Kindle-ing

My boyfriend just bought a Kindle.  And loves it.  It got us talking about the type of print media he’s going to read on there, and, if I ever venture into E-reader territory, the kind I would read.

He’s starting off by reading the free classics Amazon lets you download, and ephemeral media like newspapers.  These both make sense to me, though I worry promoting the “classics” for free also promotes a certain canon.  But hell, if it gets people to read them at all, that’s a start.  And there’s many a classic I have yet to read and would probably be more inclined to read if I could just download it and go.  But I’ll have to test his out to see if I can handle an experience where I can’t feel the pages under my fingertips.

As for the magazines and newspapers, I really think this is the future of their survival.  I get most of my news on the internet these days.  At my day job, I ordered Kindles for our reception areas two years ago, and found the subscriptions to the NYTimes and WSJournal and New Yorker much cheaper, plus we don’t have the physical newspapers to dispose of at the end of the day.  And the Kindle archives recent issues.

We also agreed that pulp and genre fiction could go the E-reader route (sorry, we’re snobs).  Imagine a used book sale where there aren’t tables full of of romance novels.  Heaven.  Even literary fiction to some extent.  I just bought and read Michael Cunningham’s new novel, and while I enjoyed it, it’s not something I’ll read again, so I now have this hardback book lying around and bookcases so crammed full of books, no place to put it.

Things to adjust to?  Having your Kindle tell you what percent of the book is done, rather than that pleasure of seeing that bookmark advance and the bulk of pages to-be-read shift to read.  Though maybe some of us might prefer a percentage.  To me, it just reminds me of my data-driven day job.  Also, how do you cite page numbers?  I guess you substitute with the “locations” (I wonder if this has been addressed or added to things like the MLA style guide?).

We also assigned textbooks to E-readers, though this is perhaps more a wish than any reality that will come our way soon. Michael’s a teacher, and I used to teach, so we know all about the textbook racket, the incessant new editions with minimal updates to content, wasting paper and ink, the exorbitant price to students or school districts.  We suspect it’s an entrenched business that will be very reluctant to adapt, but just imagine every student with an E-reader device, able to download textbooks for their classes at a reasonable price, with legitimate updates to content easy to release without having to redo an entire print run. Perhaps this is already happening out there on some scale.  I could do the research right now, just as I could research how to cite a Kindle, but it’s Sunday morning-going-into-afternoon, and I’m simply musing in bed.  =)  Oh, and think about how many fewer text books a student would have to lug around in a backpack.  Just one device to carry.

So what did we leave in print?  Well, I vouched for art books and art magazines (like Artforum and Art in America), partly because readers like the Kindle can’t handle color yet, so you’d only get black and white images.  And partly because they are just as much an art object to me as the works of art they depict.  I don’t know much about the iPad, but I do know Michael’s doesn’t like back-lit devices, which is why he went with the Kindle as it’s easier on the eyes.

We also both agree we can’t imagine reading a book of poetry on an E-reader, even though we often read poetry in online journals. This recent article about how the internet has helped literary magazines rebound in an online format, with little overhead and with a much wider audience, makes total sense to me. Especially if journals incorporate POD, that if you like the issue, you have the option to order a print copy.  Michael even has this cool idea about making your own anthologies by “liking” individual poems you read in journals, sending them to a POD site that compiles them, and then ordering a print copy of the poems you liked.  Don’t ask me how the royalties and whatnot would work there, but a handy tool for a teacher who may want to collect contemporary poems under one cover to use with students in the classroom.

But back to our reluctance to imagine a book of poetry on an E-reader.  I think it comes down to an aesthetic value we’re placing on the collection of poetry by a single author, a cherishing of the poetry volume as art object, as a crystallization of a single poet’s way of seeing that we want in physical, paper and ink form. And yet I’ve been following this other recent article about the difficulties of formatting poetry for E-readers, which while it makes me even more reluctant to imagine poetry with unconventional formatting making a successful leap, I also find myself wanting it figured out and available as an option.  I like Reb’s call for the Poetry Foundation to saddle up and help provide the resources to start converting poetry to e-format.  While it may not be the format in which I prefer to read poetry, I think it should be available to those that do.  And if the more traditional print literary journals are reluctant to have an online presence, or shift to a POD model, perhaps they’d be okay with a Kindle subscription, in which case poetry formatting would need to be figured out.

About Matthew

Line tamer.
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