Monday, April 27, 2009

Ego and the e-reader or Viva la ABBA

So, book snobs are fretting that the emergence of the Kindle and other e-readers may diminish the joys of reading and damage the publishing industry. (I know this, because I read Joanne Kaufmann's article "With Kindle, can you tell it's Proust?" this morning in the New York Times...on my Kindle.) They also lament that the new bit of Amazon technology is making it hard to judge folks on what they're reading in public.
 
Please, they're overlooking the really important concern: How will the Kindle affect literary snobbism? If you have 1,500 books on your Kindle — that's how many it holds — does that make you any more or less of a bibliophile than if you have the same 1,500 books displayed on a shelf? (For the sake of argument, let's assume that you've actually read a couple of them.)
 
The practice of judging people by the covers of their books is old and time-honored. And the Kindle, which looks kind of like a giant white calculator, is the technology equivalent of a plain brown wrapper. If people jettison their book collections or stop buying new volumes, it will grow increasingly hard to form snap opinions about them by wandering casually into their living rooms.
 
"I always notice how many books there are on the bookshelves, and what the books are," said Ammon Shea, who spent a year reading the entire Oxford English Dictionary and published a book about it. "It's the faux-intellectual version of sniffing through someone's medicine cabinet." Read more...
 
Unlike many of the eye-rolling from NYT online commenters, I'm going to assume this article was written with a bit of a wink--a nod to something we all do a little bit. That is, judge other people by their preferences, or rather, the relation of their preferences to our personal view of acceptable. I admit to doing a little internal eye-rolling myself when the friend of a friend implored me to read the Twilight series. An abstinence-preaching, vampire romance for tweens? Surely you jest! And I think less of your intellect for your having suggested such a thing! Of course, the first book I finished on my Kindle was comedian Russell Brand's "My Booky Wook" and I'm currently listening to the last installment of Kim Harrison's supernatural fantasy series "The Hollows" on my iPod. So maybe, y'know, I shouldn't be so smug.
 
It's hard when you fancy yourself a connosssieur of a thing. When you're really into something, you know what has expert approval--what you should enjoy--and what other x-philes scoff at--what you should avoid. My loves are books and music. I know, for instance, that having Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" or Public Enemy's "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back" on my iPod will put me in better critical stead than, say, owning Ace of Base's greatest hits. On the literary front, I know the Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao" (currently on my Kindle, waiting to be read) gives me more cred than the latest Mary Higgins Clark. I know these things, and I know that other snobs know them too...and they are watching.
 
Still, there is no accounting for taste. And enjoyment of music or the written word is no fun if you have to be governed by what other people think you should like. No matter how high-falutin' your literary and musical diet, surely you must make room for a little sugary confection now and again. Besides, "pop" music and literature are popular for a reason--they possess something that touches a broad swath of people. There is no shame in that.
 
I, without irony, downloaded Barry Manilow's and ABBA's greatest hits to my iPod. (I self-consciously click to the next song if "Mandy" or "Dancing Queen" shuffle around while someone is standing in my office. I have some pride.) And I'll be reading "Oscar Wao" only after I finish "White Witch, Black Curse" about a kick-ass, crime-fighting witch and her partners--a leather-wearing, bisexual vampire and a foul-mouthed, 18-year-old pixie. (The latter is on my iPod so I can delete any trace of it once I'm done; otherwise, it would go on my bedroom shelf where tome's of suspect literary merit go to hide.)
 
Oh, I know you book and music snobs are judging me. And I don't care.

7 comments:

El Nuyorican said...

LOL@Barry Manilow! Ok... so I'm a nuyorican that will listen to tom Jones occassionally (ddod had pipes!). and I love detective fiction, which ALL of my friends laugh at because thye know I am a READER -- with a big "R." Which brings me back to Kindle. I don't think amazon is getting it right, though their features are better designed than Sony's. But not being able to share a book? ::blank stare:: My father and I based much of our relationship through the sharing of books! If all we had was Kindle... well, you get my dirft. I don't think any electronic reader will ever compare to the opening of a new book, but I read -- LOTS. Much of it has to do with my work and I have to keep up on my research and public policy. I would LOVE to be able to walk around with the 5-6 textbooks I'm now reading on neuroscience. But it's not really happening on Kindle. I mean, there aren't really any textbooks. If I want to read Mosley's newest (which is fantastic!), I can do that with a regular book, thank you very much. -- Eddie

Kahnee said...

Man, I want a kindle.

White Witch, Black Curse has now officially been added to my to-read list.

Nathan said...

Love your approach! Life would be so much duller if we let our inner snobs rule all of our book choices. Everything in moderation, after all...

ThirstyDancer said...

I'm with El Nuyorican. Why NOT share what we're reading? Judging reading taste is like judging what people eat. Lame. The "I only read non-fiction and literature" claim rings as false as "I only watch public television." Book sales and ratings put the lie to both of these assertions. I like to see what others are reading, and to show what I'm reading to know more about this community of readers I'm a part of. Loving reading is like loving cooking. Any ingredients can be good with the right (write) recipe.

GoldenAh said...

I like all my e-books in PDF format. I have software on my laptop that reads the books to me when I feel lazy. I have an old Palm Zire that allows me to read PDF e-books also.

Also, I can at least make backups to my network shared drive. I've had PCs die, and I was thrilled to have copies of everything.

What happens when the Kindle dies, crashes, or is lost? I dislike my (dead) iPod for the same reasons. I may make backups of its files, but they are proprietary. I have to go through the motions to get stuff converted to - play everywhere on everything - mp3 files.

My beef with these companies is that they create electronic media, and do it in their proprietary (and instantly archaic) format. That's like watching TV, but having to buy a special set, per network, just to watch all their programs.

These greedy pigs should set a universal and eternal standard, they all would make more money in the end.

Sorry, had to get that one off my chest....

Anonymous said...

Hey there Tami! Dancing Queen and Mandy... thems fighting words, I love those corney songs!! But points for even "saying" that you like Berry Manilow... "Weekend in New England" anyone? :-)
This little place ALWAYS makes me smile, :-)
-Satsuma

Anonymous said...

Ever since people stopped talking to each other on plane trips, I haven't paid all that much attention to the book they happen to be reading. kindle or book..no biggie.

-Satsuma

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