Columns > Published on February 18th, 2014

5 Reasons I'll Never Buy A Kindle: Lamentations of a Book-Loving Luddite

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Book--(noun) a written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers (Oxford English Dictionary)

Irony--(noun) writing a column for an online mag about how you hate reading books online.

Yeah, I get it: Kindle, Nook, Kobo and other eReaders are here to stay. They've surpassed paper book sales, have changed the face of publishing and have more people reading—in more places—than ever before. Their light weight and large-print options make reading easier for certain populations. Downloading books rather than buying them new lessens our carbon footprint. And of course, when the owner of an eReader goes on vacation, they can bring 50 books in one slender and easily portable device. Yet, whenever I hear all the above arguments, all I can think of is:

What kind of crappy vacations do you take that require you to bring 50 books???

You may beg to differ, but I beg you to at least consider:

The 5 Reasons I Think the Kindle (et al) Is a Swindle, and What It Threatens to Take Away.

 I have read on a Kindle. But the Kindle we had only worked for about eight months then it stopped working. You don't have to get books repaired.

—Joyce Carol Oates

1. The Beauty of Bookshelves

Forget snooping through their medicine cabinet, stalking them on Facebook or, God forbid, talking to them. Nothing tells you more about a person than what they have on their bookshelves: textbooks from abandoned college majors, everything ever written by their favourite cult author, self-help and travel guides from past journeys, novels in a language you didn’t know they could speak. Cheerfully cluttered bookshelves make a house a home. At parties where you don’t know anyone, they welcome you to hang out with them.

Best of all? Bookshelves give writers a place to discreetly display their own books, or the literary mags in which they’ve been published. (“What’s that? On the top shelf beneath the rainbow strobe lights? Is that YOUR book?”) Cue modest expression you’ve been practicing in the mirror.           

2. Subway Stories

Being able to see what other people are reading can widen your literary horizons. It’s a conversation starter: like when a (non-creepy) stranger on a train, beach or park bench taps you on the shoulder and asks for the title of what you’re so engrossed in or recommends a similar author. Have you ever glanced at a title, then looked up to see how the reader is reacting to it? How often do we get to witness strangers so unabashedly alone? The tweenager on the A-train—a dreamily twisted dreadlock in one hand and Emily Dickinson in the other? The big, tattooed guy I saw in a diner hunched over He’s Just Not That into You. I don’t know if the book had been bought, borrowed or found, but as he read, dude was looking real worried…

Speaking of found books, have you ever heard of The Sword in the Stone? It was published in 1939, is about a 12 year old boy, and there’s no way in heck I’d have ever touched it had I not found a battered paperback copy one night on a commuter train. I was on my way back from a crappy job and feeling moody and Monday and then I picked up the book. It fell open to this page:

There were five long minutes during which nothing happened. The hearts beat thunderously in the circle and a small vein on the side of each neck throbbed in harmony with each heart. The heads turned quickly from side to side, as each man assured himself of his neighbors…as each realized how beautiful life was…                                          

  3. Nifty Ways to Read Your Lover

If you go home with somebody, and they don't have books, don't fuck 'em!

―John Waters

Surveying the type of books on your date’s coffee table is an efficient way of finding out whether you’d be interested in seeing the ones on their bedside table. It is, dare I say it, even more revealing than seeing someone naked. That copy of How to Marry Money or Nixon’s memoirs? Well, you can’t Botox that, folks, and you can’t suck it in.

Case in point: First date. Cute guy. Mutually attracted BUT:

He never tipped the bartender when it was his round. He used the words ‘obloquy’ and ‘manqué’ like, 20 times, even when he was reading the specials. The clincher, however, came when he began going on about this collection of stories he was reading. How they were so life-changing and surreal and just so…Kafkaesque. When he went to the restroom, I noticed a book sticking out of his satchel. It was The Complete Stories. By Franz Kafa.

Dear Reader, I married him. NOT!

4. Bookstores and the Joys of Aimless Discovery

How many times have you popped into an indie bookshop just to browse, only to stumble out with an armful of finds, including titles you would never have discovered otherwise? How many of us have ever slipped into a second-hand bookshop, suddenly pausing to breathe in the dusty, musty rightness of the old books’ scent?

5. Your Friends' Books and the Joys of Shameless Mooching

On that note, have you ever gone to a friend’s house to hang out and left with half of their library? Taking a chance on a book owned by an intelligent, trusted friend is like being set up on a date by that friend. How bad could it be? Unless you’re friends with Dan Brown.

C'mon, Can't A Person Have Both?

Sure, most of us do. But most of us reading this article are also what is known as digital immigrants. We remember a time before social media, texting and the world as a wi-fi hotspot. But there's a new generation that will have spent their lives in this virtual age. Anybody remember the YouTube video of the toddler becoming frustrated when she couldn't swipe a magazine page like an iPad? What will happen to paper books when this little girl, and all the digital natives like her, come of age?

...if you love the Kindle and it works for you, it isn't problematic, and you should ignore all my criticisms and read the way you want to  read.

—Nicholson Baker, ("Kindle and the Future of Reading", The New Yorker)

Caveat Rantor:

A confession: I Tweet; I Facebook; When I’m in the shower, I miss my phone. Royalties from eBook sales, I’ve found, are nothing to sneeze at. In fact, my current project might be workable only in eBook form. So what’s my point?

It’s that maybe my quibble isn’t with eReaders at all. Perhaps my fear is that they’re just a symptom of the direction in which we’re headed, a world in which every object, every experience becomes nothing more than streamlined, hi-tech iCandy. Books can be inconvenient, awkward and messy. But so can a lot of things whose benefits we might be able to one day digitally replicate: fresh air, sex, exercise, food, drink…did I mention sex?

When I look at the Kindle, I don’t just see a reading device. I see a glimpse of our brave new world. And it scares the shit out of me.

So what does everyone think? I'd love to hear all opinions: Argue with me, agree with me, scoff at me but hey...

At least you can't throw the book at me.

About the author

Naturi is the author of How to Die in Paris: A Memoir (2011, Seal Press/Perseus Books) She's published fiction, non-fiction and poetry in magazines such as Barrow St. and Children, Churches and Daddies. At Sherri Rosen Publicity Int'l, she works as an editor and book doctor. Originally from NYC, she now lives in a village in England which appears to have more sheep than people. This will make starting a book club slightly challenging.

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