Kindled spirit

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October 10th, 2012 J Jagannath

Let’s get on with our lives by presuming that every time Amazon launches an iteration of its blockbusting product Kindle there will be people who’ll lament at it and beat their chests like King Kong. These people are self-proclaimed page huggers who think that an electronic device can’t replace the gooey feeling evoked by words on page. I am one of those people but I’m an agnostic one. Here’s why.

A couple of years ago writer Vikram Chandra said at the Jaipur Lit Fest that a book is a form of technology too. You don’t pluck a book from a tree. Then you have charming charlatans like Nicholas Carr saying that we only skim while reading online while our mind is more focused when reading a book. I wish he only spoke for himself. With the forthcoming generations being Internet children their neural wiring will be well-acquainted with squinting their eyes while reading on a computer if they have to.

The Kindle publishing is a tiny bit of a revolution in itself. Everyone who has a book within them can bring it out without going through all the soul-sapping rigmarole of finding a literary agent, pitching to publishing houses etc etc. It’s a different thing that most books within most of us need to be asphyxiated. But for those who really deserve to be read now have a genuine outlet.

So this deep-seated romanticism of printed words is a futile exercise. That said, I wouldn’t want anyone to completely shift towards the Kindle. A book is as much an accessory as a belt or a watch is. That opening scene in Before Sunrise is turbocharged with the books that the lead characters are reading. If you’re reading a Kindle I wouldn’t know if it’s a Dostoevsky or a bodice ripper that you’re enmeshed in. You can’t get a book signed by an author. The joke in Brooklyn literary circles was of how someone arm twisted Jonathan Franzen, a Kindle hater, to sign the Kindle version of Freedom. A Kindle can resemble an iPod with you cramming it up with truckloads of books and never getting around to reading them without getting any guilt pangs.

My personal record is that I read a solitary one out of every ten books that I buy. I still read that one book because of the plaintive looks it gives me from the corner of the room. We still need bookstores. They are the arbiters of taste not some brain-dead Amazon if-you-like-this-you’ll-like-this-as-well algorithm. But of course the bookstore people need to behave that they cannot sell shoes with similar ease. Treat Kindle as a convenience device and that should keep you in good stead. I mean, the air hostess can’t ask you shut down the book because the flight is taking off while the electronic devices need to be asleep at that moment.

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