My husband and I make an antiquated couple. We take years to adopt new technology. While friends are trading news on droids, we taxi in, like GE aliens landing in the midst of a 4G subculture. Then we whip out a phone like the Samsung SCH-A690 (which, by the way, one can sell for $3 out on the internet) and unabashedly talk into it while our nextgen friends and family cackle like demons around us. We are a downgraded version of homo sapiens in this fast upgrading Silicon Valley culture.
That’s why I didn’t believe it was at all possible for me to adapt to new ways of reading. When a friend who works at Amazon tried to lure me into reading on a Kindle, I demurred. “Sorry, dear,” I said. “Give me a musty, dusty book any day. A book has to smell like a book. Reading is a tactile activity, you know.” But this friend who likes to pressure people into thinking like her, stopped by and dropped off a sleek Kindle outside my door one afternoon more than a year ago. I put away the book machine into the drawer our family reserves for printer cables, floppy drives and Intuit's Quicken (deluxe version circa 1998).
Last month, out of duress, I fished out the Amazon Kindle. Our book club was planning to read Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone in January 2011 and I discovered that I was seventy-fourth on the waitlist at my local library. Given that some members of my book club finished books between conquering the Everest, petting lions down in the Ngorongoro crater and melting the last chunks of ice on the Antartica, I knew that if I couldn’t sail to the ends of the world, I needed, at a minimum, to demonstrate my mettle by reading the month’s selection.
So I registered my Kindle, punched in my credit card number and entered a black and gray bookstore. Its façade was intimidating at first but it became friendly within seconds. The New Oxford American Dictionary was at my fingertips, I noticed. I was annoyed that I could not find the Roget Thesaurus but I figured I must not stoke the embers of irritation even before my Kindle fired up.
I liked one thing right away about my electronic book. This thin, insipid thing, this flat clinical tablet, never once taunted me about my age. I didn’t have to look around my desk for my reading glasses. A text size button on the Kindle allowed me the flexibility to change the font size of my book to a comfortable size without telling me, like the average bookstore or the library, to go, IN VERY UPPER CASE, TO THE LARGE PRINT BOOK SECTION FOR PEOPLE ON THE MORTIFYING EDGE OF AN AARP MEMBERSHIP.
Thus began my adventure on the Kindle. I liked its miniature offerings. For $3.99 I could download short stories from the Atlantic Monthly. I loved window shopping for books by trying a sample chapter for free. I got sucked into word games offered on the Kindle at zero cost. I discovered that on long trips I could continue to read. Assuming that text to speech was available for my book, my Kindle would read to me as I zipped down the highway. Even though my Kindle was not smart enough to know to not also read the question mark that appeared at the end of a sentence and almost always read with zero expression, I began to love how reading had entered in between the lines of my life in exciting ways. I read while I waited for my son outside school. I loved having the option of reading three books at the same time on a device I could drop into my purse. I didn’t have to worry about fallen bookmarks either; Kindle set them up for me. I began reading while working out without ever having to worry about the book falling while I tried to turn the page. I didn’t have to hold a plump book while working out. Instead, I let my Kindle rest on the little ledge by the exercise monitor and it just sat there and waited for me to click it as and when I wanted to turn the page.
I’ve discovered that there is, after all, one down side to my Kindle. When I was all charged up and in the middle of a sex scene with my Kindle, when I was panting away at the gym with this sex toy in front of me, the darn thing ran out of battery. A book never does fire you up and then die on you in quite the same way, does it?