HOWARD MEGDAL: Behold: the Eric Carle app. http://myveryfirstapp.com/
MOLLY SCHOEMANN: I don’t want to dislike that, but I do.
HOWARD MEGDAL: I really, really don’t. This is the new playing field. I want Eric Carle on it. Lord knows how many things that will destroy young brains will be there, too.
MOLLY SCHOEMANN: You’re right. I just loved those paper books so much as a kid. It feels wrong to have them on screens. But we do need as much good stuff on there as we can get too, you’re completely right.
SARA WELSH: That is a really adorable app. It’d imagine its use may be best suited for when you need a little one to behave outside of the home.
NAVA BRAHE: Baby gets its first app, before its first tooth. I don’t have the time to explain what’s wrong with that.
HOWARD MEGDAL: And I share your love of the paper books- we have them here. A trip to the Eric Carle Museum for Mirabelle will soon follow. But for me, it is separating wishing for the world as it was, which seems to make sense, and keeping yourself or your children from the world as it now is, which is fine for an adult, but in many ways can deny your child a chance to not just compete economically, but more importantly, to experience the world fully.
To briefly expand on this: I think technology is presented so often as a binary, all-or-nothing choice. Throw away your books, the kindle is here. Watch TV and text all the time, or read literary fiction.
What to make of my experience reading Freedom, on the Kindle, and for extended stretches on my Kindle app for Android? I loved it. Had I been able, I’d have read it straight through in a single sitting. But did I lose the essential nutrients, reading it for 45 minutes on my phone in the car next to a sleeping baby while my wife bought a few things at the Supermarket? (Yes, I offered to go. I’m a feminist, not a jerk.)
LAURA ROBERTS: I agree, having just received a Kindle for my birthday (which is tomorrow). It’s a great way to read, but it’s certainly not the ONLY way. It’s got a lot of conveniences (being able to carry hundreds of books with you all in one package, instantly having books delivered to your Kindle, being able to read your own documents as well), and the technology they’ve got to make it look like you’re reading paper is pretty amazing. That being said, I’m not going to just burn all my books and order them on Kindle. For one thing, it’d be hella expensive. For another, oddly enough, many of the things I want to read AREN’T available on Kindle. While they’ve got the latest and greatest (you can pre-order Salman Rushdie’s new book, for instance), they don’t have the back list yet (you can’t get Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which is the precursor to the new Rushdie book).
So yes, it’s very cool and I love having one, especially for reading the open source books I’m interested in (Sherlock Holmes!), but it’s not the be-all, end-all.
HANNAH WALK: I actually got a Kindle for my birthday too (a few weeks ago) and I do love being able to bring a lot of books with me. I’m really enjoying reading on it because it is so light. I am still at a loss for some of the comfort of paper. I also will never give up paper books. There are certain books that were my mother’s when she was young and they were passed to me when I was old enough for them. I treasure these books not only because they are a part of my heritage, but also because they are part of what inspired me love reading so much.
I also find myself having to resist re-buying books for my kindle that I have on paper. I reread books, so I keep the ones I really enjoy. Since I read more than one book at a time, I’m walking around with my kindle (which has the young adult fantasy novel I’m reading) and my battered copy of The Cider House Rules that I rescued from a library book sale. One of my classmates saw this and was puzzled about why I feel the need to walk around with both. I could only shrug and say that I don’t have CHR digitally but I’m reading both.
It’s also very disconcerting to me to think about how the next generation of children might have digital picture books. I can’t help but wonder if I would love books the way I do if I only had them as digital files. 11 years ago, my aunt gave me the first 3 Harry Potter books for my 8th birthday. I’ve read them many times, but they’ve been on my bookshelf for the last 11 years. It’s a comfort to look at my bookshelf and know that I’ve been a part of these stories.
What would I have done growing up if I couldn’t hide under my blankets with a flashlight reading Nancy Drew books, watching all 56 yellow hardbacks pile up around my bed, eventually getting crammed onto my overflowing bookshelf?
Would I have loved Madeline or The Wind in the Willows or The Little Prince as much without the physical book filled with delicate illustrations?
I love my Kindle, but don’t ask me to stop loving my books.
HOWARD MEGDAL: Hannah, here’s what I find impossible to believe- that because our children will perhaps be looking at different delivery systems for such memories (I have many myself, also with books), that the experience itself will be less meaningful, or that it can/should be degraded in any way because the nature of how information is delivered is changing.
