June 11, 2009



Thanks for the Fictionaut mention. And great essay at HuffPo - couldn't agree more.


Publishers have a vested interest in inreasing the number of readers of their works and also appealing to a younger demographic. Delivery of content -- books, news, blogs etc., digitally is a reality most publishers have grappled with, prepared for and moved beyond. The Kindle, Sony eReader and what ever product Apple will eventually launch are a good thing for authors, publishers and readers. The business models will sort themsleves out. The devices will improve and the cost of them will come down. And we will all be the better for it.

Jack Pendarvis

I am glad that a person with no money can check out a book from the library. I doubt they would give him or her a kindle. I know I am wrong, but the kindle takes me back to the days when only the priest had the book, and the book was chained to the lectern. Of course, I am imagining a world with no books and all kindles. I am not anti-kindle, I just want to make sure everybody has something to read. I haven't thought this through and it is just occurring to me now, but this is the internet, so I think that's okay: hasn't the trend in publishing over the years been IN GENERAL to make literature and scripture more accessible to the poor? Wasn't that the main gist of the printing press? The paperback? The lending library? So isn't the kindle a step in the other direction? I'll shut my big gob now and await the stern correction I so richly deserve.


Hey Jack,

As I said in my essay, this isn't a zero sum game. No one is suggesting libraries shoudl go away, and I, too, am pleased that they are still around. All I am saying is the Kindle is merely one more way to reach readers, and as such, writers should be grateful for it.

Also, before we get all class warfare around here (kidding!), it's worth remembering that most technologies start off expensive and quickly come down. Remember when cell phones were big, expensive, and the property of captains of industry? Now they are commonplace even among the economically disadvantaged. (I also had an aside in the original, now deleted, in which I urged Amazon or any other e-reader developer to aim for the $99 sweetspot ... ) Give that a little time, I think.


Writers complaining about the Kindle makes as little sense as musicians complaining about iTunes. It's a delivery vehicle with the potential to reach millions of readers - isn't that what every writer longs for? The Kindle and other e-book readers offer vastly more potential for widespread exposure than the brick-and-mortar bookstores that most writers wax nostalgically about.


I own a Kindle and am in two minds about it. As a lifetime biblioholic, I see it as a lifeline, preventing me from having to use up more of my precious living space with bookshelves. On the other hand, I don't like the fact that I could lose all my Kindle-sourced books in one fell swoop should the device die or be stolen or break in some way.

I also can't hide my money in it.

Keith H

Seriously. The Kindle could do for books what the i-pod/i-tunes has done for music: Increase the ease with which you can buy music and the range of stuff you're exposed to. Pricing models will change, but why is that necessarily bad? I'm a &#!*& writer and I don't want to pay $28 bucks for a hardback. I'll keep buying "real" books because I want to own them, for the same reason I print real documents from my screen. Publishers will get more creative (hopefully) allowing buyers to purchase the digital or paper version at a discount with the purchase of the other. You might see digital book clubs like emusic sells songs on a subscription basis.

Come on people, this is a good thing.

Salvador Plascencia

I’m one of the fools carping.

Run some hills and then jump on a treadmill.

On the Kindle the topography of the print
novel—which varies in its dimensions, texture, and typography is reduced to the belt of a treadmill: easily retrievable but lacking its panoramic scope.

The itunes analogies are the most annoying. E-readers mangle novels. They crunch up the pages, uproot sentences into nomads, and erase the looming peripheral pages into unseen data. The basic physiology of the book is altered. Verso (Left) and Recto (Right) pages disappear into androgyny. The fore-edge and gutter go extinct.
Ipods, on the other hand, manage to keep the audio fidelity and sonic integrity of a song intact.
And I’m no Luddite, I say this as someone who has spent more hours on _Little Big Planet_ than on _2666_.



Again, I think you're falling into the zero sum argument, and I say this as an admirer of you and your work.

Undoubtedly, for the kind of visually specific work you do, the Kindle is no friend (in its present incarnation, although even that is sure to change). And I've never propose one read an art book, for example, on a Kindle.

But do you honestly think A Farewell to Arms is even vaguely impaired by the Kindle, existing as it does in dozens of formats already?

And as far as your defense of the iPod goes, couldn't one argue that it's turned us from a long form, album culture, into a sound bite/singles listening culture? I don't think the analogy is at all annoying because the iPod has undoubtedly changed HOW we listen to music - and yet, there is still much great music to listen to.

