The Physical Act of Reading

I’ve been devouring the printed word on my Kindle ever since I got it last week (why yes, I did spend $180 so I could get my hands on Dance with Dragons nine hours early… why do you ask?). I’ve always loved reading, but the truth is I’ve never been that big of a reader, and I’ve never particularly tried very hard to reconcile this apparent misalignment.

It may just be the allure of new gadgetry, I suppose; I’m not much of a gadget fiend, but I do so love playing with new toys. I don’t think so, though. I think the Kindle has solved a problem so fundamental that I never even considered it as a problem before: I can read a book on it without having to hold a book.

Holding a book is annoying. If it’s a paperback, it requires both hands (unless you don’t care about creasing the spine, in which case you are history’s greatest monster). You can’t rest your weight on your arms or elbows, because every minute or so you have to put your entire upper body to work turning a page. Depending on where your light is situated, you may have to make unreasonable compromises between comfort and practicality. You have to set the book down whenever you want to take a drink.

There are a couple hundred pages in the middle of most large hardcovers where you can simply set the book on a table and it will stay open to the page you want. That has always been the most pleasant configuration, in my opinion. It’s also been the rarest.

The Kindle solves all of these excruciating problems. I can read it while sitting or laying in any position at all. I can prop it up on its little stand on my desk, then recline and read it from three feet away. I can operate it with one hand — indeed, with one thumb. And, perhaps best of all, the device helps eliminate that feeling of emptiness right after finishing a book. One button, and you can pop your head into the marketplace and grab another book immediately… even at 4am. No trip to the library required.

I find that not all of my book-going problems are solved, of course. I still can’t spill anything on it, or drop it in the bathtub. It also creates a few new ones: leafing to the back of a book to reference an appendix, map or diagram is easy. Navigating that way on a Kindle is irritating, assuming the illustrations show up on the screen at all. And, of course, looking at a single Kindle will never be as impressive as witnessing the glory of a fully-stocked bookshelf.

But those are niggling details. On the whole, I’ve been shocked at how pleasing the experience was. The day before I got my Kindle I did not even particularly want one. The day after I got it, I realized I would never be able to live without it. Night and day.

Now I just need something good to read.

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3 comments to The Physical Act of Reading

  • Breaking the spine of a book is just wearing it in… Just like a beloved t-shirt or comfortable pair of pants. Worn covers and broken spines aren’t crimes they’re the signs of a well beloved book.

  • Arthur

    But if you can get a new book as soon as you finish the old one… when do you ever stop reading? Those limits are all that stop me from basically reading all of the time, which unfortunately the world is not prepared to let you do.

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