Your affair with the Kindle begins innocently, the way many affairs do: you wonder why so many of your friends dislike it so much, why they treat it like it’s a handsome guy who can’t stop glancing at them lasciviously and appraising their interest and availability. Your friends tell you — “he’s interesting, but he’ll never be as good as what I have at home.” You feel sorry for this stranger, and think it needs a friend. You.
You edge a little closer. You do the equivalent of a coffee date. You buy one. It’s dirt cheap, and you feel a little dirty asking it out. $139. How can you resist finding out what’s under that rock-hard exterior?
Little by little, you get to know it. Okay. Lie. You gulp it down when it shows up at your door looking handsome in its gift box. Turns out you’re an electronics slut. If it plugs in and moves, you’re all over it.
You find out it’s way better than the paper you have at home. It’s always ready to go when you are. You can have some while you’re waiting for the orthodontist to tell you your kid’s teeth are going to make it impossible to ever go to London again. No more theater for you. You seek consolation in it. You discover Shakespeare’s Collected Works are free. That makes you feel a little better about the ortho. Dickens is free. Joyce, Gaskell, Hardy, Austen, Trollope, George Eliot, early Virginia Woolf, Twain, the Brontes — all free. Alice in Wonderland, the Moonstone, the Woman in White, Vanity Fair. Yeats! (You can look up An Irish Airman when someone mentions it on NPR.) * OMG. It can give you anything and everything. Soon, you carry all of Western literature in your purse. Free. Translations are not free. But by then you throw caution to the winds and load up on the Pevear and Volokhonsky translations of War and Peace and the Three Musketeers. You dabble in the hard-core that is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. But you only sample it, because you don’t know if you want to go down that kinky looking road. Although you can — with one click — if you change your mind.
You cheat on paper so many times and in so many places you lose track. You feel like you’re in your thirties again, reading books people are actually talking about, books that just came out: The Warmth of a Thousand Suns, the Imperfectionists, that new Cleopatra biography, the one of Montaigne. You read the Room, and Pictures of You, half of Freedom (because it is not as good as you’d hoped), Brooklyn, Keith Richards’ Life, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, half of The Finkler Question half of Cutting for Stone (there will be time for it later, and while it sits around waiting for your return, it does not wrinkle, the way the book would, the way Tinkers, just for example, which you bought pre-Kindle, read half of, set aside, and spilled tea on, would.) Your friend Thaisa Frank’s new, really wonderful book, Heidegger’s Glasses is FREE on Kindle for a very short time. (How could that be — you already own it in paper because it’s so beautiful, just like you own Antonya Nelson’s Bound in paper because you can’t bear not to have paper every once in a while.) But you get Heidegger’s Glasses for free too because you are greedy. You stop blogging because you are so enamored with it. Also, you do not have time to blog because you’ve also downloaded the Iliad, the Odyssey and the Autobiography of Mark Twain. You can’t write anymore. Good thing you sent your revised novel to your agent before the affair (BTA to you). All you want to do is be with your new toy.
You get a nice cover for it so it doesn’t look quite so hard and inhumane. So your friends will not edge away from it when they see you with it. The cover is orange and a thing of beauty. It makes you want the Kindle more.
You try to introduce your friends to it, thinking that if you love it, they will too. They don’t. They sigh and talk about their books, their loyalty to paper and ink, their feeling that the institution of the book is under attack from that thing in the orange cover you’re stroking in such a very weird way. They look away, embarrassed for you.
After a few months, you begin to realize that your new toy has its limitations. You never really know when you’re approaching the end of a great night with it — all of a sudden, the story ends. There’s no warning, no slowing down, no physical sign that the toy is getting smaller and you will soon be finished with it. You try not to think of wham bam thank you ma’am because that reminds you too much of your college years. But it is true and you can’t hide from the fact that the kindle does not have page numbers. It has percentages. You cannot get used to being 80% through with a book.
Your bank account is dwindling. The ease with which you can buy books — one click ordering on Amazon — is beginning to exhaust your funds. You find one month that you don’t have any money left to buy meat. Your family, which is decidedly not vegetarian, has to make do on pinto beans and brown rice. They are not happy. You begin to buy things you really won’t ever read, just for the thrill of buying them. Books about fashion. Presumed Innocent, which you think you should re-read because your second book (if you can ever get around to writing it) is about lawyers, and doesn’t Scott Turow know about them? But you forgot — you’ve already read it and you know you can do better. You buy a book set in the 16th century that is way more full of sex than you ever thought they had in the 16th century, or at least in the books you read in the 9th grade about that century. It also describes in a really icky graphic way how people were drawn and quartered. You begin to feel hollow eyed and worried about your standards. Others notice and express concern about how trashy you’re getting.
You tentatively go back to buying a book or two. You start with a hot new cookbook with great pictures. You can’t get the thrill of that on a Kindle! You tentatively try out Poetry. Slow, meditative, lovely, not-so-popular, poetry. The Kindle can’t do that either — the words don’t look so good on the screen. It will never be able to tell you the jokes that you get from Maira Kalman’s books, of which you now own two, with amazing, quirky, genius illustrations.
You discover that the Kindle is not very flexible. It doesn’t really like to flip back six pages and start again. Once it gets started, the do-over does not appeal to it.
Your friends decide you’re ripe for an intervention. They hide your Kindle’s power cord. Sure, it can last three months without a charge, but eventually it will wear out. And when it does, you discover that the book has been waiting for you all along, sure you’ll get over your infatuation. The book is sexier than it used to be. It doesn’t ever run out of power. It’s willing to go slow or fast depending on your mood. You begin to remember why you fell in love with it in the first place. It doesn’t bore you as much as it once did. And it makes an effort. Maybe it’s gotten a little lazy too. It gets better pages and nicer pictures and starts to look more attractive. When you find the Kindle’s power cord, you’re more careful about your assignations with it. You only turn it on once in a while. You’re more careful about what you do with it. And you stop bragging about it with your friends. You decide it will be your dirty little secret from now on, the one you keep for vacations and commuting only, when no one will find out and, if they do, well they will forgive you for wanting portability and ease. Because it turns out that there is room for both, that you can love two book forms at once, that they each have their place, and their role in your reading pleasure.
Turns out, Yeats looks way better on an actual paper page, with all the other poems right there, easily available. But here it is, e-version: *I know that I shall meet my fate Somewhere among the clouds above; Those that I fight I do not hate Those that I guard I do not love; My country is Kiltartan Cross, My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor, No likely end could bring them loss Or leave them happier than before. Nor law, nor duty bade me fight, Nor public man, nor cheering crowds, A lonely impulse of delight Drove to this tumult in the clouds; I balanced all, brought all to mind, The years to come seemed waste of breath, A waste of breath the years behind In balance with this life, this death.