July 9, 2009 in Washington Voices

Kindle would lack tradition passed down over generations

Cindy Hval Correspondent
 

On my third birthday I received an oversized copy of “Winnie the Pooh” stories. The glossy cover showed Pooh sailing through the sky, clutching a blue balloon and waving to Christopher Robin below.

It was the first book I owned, and I loved it to pieces – literally. Eventually, the spine cracked, the front cover separated, and almost every page was dog-eared. When I graduated to more sophisticated literature, my mother wrapped the book in tissue and set it aside. Nineteen years ago, when my first child arrived, she returned that tattered best-loved treasure to me. My family has always been sentimental about books.

So, as a bibliophile, I should have been overjoyed when Amazon.com released a wireless reading device called Kindle. The original version can hold more than 1,500 books but weighs less than a paperback novel. In addition to bestsellers, you can download magazines and newspapers (including The Spokesman-Review) within seconds. What’s not to like?

The cost, for one thing. The latest version will set you back $359. Guess how much it costs me to check out $359 worth of books from Spokane Public Library? Not a dime. Granted, I can’t remember the last time I bought a book hot off the presses. But for those who regularly buy hardback bestsellers, a Kindle might be a good investment. Most books in Amazon’s Kindle store cost only $9.99 to download. There’s also the instant gratification of acquiring a bestseller without even leaving your house.

However, quick purchases can also quickly add up. Twin Lakes resident Dan English received a Kindle as a gift from his wife in February. “I’ve downloaded 24 books,” he said, and then laughed. “It’s a little addictive.”

Spokesman-Review Editor Gary Graham has owned a Kindle for over a year. So far, he’s purchased 19 books. “In the long term, I’m probably going to save money,” he said. “Because I know how many books I buy.”

Both men extol the virtue of traveling with a Kindle. The lightweight device slips easily into carry-on luggage. By comparison, when I travel, I lug around an unwieldy tote full of books, newspapers and magazines. The thought of having all my reading material contained in a device the size of a small notebook is deliciously tempting.

But reading text on a screen is what I do for a living. It’s the last thing I want to do when traveling or relaxing at home. My favorite way to unwind is curling up with a good book, a cup of tea and my cozy reading quilt. Holding a Kindle seems as nurturing as cuddling a calculator. There’s just something satisfying about the feel of a book. The texture of the pages, the smell of the ink, the crackle of the cover.

English admits Kindle reading took some adjustment. “It was a little disquieting at first – getting used to not turning pages.” But he quickly adapted. “Now I don’t even think about it,” he said. “I just try to keep the French fry grease off the forward button.”

Which raises the question; can a Kindle withstand tea spills and peanut butter smears? Also, as someone whose cell phone dies on a regular basis, I have a feeling I’d forget to charge my Kindle, too. With my luck, it would fizzle on me during the last few pages of a gripping mystery novel.

Books never run out of power. They are among the most enduring and resilient of all life’s pleasures. They soak up food stains, tolerate dog-earing, make handy doorstops, and can be stacked high enough for use as an end table. If needed, a book can squash a pesky fly or sinister spider. Try doing that with your Kindle.

While some may tout the trees saved by reading paperless books, in reality print products are the ultimate recycling materials. Books can be loaned to friends or donated to thrift stores. Newspapers line birdcages and are essential to starting a fire in your grate. Despite the name, Kindles can’t be used as kindling.

But the real reason I can’t abandon printed pages lies on a closet shelf. Though “Winnie the Pooh” was too fragile to survive my firstborn’s rough attention, he has his own treasure – a tattered copy of “The Little Engine that Could.” The flyleaf reads “To Ethan on his Third Birthday.” And each time I pick it up, I hear a tiny voice chant, “I think I can, I think I can.” Someday my son may have a child of his own. When he does, I’ll return his cherished first book to him. I know just what he’ll do. His eyes will light up, and he’ll say, “Oh! I loved that story!”

Somehow, I don’t think even 1,500 books on a Kindle would be the same.


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