I repeat for the 100th time – I love books, so much so that I wouldn’t even step out without one. Paranoid? Maybe. But, I like my insanity. They’ve been my best friends for a very longtime and when I got my first smart device, I did not hesitate to jump onto the ebook wagon. I wanted books in whatever avatar I could carry them and digital suited for the times I wouldn’t carry a physical book. With the Kindle app installed, I bought the books I never wanted to be separated from. Over time, this ‘must-have’ collection kept growing and so with it the temptation to own an ebook reader. But, I succeeded in keeping these temptations at bay for three years until a good friend surprised me by gifting me a Kindle when I visited him two weeks back.
I rushed home and unwrapped the package with the relish and delight of a ten year old tearing open his Christmas gift. The packaging was simple with a black box containing the device, so it didn’t take much time to get to it. After immediately switching it on, and downloading my books, I was at first taken aback by the screen. Coming from LCDs, retina displays, and gorgeous rendering of fonts on mobile devices, the Kindle screen felt pretty bland with monochrome display. And, also I had a minor quibble over how the book covers were being displayed on the imaginary book shelf in the device – in B&W. My disappointments lasted only till I opened a book, or should I say — touched a cover; the text came to life and was pleasant to look at. It looked like book print and not like that of an electronic gadget. Unlike other mobile devices, it did not burn my eyes and after reading through few pages of a book, it felt definitely better than reading on my iPhone/iPad. And, before knowing I completed my first book.
It was strange to realise I wanted something only after using it. Kindle fit my needs aptly. Due to work and family commitments I get undisturbed time to read only at nights when the rest of the world is sleeping. This meant I either had to turn on the lights and wake others or read in another room. Because of this situation, I could not read books at night (I could technically read on my iPad, but it only hurt my eyes after sometime). But, now with the Kindle in hand, I could stay in the same room, read books and not disturb anyone.
In a week’s time, I completed 3 books (sacrificing some sleep ofcourse). And, reading with Kindle was like re-discovering the joy of reading again. Carrying 1000 books with you always, buying new ones, moving from one book to another, having all your highlights across books saved in one place, built-in dictionary, wikipedia search, all constituted to a new reading experience. I was in love with my Kindle and the euphoria lasted till I stepped into a Crossword on the weekend. I immediately felt like a traitor. Paperbacks & Hardcovers stared at me sadly, reproaching me for my betrayal. I just had to reach out to a new freshly printed novel in the stands and smell it, to be overcome with guilt. I felt the store accusing me “it is because of you and your ilk that book shops are shutting down”. I held my head down in shame and walked into the adjoining coffee shop to ponder over this situation.
Will I now never buy a book? Will I not feel the rustle of a page? The coarse touch of paper? The different binds, fonts and smell of books? Am I responsible (however minuscule) for the closures of book shops? Do I even have the right to enter a book shop, if I’m buying them online at discount or worse as ebooks and not in the store? Questions raged through me as I sipped coffee. Ofcourse I would not give up books but given the space constraint (in my house), the pricing, ease of availability, the logic of buying them just changed. Instead of picking up ebooks of my ‘must-have’ collection, I’ll buy books digitally first and then buy physical copies of those which I like tremendously. Only my ‘must-haves’ will be in physical format. Though a very reasonable argument, I still couldn’t put my mental unease to rest. What about those books with excellent paper/binding/feel/smell? Didn’t I sometimes buy books convincing myself with the most outlandish reasons because it had the best cover or the best paper or because it looked so fresh out of the press? What about those? Definitely they cannot be replicated on a Kindle? This raised another fundamental question on what constituted a book? What made ‘books’ books? Is it just the matter? The story? The stuff between the covers? Or did the paper, print, cover and bind add to the experience and give a book its own unique character? Though not a bibliophile, from time to time, I loved (some) books for their entirety — cover, pages, print and all. But, some I wanted only for matter. The second category, I decided would go onto the Kindle and the first, to my bookshelf. With this agreement reached, and my guilt eased, I stepped back into the bookshop confidently.
So, should you buy a Kindle? Well, it depends. How much are you addicted to books? Do you prefer one format over the other? Or the best of both worlds? If you prefer the former, stick to the format, reading is important, not arguing over which format is better (Books as format will change, but books as concept will not). But, if you vote for the later then remember you’ll find yourself sometimes in the throes of physical vs digital argument, but don’t forget that you win either ways — ’Cause you’ll have a book in any case.