27 March 2013: A new genre?

Posted: March 27, 2013 in Uncategorized
Photo: Amazon.com

Photo: Amazon.com

Whenever I pull out my Kindle Fire in public (“Excuse me while I whip this out”), the question I always get asked immediately after the question, “Is that a Kindle?” is “Do you enjoy reading on that thing?”

Like nearly everything else in these not-so-United States these days, the battle lines have been drawn between the traditional and the technological when it comes to books and reading. And there are plenty of valid arguments on both sides of the issue. But I think this article, from the U.K.’s The Guardian this week, raises an interesting point and perhaps spans the gulf between the two sides.

As a reader, I am reading more and more from my Kindle: newspapers (and other news sources), magazines, novels. Which, I admit, is a surprise to me. As a writer, I swore I’d never give up a “real” book – the paper and ink. But as the Guardian piece points out, what exactly is a “real book?” What, as Hannibal Lecter might ask, is its essence?

I disagree with the article’s notion that e-books are their own genre, though. To me, it’s still a matter of medium — how the information is communicated to the reader. And I don’t necessarily agree that the data mining capability of publishers via electronic books — if it exists — is potentially that significant. But the piece still raises some interesting points. I can support the position that the “real book” has nothing to do with the packaging, but the story itself – the words themselves, in whatever form – is the tool of transmission.

When I opened the box my Kindle came in, it contained a letter from Amazon – one of those “Thank you for your purchase” jobs. But one comment stood out – that the developers of the Kindle wanted the device “to disappear in the reader’s hands.” In other words, that the reader would hold the story, not a device, in his hands.

Those developers achieved this vision. Whenever I read from my Kindle, I’m doing just that – reading, unconscious of the fact that I’m holding an electronic device. There are other bennies, too. I love to read in bed before crashing for the night. My wife, not so much. In “the old days” I needed a light to read by – and those wonderfully crinkly pages people love to turn make noise (OK, granted, not that much, except to my wife, so work with me here). But now I can read – no, I can totally disappear into a story – without disturbing anyone. I don’t need a light and I can “turn” a page with the flick of my thumb. Also, I’m notorious for reading with a highlighter, and the Kindle Fire has a cool “highlighter” function (as well as a “bookmark” function). And since I’m actually turning pages (and folding them back) I never have to worry about breaking the spine of a book or the pages being torn out.

I’m not trying to argue that e-books are better (or become a Kindle Fire spokesman) than paper, or vice versa. In fact, I’m happy that Deep Blood will be published in both formats. The point is that, no matter how you read it, a great book is a great book. To Kill a Mockingbird is just as good on an e-reader as it is in print.

No matter the medium, the message is the same.

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