Tuesday, December 04, 2007

May I Borrow a Battery? My Book is Dead


I went on Amazon.com one day recently to check out something or other, and the opening page, instead of giving me the usual recommendations by categories, was almost completely given over to introducing me to a new product called the Amazon.com "Kindle." It's basically the company's version of an electronic book reader, which they say they've been working on for three years to perfect.

Explaining the genesis of his company's new product, Amazon.com CEO and founder Jeff Bezos said, "The booklover in me often has asked the nerd in me, 'Is there a way to get the emotions and experiences I love from books, but combined with the possibilities of advanced technology? Can something as evolved as the book be improved?"

Now, maybe I'm just hopelessly mired in the technological mud, but when I sit down in a nice chair with a good book (the pulpy-paged type), one thing I surely never think about is how to transform the book in my hands into another electronic gizmo, which I must pamper and recharge and repair when it gets broken. I'm quite happy, thank you, to just let The Brothers Karamazov be The Brothers Karamazov, and not lament the fact that any book I flip the pages of can't also get me stock quotes, show YouTube videos or allow me to spend more money with Amazon.com. This ability may represent an "improvement" to Mr. Bezos, but I beg to differ.

I'm glad that books have not really "evolved" since their invention, despite Mr. Bezos's claim. Yes, they're a bit smaller and made of different materials than they were in Gutenberg's day, and we no longer have to fashion them entirely by hand or crank them out one at a time on a crude press, but the essence of a book is still the same -- pages of text between two covers, pages turned one at a time and enjoyed at the leisure and pace of the reader.

I don't know how many times I've seen people come out with these "electronic book" gizmos, announcing (or implying) that the printed book is on its long-overdue deathbed, only to have the gizmo, and not books, soon bite the dust.

Then again, maybe an electronic book is inevitable. Maybe there's so many people these days whose attention spans have been worn down to the nub by a steady dose of TV and DVDs and video games that they won't -- or can't -- read a book without some sort of electronic diversion handy. But then again, I don't think those people are the ones truly longing for a good book to savor. Let's face it, the target audience for any new electronic book is not likely to go out and download Dostoevsky or Dickens or Joyce to read on it.

I am content to get drenched as I leave my finger in the dike. Invent what you will, and while I applaud your technical genius and even let out a "hey, cool!" every now and then, I'm happy to keep my books just as they've always been.

1 comment:

Inkling said...

My husband eagerly anticipated the arrival of his electronic reader thingie in the mail a few months ago. Every time he brought it up I expressed my bibliophilic socrn--why on earth would he want one? But he persisted in his excitement until it arrived. He returned it two days later and hasn't mentioned it since.