Nicholson Baker, author of The Mezzanine, Vox, Checkpoint, many other novels, and works of nonfiction, too -- Double Fold, U and I, and the mind-blowing Human Smoke, among them -- writes about the failures of the Kindle in this week's New Yorker.
Though JR has met the guy I have not; I have admired him from afar for many, many years, and sent him money when he started The American Newspaper Repository; at that point, he became my total hero! Some of the most pleasant moments of my life have been spent in library stacks, reading old magazines and newspapers, and I think it's necessary to preserve the actual paper and ink of these old publications -- even if it's only one copy in a warehouse somewhere.
So... forgive me for expecting something a little more, I dunno, LUDDITE when I picked up The New Yorker! The faults Baker finds with the Kindle are technical: not white enough, bright enough, slow page turning. Yeah, whatever. How about this: Hey, Kindle, YOU SUCK BIG TIME!
Yeah, that's right. You, your very essence, sucks. You know what you are? You are strawberry Qwik: a gross adulteration of a perfectly good beverage. Or maybe you're a wine cooler. Americans have all bought laptops, iPods, Cuisinarts, cars with GPS, chocolate fountains, shoes with WiFI, so now what? Sheesh, how about an ebook reader? Oprah has one; better get on the wagon!
Books are perfect; like wine, any "improvement" is actually a step backwards. They look good, they smell good, they feel good in your hands, they are part of the physical world. The Kindle apparently uses the same font for every book, and there are no page numbers. Dumb!
Oh, but they're so convenient. I can just sit on the beach now and wish I had a copy of, hm, Wuthering Heights, and there it is, magically spirited to my Kindle! How cool is that? Not anywhere near as cool as getting on my bike, riding down to the local Book Exchange and Ice Cream Parlor, getting waylaid by the books in the local section, finding a pile of books about shipwrecks and hauntings, and reading them while eating a black cherry cone.
Sometimes I feel like people are afraid to criticize technology, as if the robots will track us down and kill us if we do. Or maybe we'll suddenly become impossibly old and uncool, like those freaky people in their cat-filled apartments clinging to their vinyl records. But just because it's technology, just because it's the future, doesn't mean it's good.
Books are good.