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I learnt a new word today: Kindle.
Kindle /'kIn-dəl/ (n)
The device upon which e-books and other digital media may be viewed. Weighs about the same as a light paper back and can (without additional storage devices like SD cards) store about 200 non-illustrated titles.
I heard about this on The Strand, the weekend edition of the BBC's global arts and entertainment programme, last week. Immediately I was driven to wikipedia to find out what on earth this thing was all about and see for myself the very thing that was apparently threatening to wipe out my beloved paperbacked friends and the havens that shelve them. I found this article - apparently the Kindle and other devices like it such as the Sony Reader are the "iPod moment" for the publishing industry according to Miguel, an assistant in a London bookstore being interviewed for The Strand. He said that he thought this was "the future of literature" as books were clearly not sustainable due to the amount of paper they require and how many trees have to be cut down to meet this demand. And yes, I admit, thats a very large amount of paper, sure. But what about the negative environmental impact of manufacturing this device? What about when it breaks or is no longer useful - everything mechanical has a limited shelf-life and I'm pretty sure it won't be so easily passed on or recycled as an old book.
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It got me seriously thinking though. Would I ever consider buying one of these things? At their current price (around US$250) it's a definite "Are you kidding?!" from me, but let's imagine for a moment that money is no object.... Nope, I still wouldn't want one unless there was a really good practical reason for it like I was about to be marooned on a desert island where I could not take any books (but there was, handily, a power source) and I had no other human contact for a month. I mean, it's not like I'm a technophobe. I have a much loved iPod and regularly purchase music from their iTunes store. I've even downloaded a couple of audiobooks onto my iPod but I never seem to finish them - it's just not the same as reading the book proper.
Reading a book is an experience. It's not just about the plot or the characters. It's a journey that starts with choosing a book at your local library or bookstore - two places I absolutely adore. Going into a library or bookstore is like coming home. You can smell the books, see the covers and run your fingers over shelves of untold reading delight that awaits you. Walking around a bookstore you discover things - a cover catches your eye or you see a "Our Recommendations" tag and hey presto, you pick up a book and you're pulled into a world you would never have known else. The journey continues when you get home and your new book makes it's way onto the bookshelf, nestling alongside all of the other books (if you're like me) you've acquired over the last however many years. Well worn favourites live alongside those you have still yet to read on the ever-burgeoning "Gotta read that!" list.
Then, of course, is the experience of reading. Nothing can quite beat the feeling of settling down in your favoured reading location with your new acquisition or a battered copy of a book you've read a million times but always get something new out of. Nothing can beat the smell or feel of the pages as you open the cover. Nothing can beat the hot cup of tea by your side as you plunge into a new world or revisit a well-trodden road, which more often or not I look up at an hour later to find cold and untouched - the hallmark of a good book. You see - it really isn't about the story. And I think those that claim that soon enough books will be outdated and merely a relic of a past time are wildly underestimating the strength or extent of the love affair between that exists between bookworms and our beloved books.
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The Kindle and the Sony Reader and other inventions like it are all well and good but will never ever truly replace the book. At least not as long as I'm alive.