It's not all or nothing, folks. That's really what I'm trying to say.


Salvador -

Interesting points. You are correct that the Kindle offers a very different cognitive experience than does a bound book. But I also find your analysis ahistorical. You write as though we went from bound books to the Kindle in an instant, like the Fall.

What you're not considering is the missing link between the bound book and the Kindle - the printout. The Kindle "reads" like a printout or typescript, which is itself a venerable form of publishing. You also lose with the printout/typescript the sense of the next page impending or the previous page hovering at the edge of your attention. On the other hand, you do gain a sense of centrality, of focus, that you lose with the bound book.

I think you're really fetishizing binding itself more than you're making a strong point against the Kindle. Recall as well that all writers first read their own work as typescripts or printouts, long before they ever see them (if they're lucky) bound and printed. So it's hard to argue that the printout is somehow less authentic to the writing/reading process, some kind of synthetic artifact that lies outside the historical experience of reading an writing.

I'm also surprised that you reject the iPod analogy. The physicality of the vinyl record corresponds exactly to the physicality of the bound book. THe experience of watching the record go round and round, progressing from periphery to center, I'm sure could be described every bit as rapturously - and sensuously - as you describe the anticipation of the next page. So I'm not feeling you on this one.


With all due respect, Mr. Sarvas, that’s not what you said, that it’s “not all or nothing.” What you said in the article was that people who raised objections to the Kindle were “stupid” and “foolish”. What’s even more lousy is that the person you were obviously aiming those insults at, Sherman Alexie, is from the Spokane Indian Reservation, where the per capita income is roughly $4,000.

I guess what makes it so galling is that those people Alexie is worried about having access to books in the e-book era, the kind of people who could never in their wildest dreams buy each kid a Kindle and provide them a generous monthly book budget, don’t even occur to you. They’re not only not part of your conversation – even while you’re responding to Alexie – they don’t even seem to exist in your world.


Ben -

But in the context of his article, "stupid" and "foolish" are applied to those who have an irrationally hysterical reaction to the Kindle, as though it were some kind of Apocalypse for writers and readers. He's criticizing such people precisely because they think it's a zero sum game. So there's no contradiction at all.


Niall - thank you. You read what I wrote precisely as intended.

Bem, with equal respect, I might also point out that the words "This isn't a zero sum game" can be found in my essay, so clearly, I was making that point.

Two other important things, Ben (with equal respect):

First. This piece is, in fact, NOT referring to Alexie. I was entirely unaware of his comments when I wrote this essay, days after the festival. It took some time finding a home, during which his words came to light. But I did not see Alexie at the festival; my comment refers to a writer of literary fiction I saw, someone who - unlike Alexie - has a small readership and would reap more of the benefits I describe in the piece than Alexie would. Not sure how people would think I would use Alexie in an argument for the difficulty of finding readers. Let's be careful about assuming - if I'd meant Alexie, I would have said so.

Second, I think the whole cost/class argument raised here and elsewhere is beside the point and even a little self-righteous - it's an argument that already has an expiration date on it. E-reader technology will only get cheaper and better as virtually every technology of the last hundred years - from TV to computers to you name it - has. That's the inevitable arc of things, hence the presence of cell phones on Indian reservations. Today, yes, these things are expensive and the audience is limited - as first generation devices are (talk to those who paid $600 for iPhones). But that will only last a short while, and once a viable competitor forces the prices of Kindles down, they will become as ubiquitous as iPods. So the real question is do you want to be an early rider on that building wave, or do you want to come racing up the rear? Me, I'd like authors of literary fiction to be right up front ...


As self-righteous as calling people who raise concerns about the Kindle stupid?

But, whatever. If you're not talking about Alexie's comments, then fine. The reason I assumed that's who you were talking about is because he's the one that's gotten the most press lately making anti-Kindle remarks. And because you made reference to a fiction writer you chose not to name.

As to the technology trickle-down effect, I don't know how many reservations you've been on, but in most cases that just hasn't happened. iPods and laptops may be ubiquitous in Los Angeles (or Denver, where I am, for that matter) but they're nearly non-existent on, say, Pine Ridge, the Navajo Reservation, or, I dare say, the Spokane Reservation. That's worth remembering, in itself, and seems to be a large part of Alexie's point.

