Despite previously damning the Kindle and all other electronic forms of reading, I am a convert. I admit that I actually love my Kindle. Since tentatively purchasing it a couple of weeks ago, I have read more than I have for years.
When it arrived, I eyed it nervously, like the enemy. I’d seen other people with them, and even on the bus to work. I bought mine under the guise of ‘treating myself’ after a particularly bad phase, and promptly downloaded lots of free classics. I was amazed that I could actually read these precious pieces of knowledge for free. I immediately began to read Anna Karina, and the falling in love began.
It wasn’t until I tried to explain the kindle to my mother (who is a very modern great grandma and has just discovered the internet) that I realised an important truth about the Kindle, different reading formats and writing in general. Here’s the phone conversation.
(Lot’s of moaning form me about how fed up I’ve been)
J: Yes, so to cheer myself up I bought a Kindle.
M: Oh. I think I’ve seen that on Amazon. What is it? Some kind of computer on that internet?
J: In a way. It’s like a screen where you can read books?
M: Mmm. So you can read books on it? How do you turn the page? Is it on both sides?
J: There’s a button that does it for you automatically, like scrolling down on the internet.
M: Right. Good. But you know when they deliver it, you know, when the postman knocks and gives you the book? How do you get it inside the Kindle?
J: Erm. Well. It’s not the actual book inside. It’s just the words. The story.
M: So how do they get the words off the pages and inside the Kindle?
The conversation went on an I promised to show her my Kindle next time I saw her, and how the downloading works. But the point was made. The story is separate from the product, and somehow it is transported from the paper page to the electronic device. I’ve been searching for some time as to where the paradigm shift in publishing, with the sharing of work for easier than ever. And there it was, in that conversation. It’s just the words. The story.
As a writer, I think it is easy to forget the story, an ethereal concept floating around somewhere until we order it and pin it down. The language, the words, the meaning, all there somewhere, yet so often we analyse and define based on the commercial product of ‘a book’. The end game – on a shelf in Waterstones, or at 8.99 on Kindle with the option of buying a more expensive paperback, on display in Smiths – has somehow become the mark of how good the story is. Having read some brilliant Kindle-only novels for 99p, I feel that this is rapidly becoming disputed. As ever, economic theory will evolve this for us, and supply and demand dictate the market.
The craft of writing down a story, based in both experience and imagination, is something that can bring life and order to the very basis of our psychological lives, matching and adding to our own narrative experience of the world. Has the day come where, instead of reading the top 10 books available to us form those in publishing business, we read these in equal proportion to the inexpensive Kindle-only story? Or, will we choose the online world and read five Kindle books for the cost of one paperback? For the reader, is it the product that matters, or the reading of a story?
Perception of value will never die, and we are unlikely to buy someone a Kindle story as a gift. Whilst there will always be the printed book, it’s good to have a choice as to what story we read, in whatever format we choose. I’m hovering between the two, with a paperback on the go and a queue on my Kindle. I’ve never read more!
It took the Kindle and my mother to remind me of what I already knew, but lost somewhere in the rush to the finish line: it’s the words we read; it’s the story that matters.