Thursday, July 14, 2011


I've been slogging through my first Kindle novel, which means I'm getting adept at pushing buttons instead of turning pages.

Kindle is one of those hand-held electronic devices created to put bookstores out of business. With a Kindle, you can upload a book in the time it takes to back out of the driveway en route to the Border's.

Once your "book" is safely affixed to the memory chip on your electronic device, you may begin your reading experience. Reading a book on Kindle is like reading a book that took a more circuituous route — from pulp mill to printing press to bookstore — to produce. Except that it's different.

For my first Kindle experience, I selected Jonathan Franzen's latest, "Freedom."

Franzen follows the sad-sack Berglund family along its careening path to oblivion. The plot is rather trivial, along the lines of a routine romance novel, but Franzen's precise construction — and deconstruction — of the human dynamic is thrilling.

Whether read from a printed page or from a digital screen, the story doesn't change. I would have enjoyed "Freedom" equally had I purchased the book in poundage rather than in bytes.

On my Kindle, though, I can bookmark and highlight passages that are more easily retrievable, without dog-earring pages, without stickies or paper clips. My Kindle was a much more convenient travel companion, particularly on the plane, during my recent vacation.

Still, I am nagged by the diminishing status of the printed page.

I acknowledge and accept that my newspaper will eventually become a digital product, once the last of my generation has read its final newsprint obituary. Like Franzen's Walter Berglund, I am grateful that I can do my part to save a forest, if not a job at the pulp mill.

In fact, I am uncomfortable with the anti-labor inclinations implicit in electronic books. Paper is produced by men paid to wield chainsaws, to mix the brew at the mill. Traditional books are published on presses operated by human beings with mortgages and car payments. Traditional books are moved from points of origin to sales sites by truckers. Traditional books are sold from shops with atmosphere and with clerks who can point customers in the right direction.

More than that, though, a traditional book is a thing, something to keep, to return to, to trade, to give away, to donate. A full bookshelf serves as a proud monument to the memories and the wisdom imparted in volumes. Just as the great family photo must be enshrined in an album or on the mantle, and not in the limbo of a computer, the artful construction of words deserves its own special place.

I'm not sure my Kindle is that place.


  1. Try looking at Adbusters. They press the system to produce the kind of challenging words and images on paper that do not translate yet to the evilly glowing slab. There is a place for dead trees in the new media ecology.

  2. I love reading your posts !!! they are interesting and at the same time very informative!!!