You know the old adage; what starts out as absolute loathing for someone or something turns into true love and happy-ever-after, a match made in heaven. It’s often the case that something you think you hate the very idea of becomes the love of your life. I’m tempted to say “you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover” but that’s a little too ironic as a cover is the one (and only) thing the Kindle lacks.
In truth, I was the last person who expected to invest in a Kindle because, just as I keep hearing people declare in chorus, every time I suggest the Kindle to them, “I love books far too much”; not just the content but the look of them, their smell, the feel of the pages, I can invest an awful lot of emotion into my relationship with a favourite book. As I’ve mentioned before, I can still recall the smell of some of my childhood treasures to the extent that the slightest whiff of something similar can send me into nostalgic overdrive. It’s no surprise I’m a longstanding member of The Folio Society; they are testament to the fact that a book can be a thing of absolute beauty, an object of high-craftsmanship, beautifully illustrated and bedecked in leather and fine paper, slipcase and all. Paperbacks (except those of my childhood), to be honest, have always held far less appeal to me and are more often a source of annoyance as they clutter up the shelves of the study “in case I ever want to reread them”, though I seldom do as anything of importance tends to get replaced in hardback for posterity.
On the other hand, I do love gizmos! Electronic devices fill my world and I adore them, I couldn’t be without my iPhone and, when I think about it, I initially had all the same reservations about “going digital” with my music collection as I now have with my books, wondering what on earth I would do without all those CDs that filled the room-high units that used to dominate the walls of my house; I mean honestly, how could I exist without all that album artwork to look at? Now, well, I’m glad to have regained all that wall-space and my most anal-characteristics have found a whole new home in the hours I can now spend organising my music into playlists and categories.
Digital photography had the same effect on me, at the start; I just couldn’t conceive of consigning all those images or, more exactly, all my memories to a hard drive rather than having the endless piles of printed “evidence” to thumb my way through yet with all the creative possibilities that digital photography has opened up to me, I would never look back.
I’m not sure what it was that finally got me to take my first peek at what all the fuss was about with the Kindle and I’m still surprised that I did, as I really hated the idea of digital books; the very thought made me prickle with defensive comments along the lines of it being tantamount to burning all the books. But our holiday was coming up and, I think, something my husband mentioned about the convenience of having all your reading matter in one portable device caught me at a weak moment and, well, one quick look at Amazon and the rest is history; I was tempted!
No, more than tempted. Within the space of an hour of browsing around the device description, the huge range of reading matter on offer, all the possibilities once you had your Kindle account up and running such as sharing books, the various subscriptions that were available and so on, I was officially hooked.
So what appealed so much it converted a die-hard paperback reader into a Kindleite? Well, I liked the idea that it wasn’t just another computer screen or phone pretending to be a computer screen; the Kindle, as far as is possible, tries very hard to look like a book, using “E Ink” which takes shape before your very eyes in the split second after you press the page forward button to form letters on the page out of so many dots of ink like iron-filings jumping to the command of a magnet. This is so much more easy on the eye and, frankly, pleasant to read than a computer screen and one of the highest accolades I can dole out is that Kindle’s designers have really succeeded in capturing the essence of the printed page. Also the page has no glare, it can be read in any lighting conditions with no bounce-back whatsoever; as someone who struggles with light-sensitivity, I have no difficulty reading the words on the “page”, wherever I happen to be, whereas even the white pages of a conventional paperback, in bright sunlight, can hurt my eyes at times.
There may be no cover as such but my own beloved Kindle sits within a swanky “pea green” leather cover with an integral light which is powered by the Kindle itself, for reading in low lighting conditions or in the pitch dark on the occasional night – we all have them – when I can’t sleep and don’t want to disturb my husband and what a boon that is as it means no more nights of tossing and turning, wishing I could just read myself back into a slumber.
I love the wireless link-up with Amazon, from whom I almost always order my books anyway, and the fact that the layout of the shop on the Kindle is so familiar, with all the usual reviews and ratings only, now, my purchased book is with me in seconds, which is quite phenomenal. Even better, it’s possible to download samples before you commit and these are no one-page wonders or the equivalent to a quick furtive flick-through of the opening pages whilst standing in WH Smiths – oh no, these are pages and pages, often chapters, from the beginning of the book and more than enough to work out whether you really want to go ahead and commit yourself. Just the other day, I started to read The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas from its free sample, which enabled me to read 5% of the total book; more than enough to decide that I was totally hooked and wanted to read more. Conversely, I recently read a Kindle sample from a book that I was seriously considering buying but which, by the end of a dozen or so pages, had irritated me significantly enough to scrap the whole idea and so I was saved from another expensive mistake resulting in yet another un-read paperback taking up room in my study.
