5 Reasons I'll Never Buy A Kindle: Lamentations of a Book-Loving Luddite

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Book--(noun) a written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers (Oxford English Dictionary)

Irony--(noun) writing a column for an online mag about how you hate reading books online.

Yeah, I get it: Kindle, Nook, Kobo and other eReaders are here to stay. They've surpassed paper book sales, have changed the face of publishing and have more people reading—in more places—than ever before. Their light weight and large-print options make reading easier for certain populations. Downloading books rather than buying them new lessens our carbon footprint. And of course, when the owner of an eReader goes on vacation, they can bring 50 books in one slender and easily portable device. Yet, whenever I hear all the above arguments, all I can think of is:

What kind of crappy vacations do you take that require you to bring 50 books???

You may beg to differ, but I beg you to at least consider:

The 5 Reasons I Think the Kindle (et al) Is a Swindle, and What It Threatens to Take Away.

 I have read on a Kindle. But the Kindle we had only worked for about eight months then it stopped working. You don't have to get books repaired.

—Joyce Carol Oates

1. The Beauty of Bookshelves

Forget snooping through their medicine cabinet, stalking them on Facebook or, God forbid, talking to them. Nothing tells you more about a person than what they have on their bookshelves: textbooks from abandoned college majors, everything ever written by their favourite cult author, self-help and travel guides from past journeys, novels in a language you didn’t know they could speak. Cheerfully cluttered bookshelves make a house a home. At parties where you don’t know anyone, they welcome you to hang out with them.

Best of all? Bookshelves give writers a place to discreetly display their own books, or the literary mags in which they’ve been published. (“What’s that? On the top shelf beneath the rainbow strobe lights? Is that YOUR book?”) Cue modest expression you’ve been practicing in the mirror.           

2. Subway Stories

Being able to see what other people are reading can widen your literary horizons. It’s a conversation starter: like when a (non-creepy) stranger on a train, beach or park bench taps you on the shoulder and asks for the title of what you’re so engrossed in or recommends a similar author. Have you ever glanced at a title, then looked up to see how the reader is reacting to it? How often do we get to witness strangers so unabashedly alone? The tweenager on the A-train—a dreamily twisted dreadlock in one hand and Emily Dickinson in the other? The big, tattooed guy I saw in a diner hunched over He’s Just Not That into You. I don’t know if the book had been bought, borrowed or found, but as he read, dude was looking real worried…

Speaking of found books, have you ever heard of The Sword in the Stone? It was published in 1939, is about a 12 year old boy, and there’s no way in heck I’d have ever touched it had I not found a battered paperback copy one night on a commuter train. I was on my way back from a crappy job and feeling moody and Monday and then I picked up the book. It fell open to this page:

There were five long minutes during which nothing happened. The hearts beat thunderously in the circle and a small vein on the side of each neck throbbed in harmony with each heart. The heads turned quickly from side to side, as each man assured himself of his neighbors…as each realized how beautiful life was…                                          

  3. Nifty Ways to Read Your Lover

If you go home with somebody, and they don't have books, don't fuck 'em!

―John Waters

Surveying the type of books on your date’s coffee table is an efficient way of finding out whether you’d be interested in seeing the ones on their bedside table. It is, dare I say it, even more revealing than seeing someone naked. That copy of How to Marry Money or Nixon’s memoirs? Well, you can’t Botox that, folks, and you can’t suck it in.

Case in point: First date. Cute guy. Mutually attracted BUT:

He never tipped the bartender when it was his round. He used the words ‘obloquy’ and ‘manqué’ like, 20 times, even when he was reading the specials. The clincher, however, came when he began going on about this collection of stories he was reading. How they were so life-changing and surreal and just so…Kafkaesque. When he went to the restroom, I noticed a book sticking out of his satchel. It was The Complete Stories. By Franz Kafa.

Dear Reader, I married him. NOT!

