Bell Book and Kindle Act II

LAST JANUARY, in this column, I ruminated on the nature of and effect the Kindle may have on the printed book. On foot of the varied reaction to the article, I decided it was something that deserved further investigation and to this end, let my nearest and dearest know that a Kindle would be a most welcome birthday gift.

Their unspoken bemusement at this request was somewhat justified when, after they had generously acquiesced to it, and after the initial flurry of interest, the Kindle was left aside seemingly forgotten on the shelf. However after a number of months, a sense of curiosity, mingled with some guilt, led me to open the contraption.

My first impression was a total sense of bewilderment. How did I translate the oblique morass that faced me into a readable text? As always when confronted with these technical conundrums, my family and colleagues at work enlightened me.

Gradually I worked my way into the area where I could select books and so embarked on the acid test of reading one from start to finish and thus enjoying (or not ) at first hand the full Kindle reading experience.

Due to a personal reading challenge, the first book selected for this august occasion was Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, a strange enough choice but guided by the fact that its narrative voice was strong and the plot straightforward. With some trepidation the first page was opened, or rather clicked upon.

The experience was fascinating. The Kindle is light and easy to carry in the back pocket. If you travel frequently, it is handy. Read it in a pub and you are most definitely going to draw comment. It’s a bit like thinking you are the only one with a rare disease and discovering every mother’s son/daughter either has it or knows somebody who does. Initially the comment is “God! You are not reading from one of those yokes are you?” graduating to “The kids brought one for me but it is still in the box” to “The sister has one and finds it wonderful to have travelling or on holidays” to “I’m thinking I might take mine next trip, it’s so much lighter than books.”

There are two essential differences between a Kindle and a book: you don’t turn pages, you flick on to the next tablet and you don’t have so many pages to read to the end, you have a percentage of text to go through. This latter element actually makes you read quicker and you find yourself flicking on through the images at a fierce rate almost as if you are in a race.

Relieved that the first experiment was completed, the Kindle found its way back on to the shelf, where it remained until the advent of an upcoming holiday prompted me to one more experiment. A few more books from the reading challenge were uploaded and away we went. Being somewhat fearful, a number of light paperbacks were also packed just in case.

The experience reaffirmed the fact that the Kindle is a godsend for the frequent traveller. It is also a godsend for the person who needs to read a text or book for professional reasons or just to have it under the belt.

However, it does not encourage the enjoyment of the text or the language and no matter what book you are reading the tablet you read from has a monotonous sameness about it that stultifies any magic or music the prose may have. You end up reading by rote.

Although managing to work my way through three or four books on the Kindle (mainly read while travelling ) during the holiday, I read more of the printed word and when, on the bus from the airport to Galway, I mange to work my way to the end of Uncle Tom’s Cabin at page 100 per cent, it was with a sense of refreshing relief that I opened a battered green covered paperback edition of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye.

You still can’t beat the real thing!


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