I’m not suggesting you were arguing that, but it does seem to be the nature of much of the pro-book side of this cultural moment.
EMILY SAIDEL: Well, with the kindle you are eliminating much of tactile part of the memory. And the olfactory part of reading books. It can probably be argued that these memories will actually be weaker without the redundancy of multiple senses
HANNAH WALK: Howard – I don’t think that the experience would be less meaningful, but I also think it might have a different. When I have children, there is a great chance they will grow up with pretty much only digital media. I want them to appreciate a good story, no matter where it comes from. A good story is a good story. But I also want them to experience hiding behind an obscenely large book listening to the conversations around them while all they adults think they’re distracted by Waldo and friends. Part of what I love about books has nothing to do with the content. It’s having somewhere to hide my allowance from my big brother, it’s the cover art, the sense of accomplishment when my parents’ friends saw a 4th grader walking around with a 700 page novel, saying, “my mom made me promise not to tell anyone who dies at the end.”
I guess part of it is that I have memories that children have been creating for hundreds of years. I want my children to be a part of that legacy.
NAVA BRAHE: Right on, Emily!
The reason I am so resistant to a Kindle is because I am reticent to give up the feel of an actual book; plus the smell of books is one of the most comforting things in the world. Plus I’m afraid I’ll actually like it.
MOLLY SCHOEMANN: That’s my concern too; we love books because they were a very important part of our childhoods. But if they were just one option, and a less convenient option, particularly in a digital world, would we love them as much and treat them as reverently? I don’t know. And I worry that as each generation becomes presented with more and more convenient and modern options for reading, and has less of a chance to fall in love with the experience of reading a book the way we all did, since it was all there was, they will be less likely to pass that love and reverence of books on to their children, who will be less likely to pass it on to THEIR children…and that is how we will lose books. Lots of people are like us and balance books with tablets and can appreciate both; but I think we are in the minority.
And books ARE less convenient. They take longer to acquire; you can’t just download them and start reading. They are expensive. They are hard to store. They suffer from wear and tear, they rot, they get marked up and their pages crumble. Nava’s comment reminded me of the premise in Super Sad True Love Story that books are thought of as ‘smelly’. And kids love ‘new’ stuff. And they are being taught more and more through technology that newer and faster is better. Not to be a huge Debbie Downer, but I’m just not sure where books fit into this future.
EMILY SAIDEL: As someone who studies media, I also have come to love the physicality and physical history of media objects. And this history impacts and reflects on so many other fields. Like–availability of books helped to spread literacy. (sociology, religious studies, economics) But you can’t have books readily available until you standardize paper size. (engineering, supply chain optimization) You can’t have standard paper size until you start sourcing it from wood pulp instead of rags. (environmental studies) Etc Etc Etc.
This is not to say digital media doesn’t have a similar physical presence. Images of hard drives with electron microscopes are fascinating. But they take specialized equipment. Digital media is more “black box”-y about its physical presence.
AKIE BERMISS: I got my girlfriend a kindle as a present for her when she started business school. They are super cool. Whenever I visit, I have to restrain myself from ordering one for myself. It’s hard!
I’m on the road a good deal and it would be nice to have mad books at my disposal (yeah, I said mad books). Today I got up at 5 and caught a train to New Haven with my bookbag (full of music and lyrics),
keyboard, and keyboard stand. The thought of lugging around two books (I finished the one I have like 30 minutes into the ride) was just too painful to consider. So now, I have nothing to read. If I had a
Kindle… I’d likely be reading my butt off right now.
On the other hand, I simply love books. They are, I think, one of humanity’s most elegant and perfect inventions. Everything about them pleases me. So I won’t give that up.
And indeed, given that belief, I can’t see myself ever pretending a Kindle is enough. Or that a great story written for Kindle is anything like a great BOOK.
I make a qualitative distinction.
And Molly, books do smell. But so does alcohol and love-making… So it’s in excellent company.
HOWARD MEGDAL: I don’t know where to begin- I am a huge fan of everything that’s been said here.
For me, I am always anxious if I don’t have something to read with me. This led to a discussion with my wife as we packed for our honeymoon, with me trying to explain why I needed five books. And yes, it made our luggage significantly heavier. And yes, it is possible she bought me the Kindle exclusively to have more room in our luggage on future trips. Nevertheless, I love having it.