4. Bookstores and the Joys of Aimless Discovery

How many times have you popped into an indie bookshop just to browse, only to stumble out with an armful of finds, including titles you would never have discovered otherwise? How many of us have ever slipped into a second-hand bookshop, suddenly pausing to breathe in the dusty, musty rightness of the old books’ scent?

5. Your Friends' Books and the Joys of Shameless Mooching

On that note, have you ever gone to a friend’s house to hang out and left with half of their library? Taking a chance on a book owned by an intelligent, trusted friend is like being set up on a date by that friend. How bad could it be? Unless you’re friends with Dan Brown.

C'mon, Can't A Person Have Both?

Sure, most of us do. But most of us reading this article are also what is known as digital immigrants. We remember a time before social media, texting and the world as a wi-fi hotspot. But there's a new generation that will have spent their lives in this virtual age. Anybody remember the YouTube video of the toddler becoming frustrated when she couldn't swipe a magazine page like an iPad? What will happen to paper books when this little girl, and all the digital natives like her, come of age?

...if you love the Kindle and it works for you, it isn't problematic, and you should ignore all my criticisms and read the way you want to  read.

—Nicholson Baker, ("Kindle and the Future of Reading", The New Yorker)

Caveat Rantor:

A confession: I Tweet; I Facebook; When I’m in the shower, I miss my phone. Royalties from eBook sales, I’ve found, are nothing to sneeze at. In fact, my current project might be workable only in eBook form. So what’s my point?

It’s that maybe my quibble isn’t with eReaders at all. Perhaps my fear is that they’re just a symptom of the direction in which we’re headed, a world in which every object, every experience becomes nothing more than streamlined, hi-tech iCandy. Books can be inconvenient, awkward and messy. But so can a lot of things whose benefits we might be able to one day digitally replicate: fresh air, sex, exercise, food, drink…did I mention sex?

When I look at the Kindle, I don’t just see a reading device. I see a glimpse of our brave new world. And it scares the shit out of me.

So what does everyone think? I'd love to hear all opinions: Argue with me, agree with me, scoff at me but hey...

At least you can't throw the book at me.

Naturi Thomas-Millard

Column by Naturi Thomas-Millard

Naturi is the author of How to Die in Paris: A Memoir (2011, Seal Press/Perseus Books) She's published fiction, non-fiction and poetry in magazines such as Barrow St. and Children, Churches and Daddies. At Sherri Rosen Publicity Int'l, she works as an editor and book doctor. Originally from NYC, she now lives in a village in England which appears to have more sheep than people. This will make starting a book club slightly challenging.

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greengeekgirl's picture
greengeekgirl February 18, 2014 - 11:53am

Calm. There are so many books out there, that I doubt they'll go out of phase in our lifetime. As long as there are enough people who want to buy analog books, there will be books. /soothes

It really doesn't have to be one or the other.

Aleksandra Basińska's picture
Aleksandra Basińska February 18, 2014 - 11:54am

who says you cannot love both paper books and ebooks? i think it's the case with the majority of e-reader owners.

Tom1960's picture
Tom1960 from Athens, Georgia is reading Blindness by Jose Saramago February 18, 2014 - 11:54am

The John Waters quote is priceless!

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer February 18, 2014 - 12:14pm

I have nearly a thousand print books about about 600 ebooks. I've found so many more books thanks to Kindle than I would have without it. A bookstore can only hold so many books, and they mostly keep the ones they think will sell. I would never find as many unknown authors as I do with a Kindle.

mumdangerous's picture
mumdangerous from Chicago IL is reading Ringworld - Larry Niven February 18, 2014 - 12:34pm

I too was in your shoes.  I said I'd never do it, I'd never even bother, that Kindle/Amazon was the devil, etc. But then I got an iPad.  Now, I don't like reading on an iPad, but that got me looking around at what .EPUB is and how it works.  So I quickly tried a bunch of different .epub readers and the open source software Calibre.  Now I have Kobo Aura and I can sync news content, a bunch of cool stuff without Amazon's invasive nonsense.  The kicker is that the bookstore isn't huge but I don't buy books new very often anyway.  