Again, if that ain't your argument, it ain't your argument. For my part, I found it refreshing to see Alexie considering the kind of readers who don't typically get considered at book conferences.


I don't usually go for last-wordism on these things because they can go on forever, Ben, so after this you may close with any snark you like, but in short:

No, it's not the same thing.

I was merely, perhaps, a bit rude. But there's something in the pose of your suggested superior concern for the downtrodden that reeks of self-righteousness, and I find it rather distasteful. It's all too easy to try to score points this way, but it doesn't amount to very much.

And as for technology trickle down, I do assume there are TVs on the reservation? Cell phones? It certainly doesn't all get there at once or in good time, and we can deplore the slow rate, over which I have no control, but if you really want to worry about conditions of the poor, I'd say worrying about things like health care and education probably come in front of stuff like Kindles.

I will say again - it isn't my argument. And if I had meant Alexie, I would have zero trouble name checking him, as regular readers of this blog know. If you were wrong in these key, basic assumptions, perhaps it's possible you are wrong throughout?

Fire away. I return to my usual place above the fold and the last word will be yours. Surprise me.


So, now we're down to televisions as the mark of a successful bridging of the technological divide?

Look, I'm not trying to be snarky. Nor self-righteous. And I think it's a huge failure of the so-called literary community that any attempt to consider those who don't have hundreds of dollars to throw around at whim gets tagged as such. But, hell, you can add "self-righteous" to "stupid" and "foolish". That seems to be the whole of your argument: anyone you disagree with is by definition an idiot, and to hell with substance.

I think the point Alexie made was that worrying about the Kindle and access to books is part of worrying about education. Again, I think that's important, and I think those are important questions. You can disagree, but it'd be nice if you actually did so, as opposed to namecalling.


Well, I guess I'm reneging slightly but only to say if you think that's the whole of my argument, you didn't pay any real attention to my essay. I'm sorry I'm not writing about what you think I should be writing about, but nor I am writing what you seem to believe I am. In that divide, misunderstanding appears to have taken up permanent residence.

And I don't think it's not important but I do think it is a very small and very specific arena in a much, much bigger picture, and one that is simply premature given the state of technology (as I already said). Anyway, if Alexie really wanted to do something concrete, he'd use his leverage with Amazon (which a name like him surely has) to, for example, arrange a donation of Kindles to a reservation. I have bo doubt he could do that, and it would benefit all concerned, but it's much easier - as you suggest - to call people names.


Ben -

How many quality bookstores are presnt on the reservations you mention?


All right, now I'm confused. Does that mean that you were talking about Alexie all along, or have you just decided to start trashing him now?


Isn't the main complaint about kindles an economic one? That like MP3s, people will cease to pay for books yet unlike music there is no other way for writers to make money (merch, concerts, etc.)?

It is already bad enough with magazines folding and reading declining, I guess we just have literature retreat further and further into academia?



Sarvas wasn't talking about Alexie, the poor, indian reservations or denying access to literature to anyone. You seem to have confused his remarks with someone else's essay.

A person can go to any public library today, sit in front of the computer,click on amazon.com and read to their hearts content through Search Inside the Book.

All --

The one issue rarely mentioned in the iPod arguement is that the development of that product also enabled musicians the ability to earn a living. Their royalties were no longer pirated. Unlike the music industry, book publishers developed a DRM (Digital Rights Management)tool that provides the technological security authors and publishers need to protect their intellectual property and copyright so everyone can profit from the enhanced digital capabilities.

Recently, a colleague and I were returning from a business trip to Singapore and like a total rookie, I finished my 900 page book with eight hours remaining in my flight( my other books were packed). I had Kindle envy. Until, while unfolding is seat to fall asleep, the corner of the leg rest caught the edge of the Kindle and snapped it like a twig. Heartbreaking.


Larry I'm not really sure what you are saying. I know tons of people with iPods. I'd say at most 10% of them ever buy anything from iTunes, the rest pirate.

Yes, iTunes makes some iMoney, but there is little point in pretending that music sales haven't plummeted dramatically overall.

No DRM lasts. the music industry tried tons of types of DRM and similar things, none of them worked. Why do you think it will last with books?


