The World of Tomorrow

Well, I finally caved. After a long resistance, I've finished my first book on an e-reader. And I plunged in the deep end: for my first Kindle experience, I chose The World Until Yesterday, by Jared Diamond. I won't be critiquing the actual book here (which has been ably done by others, including Drusilla Modjeska), only the Kindle experience itself.

 First, the positives. This was a very big book -- about five hundred pages. That's a lot of weight to lug around. But I could slip the Kindle into my handbag (the small one!) and take my book on the bus and to Alice's tutoring session, without straining my back, and I could read anywhere round the house without getting sore arms from propping up a huge great heavy volume.

Also, the Kindle version was VERY cheap. I may not have bought this book at all had I not idly looked it up on the Kindle store and had my mouth not dropped open at its scandalous cheapness. I don't know how much of this teeny amount goes to Mr Diamond. So I guess this is a positive for me, but not necessarily for him. On the other hand, at least I did buy it, which I probably wouldn't have done otherwise.

Once I'd worked out how to operate the links in the text, I could navigate the book fairly easily -- look up pictures and footnotes, and return to my spot immediately. The little bar along the bottom of the screen told me, not how many chapters or pages I'd read, but the percentage of the text I'd consumed, which I found initially disconcerting. I'm used to measuring my progress by seeing how many centimetres of page thickness fall on either side of my bookmark. What does 37% mean? I had no real sense of how far there was to go.

Which brings me to the negatives -- which are pretty intangible, I must admit. I missed not being able to flick through pages and idly scan for things that interest me, like references to Australia, to stop and browse and dip and swoop ahead. I missed not having the pictures embedded in the text. I missed the physicality of the book -- I still have only the haziest idea of what the cover looks like.

Most of all, I fear that the book's contents won't stay with me. Maybe this is just me, but I find that the physical shape and look and feel of a book is crucial to recalling the reading experience and the story or argument within. I remember how it felt to pick it up, the colours of the cover, the thickness of the spine, the look of the font and print on the page, where I was when I read it -- all this is intrinsic to remembering what I read. I'm afraid that, unanchored to these physical memories, the contents of the book will drift away from me.

If every book I read on the Kindle looks and feels and smells like just another Kindle book, will I be able to hold onto any of them? Or is this just the world will be from now on?

I have to say that I enjoyed my first time, despite my misgivings. But now I'm hankering for a Real Book.

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