But here is the best part: now that I've cut my spending on new books (and since I also did a cross country move) my book buying habits have drastically changed.  Now, the only way I buy a book is if I KNOW I'm going to keep it forever. So I get the best of all worlds: an amazing bookshelf, no clutter of 'read em once' paperbacks, instant access to thousands of great books and random sources, a tool to discover new reads AND no guilt about what I buy.  In short, It's just about finding the device that you like, not just buying a Kindle as a replacement.

Ray Richards's picture
Ray Richards from Michigan and Iowa is reading The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter S. Thompson February 18, 2014 - 2:00pm

There is no room for both. Especialy now that there are some people only publishing in digital. Those don't need to be read.

ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig February 18, 2014 - 2:33pm

My house is filled with books, and the Kindle app on my iPad is, too. There comes a time when I don't want every single book I've ever thought to read on my shelf, and would rather have the books that, as the article points out, say something about me and my tastes. Having the ability to read ebooks easily has not made me love paper books any less, but it has enabled me to read more, and give fewer paperbooks away.

Shannon Barber's picture
Shannon Barber from Seattle is reading Paradoxia: A Predators Diary by Lydia Lunch February 18, 2014 - 9:48pm

I was given a kindle for Christmas. It has not as of yet eaten my physical books. But it has afforded me the ability to read when I'm having vision problems, to read silly trashy stuff I can buy for a dollar and I can do other things with it. 

Also in terms of accessibility for people who can't see, people who are unable to physically carry books, older people who don't want to be relegated to whatever is out in large print, people who live in very limited spaces who don't have time for giant grand bookshelves, etc etc.

I think the continued furor over ereaders is pretty silly at this point. If you don't need or want an ereader yay don't get one. If you want one, go forth and get it. I honestly don't think that ereaders are the harbingers of the rise of the machines.


jsmith718's picture
jsmith718 February 18, 2014 - 10:20pm

Agree with every word!

cshultz81's picture
cshultz81 from Oklahoma is reading Best Horror of the Year Volume 8 February 19, 2014 - 1:40am

Vinyl records were supposed to disappear in the 90s...

Turi's picture
Turi February 19, 2014 - 3:13am

Hi guys,

Thanks for all of your comments! Some of you brought up points that weren't already addressed in the column, so I'll respond to those.

Jack, you mention that you've discovered a lot of new books on the Kindle. I'm curious to know what kind--out-of-print, self-published, indie published, mid-list? Also, it's true that a physical bookstore has only a finite amount of space. However, in my experience, many indie and second-hand bookshops are not driven by conventional market forces (i.e. bestseller lists).

greengeekgirl, I agree, paper books probably will not disappear in our lifetime. Does anyone have thoughts on what will happen, however, when the "digital natives" begin to dictate how literature is distributed?

mumdangerous and Renee, interesting how you say e-readers have changed your paper book buying habits. But I do wonder how the lack of "recycled" books will affect certain types of bookstores, as well as the occurrence of experiences such as the ones listed in #2 "Subway Stories"

cshultz81, I hear what you're saying about vinyl records, but aren't they more of a "retro" thing now, then part of the mainstream, every day experience?

Tom1960--Yeah, John Waters rocks. Very hard. :)

Adam Birch's picture
Adam Birch from all over, currently North SF Bay Area is reading Brotherhood of the Blade by Diana Gabaldon February 19, 2014 - 5:03am

I prefer to read books in a traditional manner. However, I also travel a lot and it's nice to be able to pick up a new book as long as I have a wi-fi connection. I also use my Kindle for various magazines and academic journals... and sometimes to try out new authors. If I like an author I try out, I tend to buy the paper books too. I also like that I can access a massive library of public domain works for free or extremely low cost. 

