Reader reactions: Anonymous Kindling, Carol Rauch, Moylan Mills, Ballyhoo and a bit more

Opinion December 1, 2010 0 Comments

by HUGH GILMORE
My recent four-part series on Kindles elicited more reactions than any topic I’ve written about in this “Enemies of Reading” column. Apparently many people are standing with their noses pressed against that window, wondering if they should go in and buy one.

One gentleman, who wishes to remain anonymous, wrote to say, “Actually, both my daughter (14) and my father (87) have Kindles. She taught him how to use his.”

With dad’s permission I wrote the young lady, who consented to answer some of my questions. She told me she received the Kindle as a birthday present and has been using it happily for a year-and-a-half now. I asked her how she uses it.

“Mainly I use it for my own reading, but I sometimes use it for school reading because I can highlight sections of text and add notes right in the book, which is helpful. I also use the dictionary on it, and occasionally check my e-mail on it.” ­

I asked her if it affected her reading habits, and she said, “I honestly think that I read more with the Kindle. I really like how convenient it is because I can go on my Kindle to the Kindle Store, and have a new book in less than a minute, as opposed to having to drive to a bookstore when I can find the time. The Kindle Store recommends books for you based on the ones you’ve already bought, so I now tend to read more from one author that I’m liking or on one subject matter. I do think I spend more time reading on it because it’s so easy to travel with, and take with me anywhere.”

And does she have anything to say about the Big Question: How does Kindle reading compare with holding an actual book in your hand?

“At first I thought it was kind of odd, but now I’m used to it and like it better. I don’t have to worry about losing my page, and I can navigate through the book more easily. I also like that you can look up words, highlight sections and add your own notes while reading.”

Does this mark the death of the printed book? “No,” she said, “A lot of people think that when you get a Kindle you’re suddenly boycotting all print books, but I do still buy print copies of books fairly often, and I still like to do that.”

As for my correspondent’s 87-year-old father, “My father, who lives in Newtown Square, likes it because it is light, and the font is adjustable. Instead of packing 20 pounds of books for a trip, he can load them on the Kindle and also get the Inquirer and WSJ wherever he is.”

I also received a nice e-mail from Carol Rauch of Chestnut Hill, offering to lend me her Kindle. Carol is the author and illustrator of “The Artful Bouvier,” a charmingly witty book about Bouviers (the dogs, not the Jackie O family) that would make a great holiday gift. (Google the title and you’ll find out how to order the book.) Carol wrote, “I’m 65. I love real books more, but I love my Kindle for many many reasons.”

For example? “About 80 percent of my reading is on the Kindle. I find it very convenient and love it for travel. If I’m in the middle of a book I am not crazy about, I can easily “pick up another.” I love the ease of ordering a new book, especially when I can go to my computer and shop around and read reviews and then buy with one click. The only time I am frustrated by the Kindle is when I read a book for discussion in our book group, because I can’t thumb back to a page or a paragraph. Even though I can mark those on the Kindle, the access to them is not really compatible with live discussion. I’ve heard others say the same thing.”

In the meantime, at my wife’s French reading group meeting recently, at Thanksgiving dinner, and at a planning meeting of the Chestnut Hill Book Festival, all the old familiar concerns arose: Kindles et.al. look different, sound different, feel different, even smell and taste different (to us page-corner nibblers) than books.

To which the only reasonable answer is: So what? If you acquire one and like it, these objections will seem silly.

Ah, but there is one more question. It came up the other night when I ran into Professor Moylan Mills during intermission at Stagecrafters excellent new production of “Last Night at the Ballyhoo” this weekend.

(Don’t miss it! Playing the next two weekends, right here in Chestnut Hill. A great evening’s entertainment. Thoughtful and funny.)

Dr. Mills is on my intellectual All Star team. He’s Professor Emeritus of what I call “Just About Everything I Like” (literature/art/film/th- eater/music/opera) at Penn State, Abington. He told me he read my Kindle series and said he’s ready to buy an electronic reading device. But which kind, he wondered? Amazon has the Kindle. Apple offers the iPad. Barnes and Noble The Nook. Borders has The Kobo. There are also a few generic gadgets being marketed.

I confessed that I’m buying a Kindle because my mind is boggled. I spent three years comparison-shopping before impulsively buying a flat-screen television. And I was almost the last person I know to buy a cell phone. This time I’m assuming that no matter what I buy, some other gadget will have a better feature, but will, in turn, lack something my new toy has. And within two years, all of this year’s models will be outmoded.

I’m getting on the train right here and now and going ‘round the learning curve.

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