Four Kindles...

... although I've only got one, No.4. But that doesn't work as a Two Ronnies pun, and of course it was important that I went with a Two Ronnies pun. It's always best to give a blog post a title that means nothing to anyone who a) not British or b) was born after 1985, right kids?

Anyway. For a long time, I didn't want an e-reader. I tried a few demo models, and the screens never seemed quite right and the page 'turn' was far too slow and distracting. And I love books. Real, paper books that smell nice and can be dropped in the bath and dried out again, or thrown into a handbag with my keys. My birthday is the day after Valentine's Day; the year before last my boyfriend asked me if I'd like to go away for a couple of days to celebrate both. I got him to take me to Hay-on-Wye, bookshop capital of the UK. I spent the whole of Valentine's Day and my birthday looking through secondhand bookshops. I like lovely, beautifully made illustrated hardbacks (I'm a particular sucker for the Folio Society) and I like tattered, musty, damp-speckled paperbacks. I smell the pages of books and hold their covers against my cheek. I like my hardbacks to be kept in perfect condition, and I like my paperbacks battered and bruised.

And this is the problem. Because I love the printed word so much, there are a lot of books in our house. My boyfriend's no stranger to Waterstone's either, which doesn't help. Eventually realising that the buckling old Ikea Billy bookcases in our living room were far from acceptable and that having a bedroom in which the stacks of teetering, dust-gathering, spider-harbouring books on the floor are three or four deep from the wall is just unhealthy for a couple beset with insomnia and allergies. Moreover, watching a film in our house meant embarking upon a treacherous game of DVD Jenga if we wanted to watch something that happened to be in the middle of the unsupported tower next to the telly. Cascades of shelf-overspill CDs would slither off the top of the stereo on a regular basis with a plasticky clatter.

So, we spent a frightening amount of money - the most we've ever spent on anything, ever - on getting custom-made shelving fitted on all the available walls. Everything's been shelved now. In alphabetical order. I gazed at the shelves almost daily and marvelled at the satisfying neatness and the serenity it engendered. Space. We had space. We had places to put books that weren't the floor, and we had a nice clean tranquil bedroom again.

That was in December 2010. Those shelves are now full.

Fortunately, my realisation that we might be about to start drowning in books again like a pair of bibliophile Mr Trebuses (Trebi?) coincided with my mother-in-law, fond of gadgets, remarking that she would like a Kindle for her 70th birthday. When I saw it and tried it out, I was impressed. More impressed than I thought I'd be. The page-turn seemed faster than the previous demo models I'd tried, and was definitely much faster than on any other brand of e-reader I'd looked at. I gradually began to come round to the idea of one day investing in a Kindle. A few months later, Amazon released the Kindle 4.

Cheaper, smaller and lighter than the Kindle Keyboard, it seemed better value for money. It lacks a keyboard - you enter text by selecting characters with a five-way control button - and there's no 3G, but frankly, I didn't think those features were worth spending (or asking someone else to spend) £149 for when the Kindle 4 is a much more affordable £89. I believe the Kindle Keyboard plays audiobooks, but I've already got an iPod that does that, and most persuasively, reviews seemed to suggest that the all-important page-turn on the Kindle 4 was the fastest yet. So, it was the Kindle 4 that made it to the top of my Christmas list.

I was fully expecting to have to spend some time persevering with the Kindle. Getting to know it. I could picture us circling each other nervously like a couple of wary dogs. I imagined that I'd have to force myself to keep using it until I eventually forgot I was using a Kindle and became transported into the text as I do when I read a 'real' book.

I was so wrong. I loved my Kindle within minutes.

It's incredibly easy to use and immensely unobtrusive. It's slight, slim and remarkably pleasant to hold. You can easily hold it and click the page turn button with one hand, and I speak as someone who has been known to buy gloves from the children's section. The screen isn't backlit, so there's no glare. That's ideal for me as I'm prone to eye-strain and tension headaches - I could never, for instance, read e-books on an iPad.

