On books, in print and on my Kindle

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Commenting on James Gleick’s New York Times piece on the future of book publishing, bibliophile and Kindle owner David Charbuck writes:

“Like Glieck, I am delighted Google is digitizing the world’s libraries, giving a second life to millions of titles doomed to acid based paper and the physical barriers of getting inside of the Widener Library at Harvard. On the other hand I envisioned myself retiring, a wealthy man, into a lavish library with a leather chair and a roaring fire, and no other responsibilities in my dotage than to read my collection while getting sipping expensive eau de vie and shuffling around in my smoking jacket, a snoring terrier at my feet. Instead I get a glowing panel casting, in the words of Tom Wolfe, a “tubercular blue glow.”

David has other keen observations on his conflicted views of his Kindle. I share his pain — and un-pain.

Traveling last week, I was able to haul along a shelf-full (in a metaphoric-virtual way) of books I’ve been wanting to read recently. And the $9.99 price of most books, even newly-published best-sellers, has broadened my reading choices for the year, as well. But I am discovering that after I spend a few days reading a wonderful book, I miss having a souvenir to remember it by.

So during my year with a Kindle, I’ve read some books I later purchased in print, including one over the weekend: Jon Meacham’s American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. In fact, Meacham’s book is the first I’ve ever purchased in three different formats. First, in a spoken-word format via Audible.com. Second, as a download to my Kindle. And third, as a hardback so it could sit on a shelf next to my collection of books by Robert Remini — there patiently waiting for me to one day retire and be re-read while I’m wearing a smoking jacket.

  • I have a couple of entreprenurial friends in their 50s, and both have been independently toiling for years at raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for a couple of the worst internet business ideas I’ve ever heard of. When I show them things that do what they are talking about way better, or code written by kids that does the exact same thing they paid developers tens of thousands of dollars to write, they project this equally funny arrogance couched in the research that has them driving toward a cliff. What’s more funny is watching their excitment about the internet like a decade old echo of decade old ideas.

    When I look at the Kindle, I hate to say it but I feel like I’m looking at some old man’s idea that’s a day late and a dollar short. Look at that thing! 1994 is screaming for it’s PDA protype back. If the product that goes on there is so proprietary that it can only be viewed on the Kindle, then it’s already dead. Why would I want to buy that monstrosity to read books? The last couple of books I looked at while doing family research were online through the google app you mention above. It’s text I can copy into emails, reports and anything I’m already doing on my computer. What the hell would I do with what I read on a Kindle? Light a match under it and transcribe the smoke signals?

    I’m sorry, Rex 🙁 I just saw that picture and lost my mind. Are these people serious? Do they seriously want me to consider buying a Kindle when my iPhone is that, a phone, a camera, and way more? Will they eventually want me to buy a television for each channel on cable? And seriously… did you buy this, or did someone give it to you?

  • First of all, why the hell does Brittney’s avatar show up with Christian’s comment? Extra-creepy! (And that’s from somebody who really likes them both.)

    And secondly, Jon Meacham is a total stud! I’m fired up that he’s now a part-time Sewanee resident like us.

    That is all.

  • @Christian, here’s some catch-up for you: Here’s my year-old review of the Kindle, in which I conclude, “Kindle 1.0 should be purchased only by individuals who have a taste for 1970s Yugoslovian design and who will buy just about any gadget that comes along.” And, when it comes to my “dream” e-Book reader, here’s what I wrote when the Kindle was first introduced — along with a photoshoped mock-up of what I think it should look like.

    @ceeelcee – I wish I could figure out that avatar issue. It’s weird.

  • Ok, I wanted to say something about buying things in different media and I’ll just ignore the rather hilarious Kindle-bashing above 🙂 Refer Christian here or here

    E-books are in their infancy, making up a tiny fraction of all book sales and arriving in an assortment of competing, conflicting formats. I, too, have some books on my Kindle that I also bought on paper to have and to hold, including Denis Johnson’s insanely great Vietnam novel Tree of Smoke and Doris Kearns Goodwins’ Team of Rivals. Even if there’s a bigger, depression-sized dot-com bust coming that kills Amazon, I’ll still be able to re-read these classics.

    But I think the way forward is coming into view. Once the Google book project matures, there shouldn’t be much difficulty with buying a printed-on-demand paper version, an e-book version or both for some sort of package discount in the same way that many new DVDs now include an iPod-viewable video file on the same disk. Amazon, in fact, already has a service (not part of the Kindle ecosystem) that lets you buy online, digital access to the text of trade reference-type books you’ve bought on paper, as the Teleread blog noted the other day. Amazon also now owns Audible, the leading audio book vendor, so maybe there will be some kind of packages offered in that space as well.

    Finally, before we write an obituary for the well-stocked home library, have any of you guys and gals tried shopping for used books lately, either on or off-line? There’s a flood, nay, a torrent of titles available and prices seem absurdly low. I bought some wonderful (and timely) 1970s best-selling financial fiction by Paul Erdman for 99 cents to a couple of bucks each. It’s not too late to start assembling that dream retiree library in the den. Whether my grandchildren will view that like a box of old eight-track tapes or not, I can’t say.