By the way, I'd like to point out that this whole discussion is premised on a piece of misdirection. Everyone is arguing about a *device* (the Kindle), when the real issue is the *capability* that the Kindle showcases. The Kindle is a transitional device, and will be superseded rather quickly. Or rather, it will be disintermediated, as we say in the computer biz. The history of single-use dedicated devices shows that they quickly fall by the wayside, and their capability becomes integrated into more generic, multi-use devices. The evolution from iPod to iPhone is a great example of this, and the speed with which it happens.

e-reading will be a default feature on smart phones by the end of the year. The Kindle will be seen as a revolutionary precursor that quickly became antiquated. So fussing over the Kindle itself is beside the point. This process of disintermediation and integration into generic devices is precisely what will make e-reading a commodity that is bundled into a piece of hardware (cell phone) that is itself a commodity. Thus the price point/class war issue disappears. Which, I think, supports Marks reasoning in this regard.

And I'm still waiting to hear about all the high-quality bookstores dotting those terminally impoverished Indian reservations...


There are libraries, Niall. Which is how most people without money have access to books. Real, tangible books, because most libraries that serve under-privileged areas don’t have adequate computers for use by the patrons. That bizarre comment by Larry about how the poor can (eat cake) read books using Amazon’s inside-the-book feature notwithstanding.

I keep being amazed at how little most of you seem to know about how people access books when they don’t have disposable income lying around in heaps. It’s like you have your own gated literary community, and don’t even bother considering those without money to burn. It’s an attitude that does more harm to reading than every piece of tech junk or monopolistic corporation ever known.


I think you are nuts if you think people are going to be reading 1,000 page novels on a cell phone screen.

Maybe you can stand reading some twitters or emails on a phone, but there is no way any significant amount of people will be reading serious novels on their small-screen back-lit cell phones.

The kindle is a precursor to something, but it will be other e-readers that aren't back-lit and have large screens like kindles.

Jack Pendarvis

You know, it's hard work being as self-righteous as I am. Strangely - because self-righteous people are usually energetic and well-scrubbed (for example, that Salvation Army lady in GUYS AND DOLLS) - I am also a real laggard. So screw it. I hope they start making kindles out of gold! I won't be happy until I'm like a 21st-century Scrooge McDuck, doing the backstroke in my giant vat of golden kindles. PS I am just an old man who can't understand things that are new and scary. If I may be oracular for a moment, it will happen to all of you without exception. Yes, you all will meet your kindle. Allow me to quote a popular gravestone. What you are I was. What I am you will be.


Ben -

Really, stop lecturing me about libraries and the poor. I grew up dirt poor in Alaska, and know all about how to use a library.

No one is denying that libraries give the dirt poor access to books. And to the internet. That's not the issue in dispute at all. The question is: Will the advent of the Kindle cause libraries to go extinct, and therefore deprive the dirt poor of access to books.

You've presented exactly zero evidence to support this contention. Moreover, the complete absence of bookstores on reservations, and the survival of libraries, shows that the availability of a commercial option for accessing books, and a very cheap one at that, has not driven libraries off the reservation.

So your point is obviously falsified by the very evidence you cite.



"I think you are nuts if you think people are going to be reading 1,000 page novels on a cell phone screen.

Maybe you can stand reading some twitters or emails on a phone, but there is no way any significant amount of people will be reading serious novels on their small-screen back-lit cell phones. "

Invincible American parochialism raises its tedious head. Cell phone novels have taken off in Japan, and are all the rage. The Japanese don't seem to have any trouble reading them on their cell phones. And what's happening in Japan is what will be happening in the laggard US in two years.

As for 1000 page novels: Who reads those when they're printed? Maybe 1% of the reading population, so it's not really an interesting counterexample. And text is the cheapest form of data to transmit and store. A 1000 page novel will take up much less memory on a cell phone than a three minute music video will.

But by all means circle the wagons! Pretend the rest of the world doesn't exist. Assume that no one can be different or more advanced than we are in the US.

And I thought reading was supposed to make us citizens of the world...

Jack Pendarvis

Niall, you are my digital Sky Masterson, whisking me away to a sort of Kindle Havana for a taste of sweet, forbidden fruit! Soon I will be taking off my Salvation Army bonnet and shaking loose my bobby pins and dancing to the strange, intoxicating rhythms of data transmission and storage. Later I will find out you only did it to win a bet, but by then I have a feeling something very real will have happened between us.