Which ultimately, I have to say, has to be one of the biggest plus-points of the Kindle as I can finally rid myself of the endless stacks of paperbacks that traditionally weigh down my study-space and, what’s more, avoid those same shelves from ever building up to bursting point ever again. I delivered well on the way to a hundred of them to a local charity for their second-hand book sale just last weekend which was most satisfying, I can tell you! Losing the paperbacks out of my life, at the end of the day, is no great loss as I seldom re-read them (even if I always think I will) and they become tatty and coffee stained, take up room and make me feel guilty when I put them out for recycling, having cost a tree or two between them and yet – honestly – who really wants to read second-hand paperbacks these days? Well OK, maybe someone does hence the second-hand book sale but I no longer have the guilt-trip that comes with adding to the mountains of largely unwanted paper in the world. Books that I really love, the classics and the handful of stories that have really made a dent on my life are – after all – the ones that I purchase as hardbacks and keep on proud display in my sitting room, the ever growing collection of Folio editions that I’ve already mentioned along with coffee-table browsers and art books that I have scattered around the place. The paperbacks that pass through my world like ships in the night are entirely dispensable.
When bought as Kindle editions I can keep my books forever, without using up any physical space and with none of the risk of coffee stains or corners becoming turned down, pages yellowing and dropping out, dust gathering. When they threaten to overload my Kindle, I can start to archive them in my Kindle account which is the remote storage that comes with your Kindle account, hosted by Amazon. I can even lend books out to friends from my archive by simply sending them on to their Kindle email address and, this way, I will keep permanent track of who has borrowed what (because haven’t we all passed on a beloved book to a friend, at some point, only to lose it forever) and don’t have to worry that the book will be returned in a worse state than it was sent out in!
There are loads of really clever things you can do with your Kindle that I have hardly begun to explore; writing footnotes, sharing your thoughts with other readers and reading theirs, linking all of this to your blog or your Twitter account and so on. I have, however, started to highlight huge sections of some of the non-fiction that I’m reading so that I can easily find the information I need at the end. Then, of course, you can search the entire book quickly and easily for whatever you are looking for, jump to a certain page, obtain a dictionary definition of a word or phrase, or take it further, to Wikipedia for instance, if you want to. The potential is there to feel like you are part of a massive reading community, a sort of world reading club, if that is what appeals to you.
Getting back to what the Kindle has done for me – and this is the most unexpected outcome, quite the opposite to what I expected from it – it has reignited my passion for reading, it has literally done what it says on the tin, it has (re)“kindled” my love of reading. I feel once again as I did as a child and young adult, when I loved to read with an absolute passion, when I spent hard-earned pocket-money on feeding my constant quest for reading material, when I always had my nose in a book, would finish them almost more quickly than I could replenish them and would feel so caught up, so excited by the outcome of a novel that I would often read all night or wake at dawn, during school holidays, to get my nose back in my book. Why? Hard to pin down really but something about having an entire reading collection contained within one small, lightweight, portable device that is ready and waiting for me to switch it on has taken me back to that place. Something about not knowing “what comes next” in the story until I press the forward button, no overt temptation being there to flick through the pages or jump ahead of myself, or even read a synopsis on the back cover, fills me with more eager-anticipation when I read than I have felt for a long time; then as soon as one book is finished, another is waiting in the wings or ready to be chosen without even putting the device down. These factors and something I can’t quite put my finger on (perhaps nothing more complex than the thrill of playing with a new toy) have fired me up again with the reading pleasure of a child. I also love the lightweight yet tactile feel of the Kindle, it feels good to hold and there’s no wrist-strain or drooping arm as you lie in bed, which encourages more reading lying down than I’ve done for a while.
