On our trip to Barcelona, I brought several novels as well as a couple of non-fiction books related to my work life with me. I can’t stand being on a plane without something to read but I also wanted to minimize the weight in my carry-on luggage. So I put all but two of the books in my checked bags and took one work of fiction and one of non-fiction in my carry-on. I started reading the work of fiction in the Manchester airport.
It was a great book–a graphic novel called Strangers in Paradise. I’ve been reading graphic works since I read and loved Alison Bechdel’s memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. I’ve enjoyed some of the graphic novels that I’ve read but mostly I am not part of the intended audience for those works and so they don’t particularly speak to me. Strangers in Paradise took some getting used to but the over-the-topness of the main character settled down as the work progressed and the back story was filled in. I ended up really liking it and the great thing about that is I’ve only read the first of six paperbacks in the series. So I have some future reading to look forward to. The bad thing about liking the graphic novel is that I finished it before we left the United States. So I was looking at an 8 hour plane ride with only work-related stuff to read (and who was I kidding–I was going on vacation!) or I would have to purchase a new book (when I had perfectly good books available in my checked bags). I chose to purchase a new book (Boomsday by Christopher Buckley–great satire) at an airport bookstore. So I ended up carrying more books than I had planned in my carry-on luggage as we crossed the Atlantic.
I think my decision to sacrifice breadth of reading materials for the sake of the weight I was carrying was a good one but in retrospect, I should have chosen two works of fiction to carry with me. And it’s not all bad in that I read Boomsday when I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. But it’s a shame that I had to make that decision in the first place. This is a situation for which I can completely understand the appeal of the Amazon Kindle reading device.
The Kindle weighs only a little over 10 ounces but can hold 200 titles to be read on electronic paper that is apparently fairly easy on the eyes. The device uses wireless cell phone technology so that downloading books, newspapers and magazines can be done nearly anywhere in the United States without having to find a wireless hotspot. I haven’t seen one or tried to read a book on one but that day in the airport, I certainly would have been happy to have access to additional fiction titles without having to carry additional weight. The reviews of the Kindle are mostly good (the big complaint seems to be that the page turning buttons are easy to hit by accident) but the one big drawback that I see to the device is the price. Amazon sells them for $359.
If that price meant that you could purchase books for significantly less than the cost of physical books, I might be able to justify spending $359 for a reading device. Since there is no need for printing, binding, shipping and so on, it would seem that the Kindle editions should be sold much more cheaply than the physical editions. But this is generally not the case. For example, the list price for the hardcover of David Sedaris’ new book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, is $25.99. Amazon is selling the hardcover for $14.29 (plus shipping and handling unless you get Free Super Saver Shipping on orders of over $25). The Kindle edition is $9.99. For non-trade books, the difference in price is typically even less. For example, Gary Genosco’s McLuhan and Baudrillard is $30.90 for the paperback and $27.81 for the Kindle edition. These price differences are fairly representative of what we find between the least expensive edition of the physical book and the Kindle edition. It would take a lot of book purchases to make back your $359. But perhaps the convenience combined with the ability to put not just books but also magazines and newspapers on it will convince some people to buy the Kindle.
I’m intrigued by the idea of being able to conveniently carry an entire (digital) library around with me in the same way that I’m intrigued by the idea of being able to carry lots of (digital) music around with me. It certainly would make trips to Europe easier to deal with.
I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.