Once upon a time, a man wrote a book. In fact, he wrote three volumes that comprised a book. The word ‘volume’ is uniquely apropos here; his volumes were as lengthy as they were deadly, by which I mean, when he undertook to write this work, he knew that people would die as a result of it being written. Good people. Innocent people. And die they did, slowly, painfully, and alone.
This work carries a weight that is as tangible physically as it is metaphysically. It is the permanent record of the mind of a genius, and also nothing short of the truth of humanity itself. When you read it, you will know the mind of a genius, and also you will be scarred by it, just as he is scarred. But even without reading a single word, you can hold it in your hand, and, thumbing across its pages, you can glean a sense of what an undertaking it was. You can close your eyes to its words, and as the pages fall past your hand you can see him in an oily lamplight, squinting at the page and scribbling away with a nervous ferocity. You can feel in the fall of those pages his terrified pauses, his looking over his shoulder at the softest hint of footsteps on the stairwell beyond his flimsily barred door. You can imagine him working thus, page by page, for several thousand pages.
It is a masterpiece, and I want it to exist. I want to interact with it, feel its weight, and breathe the must of its pages. When my Nephew is old enough, I want him to know that odor, and feel its burden. I want it to take up space and to be inconvenient. I want to be inconvenienced by it like we are inconvenienced by love, because I love it, and I want other people to feel it and carry it, and scribble annotations in it, and lend it to their friends, and beg for it back. I want them to spare a space for it in their home and in their lives like I have. A real, physical space.
When it all falls apart for me, and the things that surround me scatter to the winds, I hope these volumes find their way on to the shelves of a used book store, and I hope someone picks it up, and seeing my little notes in its pages, is delighted the same way I am delighted when I find such a book, with happy exclamations drawn in the margins, or a gift-givers note written in the blank space of the dedication page.
A book is more than the sum of its words and punctuation. It cannot be encompassed by bits on a memory medium any more than could a JPEG of the Mona Lisa encompass that work. If Kindle attempted this from a desire to make it more accessible, there would at least be a worthy goal behind its deadly vision. It does not. Kindle is exactly the opposite; the very implementation of a business plan dependent on making books less accessible. This is abhorrent in and of itself, but I think what really angers me about it is that the business model works because it pays lip service to convenience and cool-factor. That is why people buy it, why it will win, and why it’s SO sad.
edit 1/29/13: Evidently I’m not alone