The text is clear and sharp and the font size, line spacing and margins can be altered, as can the font itself: there are condensed and sans serif options. The pages 'turn' gracefully and quickly. You can mark your place, make notes and highlight passages. And with a wireless connection (syncing with my Orange wireless box took three attempts, but those three attempts took less than five minutes in total, and it's worked like a dream ever since) you can register the Kindle to your account, browse Amazon and have books delivered to you in a matter of seconds. And I do mean seconds. So far, the longest it's taken to deliver a book to the Kindle is still under half a minute. Oh, and you can email yourself PDFs, once you've verified your email address to your account. That means I now have my Open University coursework book, a heavy great lump of a thing in the flesh, easily accessible in a portable format: invaluable for lunchtime learning during the working day. A lighted cover (expensive but worth it) means I can also read in bed without disturbing my other half. Again, invaluable.

In other words, I'm a Kindle convert. I won't stop loving real books, and I'll continue to buy them. I bought one today, in fact. But I just can't afford the space to buy every book I want in paper format, and the Kindle is a brilliant solution to that problem. I didn't used to like e-readers much, but now I've found one I love.

So far, so normal.

However, before and after getting my new Kindle I did some research and found lots of reviews and discussions online. Reviews were helpful, and overwhelmingly positive. But one thing the discussions revealed were some very strange attitudes towards e-readers. And the very day after I got my Kindle, someone who follows me on Twitter, and who I'd followed back largely out of politeness, embarked upon a lengthy series of anti-Kindle tweets. Fair enough. It's no surprise that different people have different reading preferences. But what is peculiar is not the preference, but the tone in which some people choose to express it. There's a lot of... snobbery.

It seems that there is a certain type of person who hates the Kindle not primarily because its battery might run out before the last page or because it's killing high street bookshops or because you can't safely drop it in the bath or for any other of the many perfectly valid reasons, but because deep-down, whether they care to admit it or not, they just think adopting new technology is a little bit common. They proudly bray about what Luddites they are, knowing full well that a lot of people who read their comment probably won't know what a Luddite originally was anyway and probably with only the vaguest idea themselves. They claim that they're the only person they know who still writes real letters on paper with a fountain pen. They say they only have a television 'for BBC4 and the news', and shun parents whose kids own games consoles. They sneer at those of us who are constantly goggling at a screen, just as they probably sneer at those who buy hummus from the supermarket instead of standing in the kitchen spending hours soaking chickpeas and mashing them by hand to arrive at a substance which is almost, but not quite, as good as the one from Sainsbury's.

They believe that people who have Kindles simply don't like books. They imagine that we Kindlekids only download Dan Brown, Andy McNab and self-published erotic romances secretly written by morbidly obese middle-aged women from Ohio. Because the anti-Kindle people - you know, the ones who don't just dislike Kindles but also want to show off about it - like to tell us that they love books. Real books, from bookshops, with paper pages and a nice smell and all the other blindingly obvious things. Things that frankly, everybody likes about books, but the anti-Kindlers always forget that. They tell me they love owning thousands of books (and funnily enough, unlike me, they usually seem to have big expensive sprawling houses with endless space in which to keep them: I refer you back to my accusation of snobbery).

In fact, the only thing they don't ever say they love about books is the words.

As far as I'm concerned, someone who really loves reading cares primarily about the text. Not the quality of the paper, not the picture on the cover, not the weight of a 900-page novel in their hands, but the text. The only thing that truly defines a book is its content; the only thing that defines a reader is their love of reading, not the fetishisation of objects with pages. Most people who read love physical books; that alone is no big deal and there's nothing wrong with it at all. What's peculiar is the sneering elitism of people who simply can't accept that other people might ultimately be more interested in what an author wanted to say than the paper on which it happened to be printed.

