Letters to the Editor

You and Your E-Readers

July 11, 2010

The following comments, from chronicle.com, are about the forum "Me and My E-Reader," in which seven academics wrote about their e-readers and the future of reading (The Chronicle Review, June 18).

 I'm tired of these "Do you like your e-reader?" features. Listen, it's not an either/or choice. My Kindle is great at what it's great at—letting me load up on books for trips without killing my aging back—and not so great at other things, but it has a niche in my life that I appreciate. Is it the end-all and be-all of books? No, but it has value.

Oh, and I'd point out that even for the fast reader who is a poor graduate student, a newly published hardback novel at around $24.95 is about as expensive as going to a movie in New York City, and the experience lasts longer!!!

Why are academics so Manichaean? Unless I can buy any kind of book I want on my Kindle, I don't want one? What kind of idiot talk is that?!


The statement that the Kindle is only for those who buy a book, read it once, and then discard it, is absolutely false. I have a large number of books stored in my Kindle with the notes and page marks I put in them, and I will keep them and be able to refer back to them. I have always kept my books, which is what makes the Kindle so nice. I have only so many bookshelves, and I want to save more books. The Kindle allows me to do that.


A couple of the forum participants hinted at, but none fully stated, the aspect of the e-reader experience that has rapidly turned my Kindle DX into one of the hubs of my reading universe: the ability to collect, collate, and read the flood of interesting and significant new articles from the Web in a hugely more friendly form than just sitting at my laptop.

I subscribe, for instance, to The Chronicle's e-mail updates, and those from The Atlantic and several other publications. I also have a gazillion Google Alerts set up for various topics of both personal and professional interest. Plus, I'm hit every day with a flood of links to interesting and worthy articles, op-eds, essays, etc., from the collective tweets of all the people I follow on Twitter. The magic formula for not only bringing this under control but also achieving bliss in doing so is: Kindle + Instapaper + Calibre.

I use Instapaper's "Read Later" function to fill an endless online reservoir of all the things I want to read but can't get to at the moment. Then I use Calibre—freely downloadable and the single must-have application for managing one's e-reader experience on any platform—to download these batches of items periodically and create a Kindle file from them. The net result is an ongoing personalized digest of material from the infinite and otherwise unmanageable flood of Internet information.

I've only bought five or six actual books for my Kindle in the 10 months that I've owned it. The above-described use is more than worth the admittedly inflated price I paid to get the DX with the full-size screen (which I wouldn't sacrifice for a second).


A lot of what some of the forum participants were complaining about (not being able to lend e-books and not being able to borrow them for free from the library) is because they, unfortunately, invested in a Kindle instead of a Nook. If you buy a Nook, you can borrow books for free from your local library via OverdriveOverDrive. It's fantastic. You can also lend a Barnes & Noble book to one friend for 14 days. If you buy a Sony reader, you can borrow books.

Kindle? Thhhbtttt. Nasty, greedy corporation stuff going on over at Amazon.


I'd like to point out that an iBook, e-book, Kindle file, whatever you want to call it, has no character as an object, no concrete expression of the history behind it. For example, I recently bought a used copy of the Grove edition of Harold Pinter's "The Birthday Party" and "The Room." In addition to those two plays, the book contains photographs from the original London productions. The book was published within a few years of the original productions, thus, in its design and feel, we get a sense of the period during which these plays were produced.

Beyond the convenience and cleverness of the iPad design, it would be interesting to know how many of the components were manufactured in one of the "suicide" factories of China.

I would also like to know how you plan to dispose of the toxic physical contents of your current iPad, once it dies or a better one comes along.

Oh, I know, what a killjoy. I found this article nauseating in its fetishism.


Technology of this sort is a tool, not a fetish. Telephones did not replace face-to-face conversation, and although smart telegraph messages may have been a forerunner to microfiction, they changed the speed, not the meaning, of information. E-readers do not replace literal page-turning. E-books cannot trace decades of marginalia or allow a writer to inscribe her work. Text messages will never replace real love notes. Neither Apple nor any other manufacturer expects or wants that.

But information at one's fingertips (literally) does make a person smarter and less likely to simply assume information into being or form unreliable opinions. Immediately available information allows us to communicate not only faster, but also more knowledgeably. In short, devices of this kind bring the uninformed up short and have a kind of democratizing effect on decision-makers.

We worship speed and efficiency—that part of American culture has been with us since the Puritans. Gadgets such as smartphones and tablets are peculiarly American, and like our political experiments, they level playing fields here and there, when anyone sitting in a corporate meeting can check the data and find balancing points of view.

In the wake of the rise of word processors, we have seen a resurgence in the sales of fountain pens and paper; even though we meet our friends on Facebook more often than we do for dinner, etiquette classes are on the upswing. We seem to know intuitively what technology (the fountain pen is a kind of technology, too) can and cannot do. Social networks will not replace town or university libraries, where patrons are busy researching, reading, and writing as a community, even if they are finding information online rather than in card catalogs.

Which brings me to this response to the previous commenter: Stop and think of the paper and ink that are not tossed into landfills, thanks to iPads and other smart tablets. Consider the gas that is not burned on your way across town—or across the state—to get to information you could retrieve right in your office or home. The device itself is a drop in the environmental bucket compared with the endangered resources it protects.