So, let me get this straight, Niall. The reason you asked twice how many quality bookstores there were to be found on the reservations I named was because you wanted to make the point that “the complete absence of bookstores on reservations, and the survival of libraries, shows that the availability of a commercial option for accessing books, and a very cheap one at that, has not driven libraries off the reservation.”

Even though you never mentioned libraries at any point?

It kind of seems like you’re making it up as you go along, but please elaborate as to how a “complete absence of bookstores” can prove that “the availability of a commercial option for accessing books, and a very cheap one at that, has not driven libraries off the reservation.” I don’t see any connection between those two things whatsoever.


" Later I will find out you only did it to win a bet, but by then I have a feeling something very real will have happened between us."

Please, Jack, buy me a drink first. Preferably two.


Ben -

I didn't mean to mention libraries, since I already understood that that's what you were talking about. No need to restate the obvious.

As for making it up as I go along - not at all. I'm just pointing out the irrefutable fact that the availability of super cheap books at gigantic chain stores have not driven libraries out of business. So why should we assume that the (for now) much more expensive Kindle would have this effect?

What do you have to say about that?



Sorry I wasn't being clear. You are quite right, people still pirate content -- music, books, journals etc., and no DRM is perfect. My point is that the music business let piracy get ahead of them and lost their shirts. Publishers are trying to figure out the best business model where everyone can earn a living.


Michael Antman

I think the Kindle is a beautiful piece of technology, and whatever technology replaces it in a year or two is likely to be even more elegant and well-designed (not to mention less expensive; I haven't purchased an eReader yet only because I'm waiting for the next generation.)

But I have a problem with the relentlessness of digitization, the way in which, as we've seen with music, it reduces everything to its least tangible manifestation.

Consider the way that DVDs (themselves a digital technology) are suffering serious sales declines because of the availability of on-demand movies that we can watch on our TVs or our laptops. Is this the end of the world? No, but I bet the folks at Criterion are going to start worrying in the next year or two.

As I think we'll see in the coming years -- and as another of your commenters has noted -- everything that can be digitized will likely converge to a single screen or set of screens; i.e., one mobile device, and one or more for our homes. At the same time, the physical manifestations of our culture, or to be specific, of those parts of our culture that can be readily digitized, will begin to disappear.

I don't think the supposed elitism of the Kindle is really the issue, since libraries can offer Internet access to everyone (libraries aren't going to disappear; they'll just begin offering more screens and fewer printed books), and because whatever screen-based device we all end up using will be relatively inexpensive, as we've seen with so many other electronic devices.

Rather, my concern has to do with our physical and psychic environment. I wonder how we're going to feel twenty years from now when we look up from our screens to find that most of our shelves in the bookstores that remain, in our homes, and in our libraries, are empty.

I think we'll feel empty, too -- maybe even (or especially) those of us who have grown up knowing nothing but screens.

(Incidentally, why is okay to question the cultural, sociological, or environmental impact of, for example, new power plants, weapons systems, or huge skyscrapers without being called a "Luddite," but apparently not okay to question the impact of eBooks, or to suggest, however tentatively, that the digitization of print might have negative consequences as well as positive ones?)

I write about these issues in more detail in a recent article, "The Future Is An Empty Room," at PopMatters. I encourage further comment there, or here, though I would hope without too much name-calling.



Thank you for the thoughtful comment.

To answer your parenthetical question, I would say two things. First, if every concern about the Kindle was framed as thoughtfully as yours, this discussion would only benefit. The problem is most Kindle objectors don't register a nuanced point, as you have - rather they indulge in histronics (like "The Kindle is Evil"), which indicated (to me at least) that they're not especially interested in having a sensible conversation.

Second, the reason one isn't called a Luddite for objecting to "new power plants, weapons systems, or huge skyscrapers" (at least not by me) is that these don't represent a quantum leap in technology, a paradigm shift - to object to them isn't really a "fear of the new" objection, so much as a "fear of too much more of the same."

With respect to your bigger objection, I would return to what I have suggested all along is my core point. It's not an all or nothing deal. One can own a Kindle, perhaps for reading more disposable works, and maintain a library of favorites. They are not mutually exclusive. I have no doubt I will own an e-reader in the next year or two but I assure you my library isn't going anywhere.

I look forward to your continued sensible thoughts, Michael. Thanks again for posting here.

Michael Antman

Thank you, too. I would enjoy the opportunity to contribute in the future.

