Bob Mackey (bobservo) wrote,

Books, or Kindling?

Faster than my mom could ask, “Do you have a Kindle?” I found myself the owner of Amazon’s gimmicky device, all thanks to the power of maternal love. I should probably note that when my mom first asked me this question, in a grand display of gratitude I replied with “Don’t get me a Kindle.” I’ve never been a fan of the whole eBook phenomenon (-na?), mostly due to the inflated costs attached to downloading what amounts to glorified text files. Having served eight years in the trenches of academia, I became well-versed in the art of getting books for free -- I scammed my way through countless semesters checking out and perpetually renewing everything on my syllabi, instead of forking over hundreds of dollars that could be better spent on microbrews and life-sustaining awful pizza. And when I made the move to grad school, living a short distance from a used bookstore did a good job of spoiling me; I was once infatuated with the idea of building a semi-respectable library of books, and this business allowed me to live out my horribly impractical dream for pennies on the dollar.

In retrospect, I really should have known better. Since the summer of 2007, I’ve moved a total of five times -- soon to be six when I finally get around to hauling the rest of my garbage mounds from New Mexico to California. And in this time I have learned that books -- once a valuable part of my life devoted to earning valueless degrees -- can be the most cumbersome shit in the universe. I’ll admit that I enjoy the physical form of books; I like having a large, imposing bookcase in my home, if only to offer a monument of my personal tastes to any visitors who happen by. In fact, I tend to use someone’s bookcase as a yardstick by which to judge them. Ayn Rand? I start asking questions. Nothing but young adult fiction? No questions need to be asked. The Secret? I will request that you use your crazy brain powers to wish me away to the cornfield or something. Books allow me to be a judgmental prick, and for this I thank them. So help me god if I find a copy of Ishmael anywhere near you.

On the practical side of things, books are heavy. Books take up a lot of space. Books are not fun to carry in boxes up flights of stairs. And let’s face facts; with very few exceptions, a book that is read and put on a shelf will never be opened again. Yet another fact (you should be writing these down): books have absolutely no resale value (again, with very few exceptions). Every time I’ve moved, I’ve shaved dozens of books off my collection, mostly via donation to libraries because the majority of rational human beings realize the value of a used book is not even worth estimating. Out of all forms of media, the Internet has devalued text the most; as a writer who has lived well under the poverty line until the last few months of my life, I can verify by the emotional scars that this bleak observation is indeed true. In a world where it takes a negligible amount of effort to get anything for free, text is just there for the taking.

So while I treasure, and will soon find new ways to further pare down my single-bookcase library -- the result of years of delicate pruning and wholesale ransacking -- I see the Kindle as a way to read new books without necessarily adding a pound of weight to my total belongings; in fact, when I once again have access to my collection, I’m going to find everything I own that’s in the public domain, and eliminate it with moderate prejudice. I’ll still enjoy owning physical copies of my favorites, for psychological reasons far too boring and obvious to go into here, but I’m not going to miss buying new books and shelving their useless remains once I’m done with them. Granted, the average $9.99 price of an eBook is still way too much -- I think $4.99 would be a happy medium -- but I guess this is the price you pay for the convenience of not having to figure out the best way to dispose of a book once it’s been read. And I’m a little bummed that a good number of the books I’ve planned on reading -- especially the ones only available in expensive, hardcover editions -- aren’t yet available in Kindle form, and probably won’t ever be. The world demands digital versions of comprehensive multi-volume Orson Welles biographies!

I do find a lot of oddities when it comes to what’s missing from the Kindle marketplace. I don’t read very much of it these days, but manga seems like a perfect fit for the device -- yet all I can find on Amazon’s site seems to be nothing but the smuttiest of smut. For a brand of comics where series typically last for dozens upon dozens of volumes, I can’t think of a better method of delivery or consumption. Though my black heart was warmed when I discovered that the Kindle is completely worthless for academic work, once again signifying the irrelevance of a world I’ve since washed my hands of. Try finding the original pagination for your sources when you write your boring articles for tedious journals now, jerks! Note to Amazon: please don’t change this so I can remain justified in my bitterness, thanks.

So yes, the Kindle has won me over, despite my healthy skepticism. Now I can only pray that some new technological standard doesn’t make this new e-library as valueless as my vast coffers of Flooz.
Tags: reading
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