I've been Kindled

I've been Kindled


norman lebrecht

January 13, 2009

I am struggling to come to terms with my reaction on discovering on Google that people are reading my last book on the electronic device known as Kindle.

I was thrilled beyond all expectation. The heart always has a little leap when someone is reading your novel on a bus, or even browsing it in an airport bookstore. That signifies a kind of acceptance, irrevocable once the purchase has been made.

But to find readers engaged in one of your works on a handheld computer when they could just as easily choose from a million others is an affirmation of a different sort and I am having trouble explaining to myself why it filled me with such joy.

I have always been among the first to use new cultural gadgets, be they compact disc – I had a demo model back in 1982 – or word processor, or DVD, or time-shift television. So it’s great to be there on a Kindle or a Sony Reader, but not that much better than getting the super-coolest of i-Pods for your next big birthday. I have seen the things at work in my publisher’s office and was not all that impressed.

What thrills me, I suspect, are the twin elements of transference and cylicality. An idea comes from the mind, gets worked out on screen and paper and is finally imprinted between hard covers in a satisfying permanence.

Or so you kid yourself. That permanence may be for a year or few, after which the book ends up in a dump bin or pulped in a publisher’s recycling plant, the few hundred or thousand surviving copies trickling out of libraries and secondhand stores until they are worn out and only the British Library, Library of Congress and a few similar institutions maintain the author’s precious illusion of eternity, unto the tenth generation.

In digital form, the work lasts forever. It can be deleted, of course, but that’s unlikely to happen when it costs nothing to maintain on a databse and will continue to sell so long as there are readers who might find it enlightening. The sense of permanence is there.

Even more appealing is the feeling that the idea that has come from the ether has returned to the atmosphere, complete but ethereal, holding its space in the universe of ideas. What comes round, comes round.

I think that is what has made me so happy. I don’t own a Kindle and, were I to be given one in the pursuit of my professions, I don’t know how much I would use it in preference to the multi-sensual delights of the printed book.

I am a print junkie. I like to smell the page and run my fingers down the crack of a spine. But the uplift of receiving one’s latest book in hard covers wears thin on repetition, whereas the knowledge that I am out there on Kindle just fills me with delight as I go about the daily toil of putting 1,000 more words on the page and readying them for publication. I am falling in love with a machine I have never met.


  • N8Ma says:

    The times are indeed a changin’. We spend so many hours now staring at one kind of screen or another, though. But I know the Kindle was engineered to keep the eye-strain to a minimum.
    Oh well, I’m still old-school at least when it comes to books. And, can’t quite get an autographed copy on your Kindle, right? (I’m proud of my autographed Song of Names…)
    NL to N Madsen: There’ll be another novel to be signed this summer…

  • Huw Belling says:

    With the i-biquity of digital music players, another phenomenon is experiencing a naissance that it simply couldn’t with CD and Audio-tape distribution: The Audio book (see audiobooks in the iTunes store, or http://www.audible.co.uk ). The debate rages (or should) about the merit of audio-book distribution, especially about the tendancy to abridge. Some will claim it dulls the senses, others that it is a resumption of the primeval oral tradion of narrative (though I doubt Homo erectus had dreamtime tales of the get-rich-quick monster). I notice there are no Lebrecht audio-books. I wouldn’t mind hearing some of the saucier musical exposes read in scandalous bbc documentary style. Any chance, Mr. Lebrecht?

  • Ivan T says:

    Mr Lebrecht! You have a misconception about the permanence of digitally stored data. Unfortunately, the truth is rather the opposite of what you assume – books are generally considered the safer medium.
    One aspect of the problem is that the technology changes fairly rapidly, costly, and messily, so that even nowadays there are digital documents for which there is no technology with which they could be ‘read.’
    The problem of digital data storage and preservation requires focused and systematic approaches, and it is not yet ‘properly’ addressed by the IT professionals, librarians, historians et al. (I have learned about this from online conversations between people with such profiles. If you ask (the brighter among) them, they should be able to explain much better than I did.)