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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Does kindle spell the end of the book as we know it?

In this morning's Washington Post Richard Cohen has a passionate diatribe about amazon and the promotion of the kindle electronic reader.

He loves to amble over to his neighborhood bookstore, wherever he might be, he says -- not just to buy, but to browse, drink coffee, talk, and simply absorb the atmosphere of books.

"The book is warm. The book is handy. The book is handsome to the eye," he poetically muses. "The book occupies the shelf of the owner and is a reflection of him or her, or, actually, me. The book is always there, to be reached for, to be thumbed ..."

Can amazon do anything like that? The kindle, let's face it, is just a gadget, yet one that is dearly loved by the guru techs at amazon. Steven Kessel, one of those gurus, confided that Jeff Bezos, the founder of amazon, is dead set on "reinventing the book." He and Kessel "wake up every day thinking about digital."

Predictably, this makes Cohen very unhappy. He likes actual bookstores, places where people who love books can recommend great writing to other people who love books. It was this process that introduced Cohen to Joseph Roth and Thomas Bernhard, and a book about World War One called Her Privates We. Amazon does not do this.

Richard Cohen does not offer a solution to this headlong rush away from the real book, except, perhaps, an unspoken plea to read more books with real pages and real covers. Well, as far as I am concerned, he can put one notch in his gun -- I can't wait to go to a real library and find that book he raved about, Her Privates We.

1 comment:

Yarrow said...

Personally, I love paper books -- the tactile sensation of them is embedded in my psyche from childhood on. But electronic reading is addictive in the same way that video games are. I find myself drawn more powerfully these days to read things in snippets on my computer or even my phone. It's a current I'm finding it harder and harder to swim against.

But I have to say, I've rarely had these community experiences at bookstores that apparently Richard Cohen and others have had. I always went into a bookstore, browsed, read, purchased, and rarely found a stranger with whom to share my interests. I haven't done it much online, either, but I will point out that the internet offers far more powerful means of connecting with like-minded people than hanging out at a bookstore does.

I would say that if Mr Cohen spent time in online groups, he'd receive far more recommendations and insights than he has in bookstores. In fact, Amazon offers many targeted recommendations and many ways to communicate with other readers.

Indeed, what prompted me to comment: I find it ironic that you rushed out in search of a book he'd recommended in his piece -- which you'd read, presumably, online!