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer February 19, 2014 - 9:12am

A lot of the fiction I read on my Kindle is horror. Most bookstores clog the small horror section they have with Stephen King, Anne Rice, Dean Koontz, and various Urban Fantasy novels. What I actually find are a lot of mid-list and indie published titles. Some self-published stuff, but I am weary of that unless I have heard good things already. Through networking groups like the Horror Writer's Association, various profiles on Facebook and Twitter, and sites like Hellnotes and Goodreads, I am made aware of books that normally don't make it to horror shelves. I can then easily go find them. People give Amazon a lot of flak. I get it. I love bookstores, too. But take the indy publisher Darkfuse, for example. I've never seen a Darkfuse book in a bookstore here, despite one of their most prolific author living in Kansas City, but I've really liked their books and they do great covers.

Beyond that, access to books is variable. I grew up in a town of 200 people. I own more books than the public library there. The closest book store was 25 miles away, and it was 45 to the next closest, unless you count Walmart. Used bookstores, in general, are only as good as the books people buy in that area. Here, in a college town, they are great. There, most books came from library book sales and Walmart. Amazon and Kindle's provide an access to books in rural areas that would have been impossible when I was growing up. 

I really think we should embrace the reality of e-books and digital print. Paper books aren't going anywhere, but digital gives wider, immediate access. For example, this site and this column. This is essentially a digital magazine. How many of us would have ever seen it, if it were in print? We are able to have this discussion because those technologies exist.

Benjamin Joseph's picture
Benjamin Joseph from Southern U.S. is reading Knockemstiff February 19, 2014 - 11:10pm

Well, I'm a bit of the opposite opinion. Kindle has turned me into a more voracious reader. Doesn't hurt that the iPhone app lets me read anywhere, conveniently. I agree with Renee; I have limited bookshelf space and really only want to display the books that mean something to me or accurately reflect my tastes.


But morever, I have discovered so many authors via kindle and indie publishing. 1.) I live in a place with 0 (that's a big fat ZERO) independant book stores, only two well-known chains. 2.) Even if I did have that availability, I simply can't affor to throw down $10-15 everytime I want to take a chance on something. Indie kindle prices range from $0.99-4.99, for the most part. At that price point I am much more willing to try out a new author or take a chance on an intriguing concept.

I get your love of paper books, though. And I understand the tongue-in-cheek manner of this article, from the title. However, it would be worth your time as a reader to check out some of the stuff out there on the kindle market. I have discovered many new authors (well, new to me) that, while some offer print versions of their work, have but their titles up for less than five bucks.

I don't really take umbrage with this type of opinon. I get it. It's a format. Either you love it or you hate it. Or you think it's kind of okay.

Red Leg Dan's picture
Red Leg Dan from Chesapeake, Virginia is reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane February 20, 2014 - 1:35pm

I loved this article, and I would agree with your last sentiment.  I don't necessarily hate eReaders, or those that read them, but I am absolutely terrified that they will one day phase out the printed page.  I just prefer to hold a book in my hands and I grow attached to it like a stray animal I have taken in. 

kensmosis's picture
kensmosis February 20, 2014 - 4:23pm

Wow.  I was prepared to argue the utility of ereaders for certain purposes as a supplement to books rather than a replacement -- etc, etc.  But frankly, I found myself laughing too darn hard to formulate anything cogent.   I completely agree with most of your points, especially the overriding concern about the direction we are going in.   Nor is this just the eternal cry of the cultural conservative in the face of progress; it is real and rather scary.  

Oh, and can I have my Kafka book back?


Turi's picture
Turi February 21, 2014 - 4:04am

Jack, thanks for answering! Well, I grew up near NYC,  but I can well imagine that Walmart being the main supplier of my books might have changed my perspective on how I obtain my reading material drastically...or I would have moved. ; )

Adam, I hear what you're saying about academic journals, but I'm glad you buy paperbooks as well.

Benjamin, interesting comment about the lack of indie bookstores near you. Of course, that's the fault of major chains, who are now suffering in turn. Karma, baby!

Red Leg, Nice simile, but books are better than stray animals because they don't give you fleas...usually. :)

Kensmosis Why thank you, and in reference to your last sentence--NEVER! Bwa ha ha