I've tried, in my article at PopMatters and on various book blogs, to get a conversation going on this topic, but have found it to be a difficult and somewhat disappointing exercise, because a lot of people (not all, obviously) seem to want to respond only to the most extreme statements. And most seem to be in one of two mutually exclusive categories: Either technophorics who are delighted to see the Gutenberg age grind to a halt, or passive types who are in a state of serious denial about what's about to happen to book culture, and to culture in general. There don't seem to be a lot of people in either category, but especially in the latter, willing to engage with this very important issue.

The name-calling and histrionics are only part of the problem. A bigger issue, in my opinion, is the continued resort by debaters on both sides to historical analogies that have no particular relevance, and their consequent refusal to deal with present-day realities and future possibilities. For example, in the various responses so far to my article, I've seen references to stone tablets, harpsichords, and even horses. (The last as part of an argument by a traditional book-lover that the Kindle won't kill off books because "we have automobiles, but we still love horses." It's hard to respond to logic like that.)

My point regarding historical analogies is that every situation is different and needs to be judged on its own merits. I believe that there is something historically unique about digitization, in part because of its inability (not due to any malign intent, it's just the nature of the technology) to co-exist with earlier technologies. We've seen it happen with music, we're seeing it happen right now with movies we watch at home, and I contend it will probably happen in the near future with printed books.

As much as I would like to see you proven right that eReaders are not an all-or-nothing deal, and that they indeed can co-exist indefinitely with the printed book, I fear that, within one or two decades, the latter is likely to be relegated to the status of a nostalgic object or niche enthusiasm. And that, I think, would be a tragedy for our culture.


Michael -

Let me respond to your points a bit.

"Least tangible manifestation."

The raw materialism of your point here is kind of interesting, along with the commodity fetishism it implies. When you apply it to DVDs I kind of scratch my head. Because the "tangible manifestation" of movies in DVD form is, to me, a very recent thing. For most of the history of film, film has had no "tangible manifestation" in the way you're thinking of it. You couldn't own a movie. You couldn't watch one whenever you wanted. You couldn't collect them and stock your shelves with them. You could only see a movie at the theater or on TV, and the schedule and availability of movies was decided by a small group of people far , far away. I recall that sinking feeling that if I missed a rare or interesting movie at the theater or on TV I might have to wait years (literally) before I could see it again.

It was precisely the complete absence of the movies as a tangible manifestation that made us care so much about them.

You also don't seem to realize that the switch from DVD to On Demand is no real change at all. Because both forms of access allow you to watch the movie anytime you want, as many times as you want. The magical, elusive and arbitrary appearance of a movie in your life is still banished, replaced by the omni-availabile movie as commodity.

I'm also old enough to remember a time before any digitization of any kind. Back in those hoary days of antiquity it was still common to walk into someone's house or apartment and find the shelves bare.

"I think we'll feel empty too..."

People who have only known iPods don't feel in any way "empty", though you may feel that they should. They are filled with the presenece of their music. Likewise, when I read my Kindle, I don't feel "empty". I feel absorbed in what I am reading. The "thingness" of records and DVDs and books was never a large part of what we got from using them. Rather it was what they contained or showed us.

It's funny to hear you go all elegiac about the commodification of art, and wail at its digitization. As though there were any difference between the two.


It's also instructive to think about how the technology of the Kindle may affect the fortunes of various literary forms.

If we look at the effect the iPod has had on popular music, it's curiously retro. The iPod has resurrected the single as the basic unit of pop music. Something that hasn't been true since the 60s. The 70s 80s and 90s saw the ascendancy of the album both as the unit of consumption and the basic strategy of radio programming (hence the "Album Oriented Radio" format, or AOR). Now people are finding it very hard to sell albums, but very easy to sell singles. A neat little cultural Aufhebung.

I think technologies like the Kindle may have the same effect - dethroning the ponderous novel in favor of the short story. The short story has been in decline for decades now, which is a shame, since it's much harder to write a good short story than it is to write a good novel. Just as the ascendancy of the rock album made musical artists lazy and indulgent, and I think the ascendancy of the novel (and very recently, of the 900 page novel) has similarly made writers lazy and indulgent.

I think the Kindle and eReaders will sharpen everyone's writing reflexes, which is a good thing.

Michael Antman

Niall --

I, too, remember the days before digitization, when I would "walk into someone's house or apartment and find the shelves bare." Trust me, these were not the sort of people who had definatly rejected "raw materialism and commodity fetishism." These were people who just weren't very interesting.

