” bend, or a grudge, or by mistake even. All those nice, flat, whisper weight rectangular grey boxes won’t know , or miss, what they can’t ‘download’.

It won’t be there.

A book, like Lady Chatterly’s Lover. Or Lolita. Or All The President’s Men? What then?

Should we chance this?

I’m thinking maybe I should give my Kindle away. The person I might give it to can read what’s there, then good luck transferring it to their identity and credit account. (Don’t even get me started on kindly Big Brother types now knowing every freaking title you download. Remember this if you are having any thought of downloading an Ann 'I-am-hate' Coulter or Rush 'Oxy-Moron' Limberger title to chortle at during the next 'let's read only evil books aloud' book club novelty night. Those ‘streams’ could ruin your reputation as a thinking person forever!)

But of course I'm not really going to give my Kindle away. Despite my children's fears about my capacity to accept technology, I get it. Like it or fear it,  I do love my instant books. And now that I'm about to have two new novels 'e-published' ...Secret Sister in July, 2013 and Dating Cary Grant in the winter of 2013...I realize that in this churning blender of techno marketplaces that a writer needs to be flexible and modern.

But I have decided that if I could only choose one book delivery vehicle, it's nolo contendere.

Kindle v. Book?

Book. Forever. They’ll have to pry them out of my cold, dead hand.