book burn.jpgThe last few weeks -- well, actually, it was quite a few weeks ago now,considering book/daddy's general summer-bred lethargy and all the pleasant distractions of working late hours at the office -- book blogs were ablaze with speculation and comments on the Kindle,Amazon's supposedly revolutionary digital book device. This was odd,considering the unpleasant little thing was released back in November 2007. It seems that the online flurry was mostly in response to the report in TechCrunch that despite Amazon's secrecy, they'd figured out that the company had sold 240,000 'units' and could sell as many as 750,000 in the next year. Set to be the "Tickle Me Elmo" of this Christmas, it would appear.

Leaping into the fray, book/daddy went back to reading books and sleeping late. But the damned discussion kept popping up.

So, here goes. When book/daddy has spoken to book clubs or other literary gatherings the past 5-6 years, he has often asked -- as an experiment in tracking the oncoming digital zeitgeist -- how many here have ever read a full-length novel on an electronic device? Any device, desktop, laptop, e-book reader, GPS, cellphone, hair curler, doesn't matter. But it has to involve reading a full-length novel, not just consulting a reference work. Novel readers tend to be compulsive. So adopting a digital device to feed their habit means, for them, a fundamental change. A fairly big deal. They're not just picking up a lemon peeler at Ikea and saying, isn't this cute, using it once and then losing it for good amid the dusty, boiled-egg slicers and wine stoppers cluttering up the back of a drawer somewhere.

Only once did someone ever raise his hand. All other times -- zero. Not a soul. But then last year, book/daddy posed the question to a crowd at the Texas Book Festival in Austin.

And, whoosh, about one-fourth (25 out of 100 or so) raised their hands. A bit
of a surprise, if they were being honest and hadn't simply taken a disliking to the speaker and decided to fuck with his head (always a possibility considering book/daddy's relationship with crowds. Or with people in general, actually).

Two months later, book/daddy was again surprised to find a young female relative of his had a Kindle -- mostly because he would have been mighty surprised to find said relative reading much of anything, let alone forking out some serious cash for a device that she might not use past page 12 and that certainly didn't award her instant coolness with her slouching peers.

So with book/daddy's limited polling data, Kindle may well represent some (small, incremental) breakthrough in the Great March Forward to find the perfect e-book that will sell like iPods. But the chorus of hosannahs over it have sounded mostly like techno-types wanting to shout themselves into the august membership of 'first adapters.' Or the hosannahs have been just guerilla marketing push. (Typical Kindle-positive post, reproduced exactly: "I still don't understand...why are we still reading paper books when we could use e-books instead? On my laptop i have hundreds of ebooks and e-guides and i use them on a regular basis. Governments should incentivate technologies like this! so kudos for Kindle!")

The doubtful nature of some of these claims is especially true of those that declare the Not-So-Special K is the reading equivalent of the iPod. Not so, given the huge number of readers and the comparatively tiny number of Kindles sold. The claim that "it's just like a paperback" is also bullshit. It's far too large and clumsy for that; its size doesn't suit most pockets or purses (except the larger bags). It's like lugging around a particularly inconvenient PalmPilot, a PalmPilot attached to a small brick. I find it unattractive and plasticy with hard, sharp edges. Compare it to the elegant, curvy, palm-friendly, future-forward design of the iPod or the iPhone, and you wonder what any of the hooplah is about.

It's not that book/daddy is Luddishly biased against digital reading devices per se; he just hasn't found one that he could see himself using repeatedly and comfortably -- switching his reading habits for, in other words. And book/daddy has been trying these things out since the old Franklin electronic reading book days more than a decade ago, when you had to fire up the pilot light on the thing.

In fact, book/daddy did read about a device recently that did make his eyes shine. But he can no longer find the source: It involved, more or less, a roll of digital paper that would unfold. So although the device looked handy and paperback-sized, its screen unfolded to be almost laptop size, much more reader friendly.Until that ingenious thing, whatever it is, arrives on the market, book/daddy may be content with this gizmo:

September 5, 2008 11:02 AM | | Comments (6)


Pros: It has almost everything someone would want. My 4 year old loves the touch screen for websites that allow him to interact (ex fisher price website). Mine came with Windows vista, and I've been waiting for my windows 7 upgrade for 2 months now, hope to see it soon. Screen is bright, touch screen is great, finger print id is awesome, and computer is fast once you remove the bloat software HP installs.

The Kindle certainly does a superb job of resembling the printed page, but I find I miss the tactile delight of a bound book in my hands, as opposed to a machine.

I agree with you, book/daddy: few will be reading novels in a digital reader anytime soon. That said, I'm working on some web-based software in my spare time that can turn the iPhone/iPod Touch into a reader platform. Not e-books, because I don't think applying the paradigm of printed books to the internet is the best way to get online.

Like your first commenter said, the ability to link your work together using the familiar hypertext paradigm is the real benefit. You can put two pieces of content "next to" each other using hyperlinks in a way you can't with a printed book. You can offer readers a new interactive experience and new works written for the new paradigm will reflect this flexibility. Not every work will benefit from this, of course. I can't imagine reading the chapters of a novel out of the sequence the author intends, but what if the novel was like Max Brooks' World War Z? Newer post-modern works might very benefit from having a new interaction paradigm with the reader.

As an editor and writer who saw his first published story set in hot metal, I marvel at Amazon's new Kindle reader and its role in the future of the "printed" word.

No traditional book can offer the interactive platform I've created for the Kindle edition of my historical novel Brazil or open the door to actively sharing the magic that goes into the making of a monumental work.

Linked to the e-text is a unique online guide with more than 200 images and illustrations, providing an indispensable companion on a fictional journey through five hundred years of Brazilian history. The guide is also linked to my research notes and journal archived on my website - The Making of a Novel

Not every book lends itself to such in-depth treatment, but for a historical novel like Brazil – a subject of which few North American readers background knowledge – Kindle is revolutionary.

It offers a window on the past, and gives the reader a unique look into the mind of a writer and the haunting and unforgettable images that inspired my words.

Were Gutenberg here to see the Kindle, he would have one word: "Bravo!"

You can preview the guide The Kindle Illustrated Guide at my website.

No, they don't count. I should have made that clear. Because you're listening, not reading. Which is the whole point of the new electronic books.

I think listening to Dan Brown's books appropriate because -- after listening to a number of books on tape when I had a halfway decent commute time -- I found that very little memory of the book remained. I listened to all of "Little Dorrit" and "Mill on the Floss," but I can barely tell you what happened in either. I think it's related to the training of your visual memory in reading.

Do "books on tape" count as an electronic book device? I've read/listened to most of Dan Brown's works along with other works of fiction in the car on the way to places 3+ hours from home. With more of them on CDs, it's a snap to copy one to an iPod and play it when one's eyes are otherwise occupied.


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