When I puzzled over this on Twitter, a follower remarked that snobs don't like Kindles because a Kindle doesn't allow others to see what you're reading, thus leaving certain types of person with the nagging doubt that others can't immediately see how terribly well-read and clever they are. If the Kindle displayed the cover of the book being read on the back, or somehow projected the spines of its contents on to the walls of one's house, sales to sneering Telegraph readers would, he believed, increase dramatically, and the smell of a nice secondhand hardback with a charming fountain-pen inscription in the front would suddenly become less significant in their lives. I think he's probably right.

I have no problem whatsoever with people who don't like e-readers. There are plenty of good reasons to see the disadvantages of e-readers, which I can absolutely understand and with which I often quite agree. How other people want to read books is their own business and not something I'd ever want to make judgements about. But please, don't scoff at me because I've run out of shelf space. I'm not some kind of second-class reader because I've dared to move with the times.


  1. I totally agree with the sentiment about e-readers, although I have never used a Kindle so can't comment on how well they work. I have a Sony reader, which I love (I recently updated to one you can make notes on, but didn't investigate a Kindle because that would have meant books I had previously bought would not be compatible - the plethora of incompatible formats is one thing I don't like about e-readers).

    As I've also put on Twitter, I love books but, like you, space is limited. If it is a choice between an e-book or no book, there is no contest. I, too, have sometimes encountered the snobbery of people who think that someone who really loves books wouldn't countenance an e-reader. I love the beauty of a well-presented paper book, but a book is ultimately meant to be read - so I totally agree that the words, not the format, are of the greater significance. If I want to read then I'll buy a book - if I just want something that looks good on my shelves then I might as well buy some flowers.

    The attitude that a Kindle is bad because people can't see what you are reading is odd to me. I'm more inclined to think a problem with the Kindle is that you can't be nosy and see what other people are reading...

  2. Great post, and says pretty much all of what I would say! I too switched for space reasons, plus the fact that bookshops are getting less & less likely to have the books I want in stock these days - does anyone else find that?

    I've used an iPad until now and been perfectly happy reading off it, but the e-ink display on a Kindle is quite something once you've tried it, and I'm not sure I could easily go back. It's so clear, it's better than 90% of the printed books I have for legibility; and the Kindle as a whole is really nice to hold in the hand in terms of size and weight (I never read hardbacks because they are so cumbersome.)

    I've been amazed at the resistance to e-books (which I found over the holidays with family and friends.) In particular I'm not sure why so many *writers* are going round saying that the e-book is the end of everything - surely, as you say in your post, it's the words that are important not the medium in which they are delivered? They should be thrilled that it puts the author front and centre of the endeavour, I'd have thought.

    Downsides of e-books would have to be problems with format incompatibilities as Amy points points out, and DRM in general - the fact that the book isn't 'yours' and can disappear if the e-reader goes out of business. You can't lend it on to someone (although at least they're making advances here) - and not being able to see what others are reading on the train really *is* a proper issue. Although in the past, it's been pretty clear it'll be a Harry Potter/Dan Brown/Steig Larsson depending on which year you're talking about - humans are such a herd animal! ;)

    Of course, paper books will always have their place. I was given John Landis' excellent book on movie monsters for Christmas and that can *only* be on glossy paper on your coffee table!

  3. I agree completely, very well said!

    I have so many discussions with people about my Kindle, many of them saying how much they love real books, could never switch to a Kindle etc etc. I would never switch either but the Kindle has a place alongside books and makes it easier for me to read more, winner!

  4. Loved this. Found myself nodding along throughout. One more Kindle advantage to add:

    The daily commute - I can now read an 800 page book in one hand while holding onto a railing with my other, thereby avoiding embarrassing falls, bonus!

  5. Loved this. Found myself nodding along throughout. One more Kindle advantage to add:

    The daily commute - I can now read an 800 page book in one hand while holding onto a railing with my other, thereby avoiding embarrassing falls, bonus!


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