The instructions tell you, "One battery charge is equal to 6,800 page turns (that's enough to read War and Peace five times over on a single charge!)" Yeah, right. But it's not going to happen on the Sony Reader. Nobody is ever going to read Tolstoy on this fatuous device. It's an electronic simulation of a page, but it'll never convince you it's a book, to be read by your sentient eyes and brain. It doesn't have the solidity, the pages, the tactile companionship of a book. You'll never know where you are in the story, or how much of it is left. You won't have the cover artwork, to steal inside your head and become a lifelong reminder of the book it encased.I hadn't thought about the "you don't know where you are" issue before in quite this way, though I've been interested in the Kindle for a while.
And you can't turn the pages. I spent half an hour reading Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (the first book to be installed) with my fingers itching to turn a page; "turn" one electronically, and the screen goes blank before the next page is displayed. It's a nasty moment, the screen going blank and interrupting your train of thought; but it's a good metaphor for the blankness to which our minds are tending, as we gradually lose the ability to interpret the old world of sequential thoughts in the new blizzard of information retrieval.
Everyone I've talked to or have read about who has a Kindle or Sony Reader loves it. Loves it. Wouldn't be without it. It's light, it's handy, and it isn't a burden to carry. Professor Z also had a good point about the backlight feature of the Kindle being handy if you're in a place with sporadic electricity. If you have a Kindle, you can get the books instantly. When you talk to people about what they like, however, it's almost always the ability to carry around popular or contemporary literary fiction for dull moments: airplane rides, train rides, waiting for the bus.
Walsh notes that while Booker Prize-winning books used to fly off the shelves, now difficult fiction by authors like Adam Mars-Jones or Anne Enright doesn't sell as much as he thinks it should or as much as he thinks it used to. He finds it hard to imagine that anyone would read War and Peace or difficult literary fiction on this device. But is this the fault of the device, the fault of the culture, or both?
And is "fault" too strong a word to use for this idea? At the end of a long day, even academics don't always say, "Okay, I'm finished with grading, committee meetings, reading a lot of academic prose, writing, and whatever else goes into a long day. Since this is the one night out of the week I don't have more work to do after dinner, I can't wait to dive into a 1,050-page novel with lots of convoluted syntax and highly symbolic imagery, one that comments on and interrupts itself incessantly." Do we say this? What we're likely to dive into is (in descending order) (1) a book related to research, but not necessarily criticism; (2) a classic novel we've always meant to read; (3) books we've read before, soothing books that can drown out the din of "you still haven't done this!" lists in our heads; and (4) magazines, light books, web pages, and blogs. Insofar as the e-book devices foster this kind of reading, maybe Walsh has a point. Or maybe we would be doing this kind of reading with or without the e-book device.