In any event, in a couple of comments on my article, I've seen attempts to link the purchasing and reading of print books (and DVDs and CDs) with materialism. But books, in particular, are in a special category, don't you think? Until the appearance of the Kindle and the occasionally specious arguments it has elicited in its support, I have never once heard of a person with large numbers of books, or of records for that matter, referred to as "materialistic." That term was usually reserved for the collectors of showier, more expensive and less culturally meaningful signifiers.

Incidentally, I've often thought that being "materialistic" isn't about valuing material things too much, but rather valuing them too little -- which is to say, for example, buying shiny and glittery new tech toys and then tossing them away when they stop working or simply become outmoded, as most tech toys do after a year or two at the most.

Maybe you haven't been guilty of doing this, but I'm afraid I have. Over the years, I've owned (or exclusively used in a workplace) approximately 20 computers, including desktop models and laptops, and extending all the way back to those ancient "dedicated word processors." I've had a total of only three cellphones and one Blackberry, which I'm sure is way below average, but I'll be getting an I-Phone in the near future. I've owned any number of Walkmen, portable CD players, desktop CD players, multi-disc changers, calculators, a couple of I-Pods, assorted stereo systems, a mini-TV that never worked properly, and even a hand-held pen-shaped scanning device that never worked at all (the tech person told me that the problem was that I'm left-handed. Right.)

Now, to my everlasting shame, nearly all of these items are in a landfill somewhere. So, someday, will be the Kindle I buy later this year, and the Kindle you're using now. And all of the old floppy discs and cassettes and other storage mediums that went with these devices? Completely unreadable and useless.

Whereas my books are still readable now, and will still be readable 75 years from now. My Kindle and yours, whether the current model or the next generation or even the one after that? They'll be in a landfill too -- I guarantee it.

Michael Antman

One other comment.

It's beside the point whether or not you personally prefer the short story to the novel (but do you actually think that all novels, or even all long novels, are "ponderous"?)

It's also beside the point whether you prefer singles to albums.

The point is that, like the editor of this site, I would like to see books and eReaders co-exist, just as I would like to see novels and short stories continue to co-exist. But I believe that the nature of digitization is such that, over the next decade or two, printed books are in danger of disappearing, or of becoming merely a niche enthusiasm.

This is not just a matter of the "storage medium," even though (per my previous post) books tend to be far less wasteful of our resources than electronic devices. (This is a controversial point, and deserves a fuller discussion at some other time, but just let me say that the paper and publishing industries have done a godawful job of explaining to the public that, no, books are not made out of old-growth, rainforest trees whereas our electronic devices are indeed assembled from rare and irreplacable minerals as well as plastics and other non-recyclable materials.)

It's also a matter of the quality of the art itself, as you seem to acknowledge in talking about how the iPod and the Kindle tend to favor the creation of shorter forms.

You seem to prefer short stories to novels, and singles to albums. Fair enough, though I like them all -- singles and albums and short stories and novels, or at least the best examples of each. There was no shortage of superb work in all of these art forms in the pre-digital era, but you seem to want the iPod and the eReader to "dethrone" the album and the novel, respectively, for reasons that I confess I don't quite understand.

To me, it's about more choice -- not less. Unfortunately, if I'm right about the future of the book (and I certainly hope I am not) we'll have less choice all the way around. If digitization is completely victorious over analogue in books as it has been in music, that would, I think, be a tremendous loss for diversity in our culture. And it would be a loss not only for those who continue to appreciate the novel and the album and other longer forms of artistic exploration, but even (and perhaps especially) for those in the future who will not even be aware that there's more to culture than the re-mixed snippet.


My preferences in re music and literature are irrelvant. It is, however, obviously the case that the iPod has brought the single back. Pre-packaged albums have been replaced by personalized playlists, etc. I can easily see ereading having a similar effect, and these devices will - I hope - resurrect the short story from the oblivion the form has fallen into.

You resolutely want to ignore how non-digital forms of literature have marginalized the short story, which tells us that the non-digital world has its own ways of favoring one artistic form over another.

By the way, your point is clearly materialist, since you are fixating on the "thingness" of books and DVDs, irrespective of their content. And of course you make an exception for your own materialism. People always find a way to exempt themselves from the judgments they pass on others.

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