J Bov Explodes Rhetorically

I’m Not Reading Any Books Right Now: A View of E-Readers

(Also available on my Tumblr.)

I’m one of those lucky people who owns a Kindle.

It was a Christmas gift, which I tell you only to impress you by continuing ‘I’ve only had to charge it once since I received it.’ Stand-by battery life is just shy of a month and a half, which impressed me at least.

Anyway, I’ve given it a fair amount of use over these two months; downloaded a number of ‘books’, checked out the note-writing system and all that jazz. It’s a beautifully designed device and system, very intuitive. One qualm I have is the page-turning buttons on the sides. Both sides of the device are adorned with a large ‘>’ marked button beneath a smaller ‘<‘ marked one. At first I found myself hitting the right hand ‘>’ (or ‘next page’) button to turn, predictably, forward in the book and the left hand ‘>’ in an attempt to flip back a page, which led to some small confusion. It’s a small annoyance, and I adjusted quickly enough. In fact the dual-sided controls are proving to be a wonderful idea as I find myself doing other things while reading.

The screen is excellent. It’s virtually glare-free, so reading in bright sunlight isn’t the rage inducing shit-fest that a phone or tablet screen would tend to be (without accoutrements, anyway).
This is because of the ‘E-Ink’ system, which uses microcapsules of negatively-charged black pigment and positively-charged white pigment which can be arranged an re-arranged according to the whims of two electrode layers above and below.

Here’s a picture that I stole from Wikipedia of the microcapsules in question.

Research tells me a colour version has been available since 2010 that is capable of displaying 4096 colours alongside 16 shades of grey. That’s a real headfuck when you think about the science behind it.

Enough of the technical details, though, let’s talk about the experience:

Reading the Kindle is not unlike reading a ‘book’. Presumably that’s what the creators were going for. The display looks like paper for the most part, which gives you a little jolt when you spot a blinking cursor moving about on it because a part of your mind screams “BUT PAPER IS A STATIC OBJECT! GOD HELP US ALL!” for a split second.

The most striking thing I’ve noticed, though, is right up at the top in the title; I’m not reading any ‘books’ right now.

I of course mean that in the literal sense, I’m a voracious reader and tend to have at least three ‘books’ on the go simultaneously, which I do right now except all of them are virtual.

There was no change-over anxiety, there was no jarring sense of loss (or gain), there wasn’t even any recognition of the fact until just before I started writing this. I simply hadn’t noticed that I wasn’t using physical ‘books’ any more.
That’s not to say I won’t from now on; I love ‘books’. I love the way they feel, look, sound and smell. ‘Books’ appeal to me both aesthetically and in terms of their content, like I’m some sort of lovelorn fool besotted with some intelligent, beautiful, perfect woman.

All I’m saying is her, referring to physical ‘books’ as a singular feminine entity for the purposes of this metaphor (keep up), younger and sleeker sister, meaning virtual ‘books’ on an e-reader like the Kindle (Still with me?), is equally attractive. Or is that ‘are equally attractive’? I’ve ruined my own metaphor there.

It’s very helpful to a style of reader like myself who when travelling would normally pack a couple of oft chunky, frequently fairly weighty ‘books’ into a bag to the detriment of other, possibly more important, items. Like food, bug-spray or an anti-wild-animal knife. Having the ability to dip into roughly 1000 ‘books’ (according to the marketing spiel) on a device no larger than a couple of take-away menus stacked together is a life-saver. Not having to remember page numbers or find lost bookmarks is good too; when you close (leave? quit?) a ‘book’ on the Kindle it helpfully remembers exactly what page you were on, for every single ‘book’.

By the way, I’m putting ‘book’ in inverted commas because this whole experience has rocked the paradigm and now I’m unsure what to call either of these items. If a physical object with paper pages and printed ink is a ‘book’, then the virtual, ones-and-zeros, differentially-charged microcapsules type almost needs to be something else. The trouble with that is I find the term ‘e-book’ slightly demeaning. It’s the same content, compared side-by-side, and ‘e-book’ reminds me of some terribly formatted, childishly written guide to making bombs from bleach and tinfoil.
So basically they are both ‘books’ until I can adjust my brain into thinking of them both as just books.

Apropos of all this, here’s my view:

I felt strangely about e-readers when they first made an appearance on the market, because my love of physical ‘books’ set me at odds with the idea that one could transition without some gargantuan effort. I felt like switching would have a huge impact on a part of my life that I love dearly.

It has not.

If anything it has merely extended the ways in which I enjoy the written word, which is really all ‘books’ are for anyway, despite all my posturing and declarations of love for the objects themselves the content is what drives anyone’s love of reading.

So this isn’t the end of physical ‘books’ as far as I can see, not for some long time at least, but it isn’t a failed experimental attempt at sci-fi futurism either. It’s a system that works, and it works really bloody well.

It’s not a replacement, it’s an augmentation.

Plus, I just really like it.

I love ‘books’. Doesn’t matter how I read them.