But if I go to a doctor’s appointment, the DMV, wherever, I have always brought a book or magazine- and usually, 2-3, because I don’t know precisely what I’ll want to read. Now? I have books at my disposal on a Kindle, or even my phone. I generally read my magazines (yes, I still subscribe) in bed, my newspaper and books in the living room.
And I have made it clear that the one vital aspect I wish to contribute to our interior decorating is many, many, many bookshelves. I’ve managed to fill them all already. I am a sucker for library book sales. And my local library has one year-round. They do very well from me, at 50 cents a pop.
Now, am I missing precisely the type of experiences Hannah referenced? I do wonder. Will my daughter have a Kindle when she’s six years old? Let me put it this way: if she wants it, and is a reader on it, I want her to have it.
NAVA BRAHE: I’m starting to think that nothing says “old fart” more than hating the Kindle.
Howard, the idea of being surrounded by books is even more important to me than food. Books are my crack. I believe in my heart I could survive longer without food than I could without books. And this raises another question: what if you’re somewhere and you cannot recharge your Kindle? You never have to recharge a book!!
HOWARD MEGDAL: Unless you’re trapped in a mine, the Kindle usually will last you.
JESSICA BADER: I agree wholeheartedly with the desire to be surrounded by books. I’m already dangerously close to outgrowing the bookcases I have in my apartment.
NAVA BRAHE: I reserve my right to be skeptical about battery life based on the 2 iPods and and 1 iPhone I have. They suck.
TOM DELAPA: Don’t know if this has been mentioned, but what about the consequences on libraries and bookstores if the Kindle model is adopted wholesale by the public? Howard, you state that new technology like this is often presented (erroneously) as an either/or proposition. But just in ten years or so we’ve seen the closure and bankruptcy of dozens of major daily newspapers around the country, due to the Internet revolution and other social changes. If a good portion of people discontinue buying books and magazines, it just won’t be cost-effective for publishers to print them anymore. What was Newsweek sold for a few weeks ago? $1, basically. Already we’re moving to a society in which many people, especially the young, no longer borrow library books, let alone buy them anymore. At my local library, most people seem to be either using the Internet or borrowing DVDs. If borrowship goes down, libraries (already suffering in the recession) will be pressured to lower their book-buying budgets, especially for specialized titles. Perhaps we are be inching, year by year, toward the post-print futuristic world of the H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, where the few obsolete books that survive are so brittle that they disintegrate when anyone handles them.
AKIE BERMISS: It’s likely libraries WILL suffer. Especially since their selection just can’t match the kindle store’s. On the other hand however — and it hurts me to say this — libraries kind of are obsolete. My opera friend goes there to copy scores and then just to browse. I am not allowed into the Brooklyn Public Library because i owe them like a billion dollars. But I really don’t mind. I have all the research materials I need online, I buy my books, and that’s it.
Even my favorite fantasy/scifi writer, CJ Cherryh, has teamed up with two author friends of here to open an independent ebook store. And guess what, all those backorders or discontinued titles you’d have to pay like 150 bucks for? She’s publishing and reselling them.
I like the idea of small business. Small book publishers. Once we all have kindle-like devices, we won’t be buying from amazon! They simply lack the desire to cater to smaller, ebook markets. Scifi dorks/YA buffs/television spinoff enthusiasts. Untenable for amazon. But for a smaller publisher — could be bread and butter.
I’ll miss physical book stores, but I bet we can find a waaaay better use for all that space. And you’ll still be able to have books. They’ll just be luxury.
JEFF MORROW: For what it’s worth, libraries are actually getting involved in loaning digital editions of books. (Amazon isn’t onboard [yet?], but every other e-reader is.) My own local library, which is wonderful and which I regularly support with my late fees, has been promoting the program a lot lately. (The selection is limited, but, hey, the first time I visited Wikipedia back in 2001, I thought it was useless because there was nothing on it.)
EMILY SAIDEL: Also, this talk about “libraries will” as if it’s in past tense, should really be “libraries have already.” It isn’t as prevalent in the public library sector, but many research libraries have already made the decision to stop buying books. Most of those are the science and technical libraries of universities, but some stopped buying books something like 5 years ago.
TOM DELAPA: Well, all I can say is that this a sad time, indeed… One crucial thing to note is that for all the gee-whiz awesome ability today to record information digitally, there is no guarantee that such information will be around decades or centuries from now. That is, there is no more permanent record than a book printed on good paper stock. What you all have on Kindle is easily erased and subject to disappear simply because of the changing and migratory patterns of the electronic evolution.