Kindle as a technology has certain drawbacks but is totally worth it. It’s thinner than your wallet, perhaps lighter than your grandfather’s ink pen but smart enough to carry your entire library in it — and more. This New Year, I acquired the most well-known of all the e-book readers in the market. I got myself the Kindle. Though Kindle’s latest version is Kindle Fire, I have an older model. Kindle has arrived in my life, like Faiz puts it: “Jaise saihra mein holey sey chaley bad-e-naseem” (As, slowly, in the desert, moves the breeze).
Most people are not e-book friendly and swear by the feel of a “real” book, the crispy touch of yellowing paper, the rustic scent of a seasoned book. This resistance in acceptance of e-books isn’t unique to the Kindle platform. People initially resisted almost everything novel, from email to Gmail, Facebook to Twitter, from smartphones to assorted electronic gadgets. Some of my professors were committed enough to the postal service and shunned emails for years. But today most have succumbed (or transcended) to the single-click world.
Receiving love letters in enclosed envelopes with vibrant stamps was romantic but most of us have compromised and let our hearts skip a beat thanks to the virtual inbox. It is about time we all accustomed ourselves to e-book reading because it’s convenient, and hence inevitable. You save space, time and money. Moreover, e-readers are only going to get better and cheaper.
One big benefit of owning a Kindle in some developing countries is that pirated e-books are commonly available online and downloading them can be legally problematic in the developed world. But in a country like Pakistan where most books are imported, shamelessly expensive and not readily available, this is an added attraction — depending on your moral cost-benefit calculus. Though most of the books online are in PDF or MS Word format, they can be easily converted to the MOBI format (used exclusively by Kindle) using the software called Calibre. Sometimes the transition isn’t very readable but mostly it is.
Another boon is that websites like Gutenberg have huge collection of classic books with expired copyrights. These are now legally in the public domain for free downloads. For everyone waiting to catch up with hefty classics like War and Peace and Les Miserables, Kindle will make it easier with its adjustable font size and the ink-reader that doesn’t strain the eyes. Yes, the technology does not — contrary to popular perceptions — hurt your eyes.
The Kindle Fire, which is the latest model of Kindle, has several problems because it is attempting to mimic Apple’s iPad, but not quite getting there. This has been almost fatal because Kindle had gained its initial respect as an e-book reader and now it is deviating from that. This is partially understandable, as the Fire is priced much lower than the iPad. Moreover, one of the benefits of an e-book reader was that it allowed staying clear of online distractions (Facebook, Youtube) while the book was open. But the new features like touch screen without a keypad lock, no privacy options, slower service due to WiFi, and no ink-reader (the Fire has an LCD display) have perhaps hurt the new Kindle’s appeal.
However, Kindle’s software has been updated and many hardware features have been enhanced. Buying a Kindle can be difficult because one needs a credit card to shop at Amazon and there could be additional tariffs and unexpected delays. Amazon, of course, is the company, which owns Kindle and holds the largest Kindle book collection.
Maybe I am biased, but the ambience of the older Kindle is fairly romantic, with its black and white screen and cover pictures that change every time you turn it off. It is a queer sight, seeing all those books from Austen to Virginia Wolf and Jean Rhys, all together, like siblings stacked on a shelf. In the first few days, I started several books together, but life since has normalised. Since it is a gadget, one can’t take it to the pool or the washroom, but you don’t ditch your wife just because she didn’t accompany you on a football match. All those literature greats and me cuddle together under the blanket, blazing through Brother’s Karamazov together.
This piece was first published in the News on Sunday.