Kindling

By | November 23, 2007 | 6 Comments

Well, what’ya know: The Electric Church is available for Amazon’s Kindle. I had no idea.

I think the Kindle is a loser, personally. I think all e-readers are losers. Granted, I’m an old fogey who was raised on books, but frankly I think the book is simply a near-perfect information delivery system and won’t be replaced. Certainly not by some clunky, DRM’d piece of crap like the Kindle, which doesn’t let you loan books to friends and won’t take a dunking in the bath very well. Sure, you can keyword-search it, but, well. . .who cares?

The other day I wanted to recall a bit of Victorian slang I’d read in The Great Train Robbery  by Crichton. Good book. For my own obscure reasons I wanted to remember this slang, so I picked up the battered hardback copy I’d bought from a library a few years ago and started reading. I flipped around until something seemed vaguely familiar and on-target, and spent half an hour pleasantly re-reading parts of the book until I found what I was looking for.

Sure, I could have searched on the text for two minutes and found exactly what I needed, but shit, that would not have been nearly so fun. So screw searchable text. I won’t miss it.

Some people think e-readers might actually kill books someday. It’s possible that if kids start getting their information exclusively from e-readers some day they’ll never know how grand a physical book can be, and boom! There go books. But that doesn’t address the fact that books, so far, deliver the information in a more efficient, flexible, and affordable way. They never stop working, require pretty much incineration to become unusable, and also happen to be beautiful physical objects, unlike your e-readers which are hideous blobs of carbon. Plus, you own a book in the old-fashioned sense. You can lend it, give it away, doodle your name on page 69 and use it to balance your kitchen table when it rocks annoyingly. It’s yours.

I like that. Someday I will build a small fort in my living room out of my books, and live there until my wife loses patience.

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6 Comments

  • Amen!

    Luv your blog, dude. You gotta way with words. Somebody should publish you or something!

    Hope your Thanksgiving was unbearably overindulgent. Take it easy!

    Jen

  • jsomers says:

    Jennifer,

    Thanks! I remain bloated from Thanksgiving and can only move about the house via a complex system of rolling chairs and pulleys. Even this leaves me winded. Whew! I’ll never eat an entire Turducken myself again.

    L
    J

  • Paul Riddell says:

    You’d think that someone would learn from the failure of other E-book projects, especially when they’re what Paulina Borsook refers to as “dead rat solutions”. (Borsook referred to the tendency of techies to think like your cat: they think a dead rat on your kitchen table is a dandy idea, they’d want a dead rat on their own table if they had one, and they get pissy when you yell at them after cleaning up the rat blood and guts all over the place.) Remember when Microsoft tried that with its damn E-Reader back in 2000, and even the promise of free Star Trek E-novels wasn’t enough to get people to buy?

    Okay, so that last example wasn’t particularly fair, seeing as how I’m desperately sick of publishing people, particularly in the magazine business, pointing to a business failure decades ago as to why something won’t work now. For instance, the reason put forth as to why the old digest science fiction magazines can’t go to a standard magazine format is because “Well, Analog tried that back in 1966, and it didn’t work.” (At the time this was going on, I was sucking down amniotic fluid like a fish and kicking the hell out of the inside of my mother’s uterus, so I’d like to think other things have changed the way I did since then.) However, this is still a solution in search of a problem, and the only people who actually believe that it’s going to solve anything are the people who designed it. You get a lot of noise from the Cat Piss Men about how E-books are the future, but this comes from guys who won’t pay for anything unless it comes with action figure accessories or a nude spread of Jessica Alba. For everyone else, well, it’s right up there with the Internet-enabled portable toilet.

  • jsomers says:

    Paul,

    The dead rat cracks me up, because I can see myself in it! I’m always trying to convince people to adopt technologies or practices that frankly only I see as beneficial. Like pantslessness.

    For me, it comes down to the physical perfection of the book as an information delivery model. Okay, it’s not “perfect”, but it’s damn close, and none of the e-readers brought to market so far replicate its level of near-perfection, IMHO.

    What will finally kill books, I think, is digital paper. Imagine having a book–it looks and feels like a book, with pages, exactly as you see them today. But imagine the pages are digitally inked, and you can load different books into your “book” brick, and the pages just reshuffle and blur and BAM! new book. But your reading experience would be practically the same as today.

    How feasible is this? I’m no engineer, though I did sleep through a year of High School Physics (the last math/science-based class I ever took, actually, in 1989!) so I say it’s entirely possible, and will cost one dollar and cure cancer as well. Huzzah!

  • don says:

    I can flick back through a book looking for a passage I read and need to check again, and normally I will know if it’s on the right or left-hand page, at about what height, and if it’s just one word I’m looking for I’ll know how far along the line it is. I didn’t memorise this consciously, but when I need it my brain will tell me where to find it. I don’t need no steenking digital search tool.

    I can keep a book open in several places at once by sticking in my fingers, so as to crosscheck some reference. Flipping from one page to another is _very_ much faster than any digital bookmark.

    A book never runs out of batteries when you’re on the bus, far from a plug.

    I love gadgets. Hell, the year 2000 was the future when I was growing up, laser guns and flying machines and all that. Of course I love gadgets. I read books on my PDA. I read books on my laptop. I read thousands and thousands of words every day on the Internet. But nothing beats a book.

  • jsomers says:

    Don,

    Sadly my brain is almost the opposite: All I tend to retain from books are big concepts and vague shadowy ideas of the words. When I need to find something in a book I read, oh, five years ago, I pretty much have to pick a spot at random and read for ten minutes until I get the vague idea I’m in the wrong place. Repeat until miraculous success.

    Even so, I like the process: If I could keyword search every book, I’d never get sucked into an old one against my will, and that’s actually a pleasant experience.

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