(Note: this was posted on my old blog on September 17, 2015)
If you care about Amazon at all, you probably know that they held an event on July 15th 2015 to celebrate the e-commerce giant’s 20thbirthday. This event, suitably named “Prime Day” was advertised to be a “more-deals-than-Black-Friday” shopping bonanza and one of the main purposes was to “lure” more people into the Prime program. The excitement over this unprecedented online July’s Black Friday built up substantially over the preceding weeks and then, burst spectacularly on social media sites, where people posted all sorts of remarks about the deals being offered. Despite all this drama and early reports on how Walmart beat Amazon on Prime Day, Amazon has decided to make Prime Day an annual event, enforcing their claims that July 15th has been a sweeping success.
I am an Amazon Prime member who loves Amazon. I visit the site everyday to check if anything in my Wishlist has gotten a lower price and shop there very often. I even care enough to read up on Jeff Bezos and Amazon (by the way, he didn’t pay me to write this). Still, I was kind of disappointed in Prime Day. Maybe I had my hopes up too high due to all the fanfare and ballyhoo caused by the promotion campaign, which probably meant those people did a really good job advertising it, and then was disillusioned when none of the deals interested me a single bit. To save my Prime Day experience, I bought a Kindle. It was something that I had been considering for quite some time, and at $49.99, I decided to click that “Place order” tab.
I did not regret it. Over the past two months, the Kindle has proven to be one of my best Amazon purchases. Reading has always been among my favorite activities in addition to writing, drawing and, well, online shopping, so you might think that my fondness of the little Kindle is not surprising at all. The catch here is that, I love reading BOOKS, as in physical, hard copies kinds of books. E-books, and therefore, e-book readers had never appealed to me before.
I had always thought that digital reading was not my thing; and this isn’t just about books. As a graduate student, I have to read a lot of journal articles and I prefer to print them out and read on papers, instead of on my computer. I feel more engaged, physically and mentally, with the materials when I hold a printed copy in my hand, and as a result, my reading is more effective. And I was totally okay with doing all that, to the extent of not thinking about it at all, until I had to do my literature seminar during my 2nd year. To prepare for this ordeal (this is one of the requirements in our Ph.D. program, also the first time a grad student has to present in front of professors and fellow grads in the department, so it is quite a big deal), I had to read A LOT, and by the end of it all, I had accumulated huge piles of printed articles. Had I been able to read all those papers on my computer, I wouldn’t have had to use so much paper (Oh god I’m killing all those trees!!!) I’ve been working on this issue since then and got better at absorbing scientific knowledge from my screen, even though sometimes I still feel the urge to hit that “Print” button.
Book reading, as a hobby, however, is different from reading journal articles for work. My ideal book reading has always involved some deep thinking, focus, enlightenment, and most importantly, a real book. I love to spend time in a quiet room or garden (some lovely music of MY choice is welcomed), with a cup of coffee or tea, just me and a book I like, and I can read a reasonable amount (say, a chapter or half a chapter). I used to be able to do that quite often, but time has changed.
This will sound a bit cliché, but I can’t help it because it’s true: as people get busier and busier, we have less and less time for the “ideal book-reading”. To set aside an hour or so, fully immersed in the world of your favorite books, shielded from all the buzzing chaos of daily life is becoming a modern day’s luxury. This happened to me. As work got more hectic, I found my reading time dwindled. I was not happy with that, but hey, real readers don’t give up on reading that easily! And so, I’ve made a compromise to engage more with digital reading, in the belief that “some reading is better than no reading” and the Kindle helps me with that.
I read whenever I can: On the bus, even though it takes only 5 minutes from my apartment to my lab, during lunch (only when I eat alone of course) or whenever I have to wait for something. I read half a page here, one page there, and if the wait is long, I can even get pass several pages. I used to think that it would be very difficult to be engaged in the book’s content with this kind of scattered reading, but I’ve been proven wrong. To my pleasant surprise, it’s quite easy to get back in the action, and since I read very often, it actually feels like I just put the book down a minute ago to get a drink or something, even though the actual interception is like a few hours. The Kindle is light and easy to use, and the one that I got, the Paperwhite model, is very basic, all I do is tapping the screen to turn pages and I don’t have to work very hard to keep it open (unlike some books which will automatically close if you don’t hold on to them). I can hold a sandwich with one hand and tap the screen with the other, and I seriously don’t care that much if a piece of food gets on my Kindle (as opposed to my precious books, it breaks my heart whenever I accidentally get something on them). This seems like I’m being mean to my Kindle; but seriously, this is one of the most attractive things about an e-book reader. On a related note, I can also carry my Kindle in my backpack every day, while I’m reluctant to do so with my books (you know, they might get some tear-and-wear, that kind of things). Another good point is that the battery lasts forever, so I can afford to forget about charging it for weeks and it should still be okay.
It’s been 2 months since I got my Kindle, and I’m on my third e-book, so about one book a month, pretty good for the read-whenever-you-can method that I’ve been using. And since I bought it, I’ve developed a habit of checking out the Kindle version option for every book I’m interested in buying. So as you can see, I’m quite happy with my little e-book reader. Am I going to stop buying physical books if the ebook version is available? NO.
My ideal book reading has not changed. It’s harder to get, but that makes it all the more desirable. I use the Kindle because it’s convenient and I like it because it does exactly what I expect it to. What I do NOT expect it to do is to replace the physical books. The Kindle and other forms of digital reading fulfill the basic goal of reading: to get information. However, for me and a number of physical-books lovers, the essence of reading goes beyond getting information. It’s the way we do it, the physical and emotional feelings we get from it, the enjoyment of turning pages, of tracing our fingers along neatly printed letters on that oh-so-familiar-and-lovely texture of paper. Mark Miodownik put this down way better than I do, in his intriguing book “Stuff Matters” (Penguin books)
“However, it is unlikely that electronic paper will completely supplant books while it lacks paper’s distinctive smell, feel and sound, since it is this multisensual physicality of reading that is one of its great attractions. People love books, more perhaps than they love the written word. They use them as a way to define who they are and to provide physical evidence of their values.”
The lovely things about this book “Stuff matter”, beside Mark’s awe-inspiring writing, is the fact that it is a gift that I got from one of my best friends, who is (you guessed it) also a book lover. And this is one more nice thing about hard copy books: they make much better presents than e-books !!!
I like my little Kindle. And I love my books. Having experienced both worlds, I can now say with more confidence that my love for the printed materials won’t change just because of the arrival of digital media. If people read everything on their digital devices (and seems like they do, check out this article about the rise of phone-reading), I would totally understand. Some reading is better than no reading after all, and it’s up to the individuals to choose their form of reading. As for me, e-books help me quench my thirst for written materials in this scorching desert of hectic life, but in that lovely oasis on the horizon, I will still find myself holding a book and turning pages with a smile on my face.