To many avid readers, a good book is as much a tactile experience as it is an escape from immediate surroundings. The type face, the smell of the paper and the texture the way it grudgingly gives way to an index finger turning the page all add to the experience. Readers speak of "curling up" with a book, something no one would do with a television set or a computer.
And so it is with some trepidation that we confront Amazon.com's newest invention the Kindle which hopes to do for books what the iPod has done for music. E-books are hardly a new invention, but they haven't caught on the way other electronic novelties have. Something about sitting in front of a monitor lessens the experience of escapism and imagination that can come from a book on a lap.
But then, as we noted on these pages yesterday, that book-on-the-lap experience isn't exactly being handed down from generation to generation any more. Several recent surveys have found that people are reading less and less for fun. Only about one-third of adults said they had read for pleasure the day before being surveyed. Nearly two-thirds of college freshmen in 2005 said they hardly read anything for pleasure.
If it continues, this trend certainly will lead to a diminishing quality of life, as well as a dearth of imagination and understanding. It will foster prejudices, judgments devoid of critical thought and a culture led by the pied pipers of advertising and marketing.
And so, about that Kindle ...
Credit its makers with at least an understanding of the tactile reading pleasures. They promise the screen will resemble a book. It is about the size of a paperback, and much lighter. You could carry many books inside it, without adding any weight, and you could read today's newspapers on it without getting ink on your hands. It doesn't require any trees to be destroyed to make paper.
The price, about $400, is ridiculously high. We wonder why Amazon doesn't give them away for free, counting on electronic book sales to earn a profit.
But no matter ...The future may be as difficult to digest as a textbook, but it can't be stopped. We pass no judgment on the Kindle. Frankly, we have our doubts that it will engage new readers.
But if it takes an electronic gizmo, either this one or something else, to fire up a new generation to the joys of a page-turning thriller or the drama of a gripping novel, then so be it. Even if many readers still balk at the idea of curling up with anything that uses batteries, the alternative a world where no one reads for fun is simply unacceptable.