I have made mine more colourful and more personal in a lovely GelaSkin (which are offered in a huge array of designs or you can order a custom one using your own uploaded image) and so it nestles in its pea-green cover looking every bit as appealing as any book. Something of the fizz of anticipation that I had as a child-reader seems to have come back into my world as I open the now familiar cover of my Kindle and flick the switch; it’s hard to pin-point why but perhaps the fact that this one familiar cover is now synonymous with so many hours of reading pleasure has turned it into the equivalent of a beloved favourite book, an old friend, as hardback books of old (or any book from your childhood) often used to become, a degree of attachment that modern paperbacks fail to inspire. There is certainly an element of feeling you are opening a magical box, a treasure trove, as the contents of your Kindle belie its size and the options are (not quite infinite yet but…) extensive since the array of Kindle books available from Amazon is quite astounding and growing every day. With so much choice, across a huge range of genres, you can summon up pretty much whatever it is that you want to read and it is there on your screen in seconds – if that isn’t “magic” I don’t know what is and I know my much younger self would have been in seventh heaven if she’d had a Kindle at her disposal.
Already, I have an enviable collection of reading matter stored away in my index, helped along by the fact that many of the classics are available either free of charge or for a nominal price, for instance 99p for the entire works of Dickens! As a result, I have packed mine out with loads of DH Lawrence and certain must-haves such as Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights and all this on top of a very healthy array of newer material and samples waiting to be read. It already contains sufficient material, in fact, to fill an entire suitcase yet all neatly stored in this marvellous device with a screen measuring just 6’’ and weighing just 241 grams, considerably less than most paperbacks.
And that was another huge benefit of the Kindle, as we discovered on our recent trip to Tuscany; both Jeremy and I had one by then (well, there was no question of sharing!) and between us we were able to avoid carrying about 8 books in our suitcases, including travel guides (which I also took in Kindle-format), thus considerably reducing the risk of the weight surcharges that have plagued us on other trips. The other HUGE plus was the ability to slip the Kindle quickly and efficiently out of the hand luggage and find my page each and every time we hopped on a shuttle or were forced to queue for anything at the airport so that I managed to pick my book up for quick bursts of reading many times on our journey, making the often stressful or, at best, tedious process of doing this late at night when you just want to get home far more tolerable than usual. Then, the ability to continue reading on our flight, by the light of my Kindle cover, without disturbing anyone next to me and in the car all the way home from the airport meant we were home in a blink. My most recent train journey from Paddington at rush hour when, for once, I had a seat was, again, vastly improved by having it with me (oh, and I’ve added a London A-Z onto my Kindle so that makes travelling lighter) but I also know that next time I’m forced to stand all the way home, wedged into the aisle or leaning against the door of the loo, my Kindle will prove light enough for me to hold and page-turn with one hand whilst I support myself precariously with the other.
Of course, if I do ever forget to take it with me, the other plus is that I have the Kindle app on my iPhone and as long as both devices are synced, it will pick up the book I am reading, at the exact page I have read to, so that I can continue on that – meaning that, from now on, there’s no such thing as finding myself stranded in the car outside school or in the dentist’s waiting room without my book. Something as simple as that can literally transform your world!
As if all of this wasn’t enough, I have the daily newspaper of my choice delivered and subscribe to journals and a blog or two via my Kindle. The very fact that you, I, anyone can consider writing for Kindle publication, as a blog, as novel or whatever, has torn the whole realm of writing and publication wide-open and made it into the truly democratic instrument of expression that it should really be rather than the exclusive domain of publishing houses, forever subject to the cogs of the best-seller marketing machinery. As with so much else that is going on in the various domains of self-expression, from art to music to communication between far-flung individuals the world over through internet-speak, this feels as though it is part of a much larger revolution that is taking place at this moment in time, an opening up of all things and levelling of them to just the right height so that inclusiveness is possible and the extraordinary can be reaped without over-didactic interference by those whose only concern is to seek out what is most commercial.
What is happening through Kindle has all the hallmarks of a renaissance in the world of reading and writing and, as such, I embrace it wholeheartedly. As my son comes home talking about the imminent Kindleisation of his school library and as I see more and more people raise a knowing (and slightly smug) eyebrow at each other over their Kindle on the plane or by the side of the swimming pool, I can’t help feeling this is a particularly exciting band-wagon to be on. The fact Kindle has the ability to re-kindle a passion for reading, even in those who, like me, have read and read for years and assumed the slightly tarnished edge that reading had gained was all to do with age, can be no bad thing at the end of the day. We must do whatever it takes to get people reading again and especially young people who tend to read all too little these days, we are told. As our children are all so taken-up with using small screens as a portal to the world of their imagination then using such a screen as a reading device has to be the way forward as far as their generation is concerned. Having seen mine in action, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a Kindle was on at least one of the kids’ Christmas lists this year. For my own part, I have read considerably more in the few short weeks since I purchased mine than in the six preceding months, and that has GOT to be a good thing!