(But please, if you buy one, buy it through this link so I can get a percentage of the $359 purchase price. And I'm saying that mainly to prompt some skepticism about rave reviews of the Kindle you might be reading in blog posts with Amazon Associates links like that in them. So if you appreciate that little lesson in skepticism, but still want to buy a Kindle, reward me by using my link.)
I've always thought my problem with the Kindle was the gray-on-gray screen — think Etch-a-Sketch — the one the rave reviews say is "easy on the eyes." Yes, and a room with dimmed lights is easy on the eyes, but it's a bad place to read. I want contrast: black letters on a white background. I want that in a book, and I want that in a computer screen, so of course, I want that in an electronic book. I want easy to read.
But anyway, maybe the ugly, hard-to-see screen isn't the real problem with an electronic book:
Books ... give off special smells. According to a recent survey of French students, 43 percent consider smell to be one of the most important qualities of printed books—so important that they resist buying odorless electronic books. CaféScribe, a French on-line publisher, is trying to counteract that reaction by giving its customers a sticker that will give off a fusty, bookish smell when it is attached to their computers.I know. You're thinking: The French! But focus, people. The entire sensory experience of a book is important.
There's the feel too:
When I read an old book, I hold its pages up to the light and often find among the fibers of the paper little circles made by drops from the hand of the vatman as he made the sheet—or bits of shirts and petticoats that failed to be ground up adequately during the preparation of the pulp. I once found a fingerprint of a pressman enclosed in the binding of an eighteenth-century Encyclopédie—testimony to tricks in the trade of printers, who sometimes spread too much ink on the type in order to make it easier to get an impression by pulling the bar of the press.Okay, I know. You're thinking, that guy is way more of an aesthete than I even want to be, and if I want some smells and feels — I'll have sex, not grope a book. (I'm talking about you, not me. I will grope an Apple computer.)
"That guy" is Robert Darnton, and his essay "The Library in the New Age" ranges far beyond what I've used here, so read the whole thing. Also, Robert Darnton wrote one of my favorite books, "The Great Cat Massacre," and if you buy it at that link, you will be giving me some money, so read that whole thing too.
IN THE COMMENTS: Simon says "Buffy" already did it:
"Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower or a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell... musty and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer is... it has no texture, no context. It's there and then it's gone. If it's to last, then the getting of knowledge should be tangible. It should be, um... smelly."
UPDATE: Dan from Madison tells the story — with pictures — of me demonstrating the Kindle. Excerpt:
Here is a horrible backlit photo of a random woman who interrupted us to tell us how much she absolutely loved her Kindle. Both Ann and I told her she was nuts.
ADDED NOTE TO READERS WHO ARE HAVING TROUBLE UNDERSTANDING THIS POST: I've added boldface and enlarged some print in the original post, which was apparently a tad subtle. Let me be sledgehammer clear. The stuff about smell is humor. My problem with the Kindle was AND IS the gray-on-gray screen. I want contrast: black letters on a white background. I want that in a book, and I want that in a computer screen, and of course, I want that in an electronic book. I want easy to read. I don't want to read ugly gray-on-gray print. Get it?