I don’t mean to pick on Stephen King, who’s written a handful of excellent novels as well as a sincere and useful guide for aspiring writers. But he writes an eh column for Entertainment Weekly, and his latest one, on Amazon’s Kindle, is emblematic of its problems. Yet again, there’s the ladies-and-gentlemen-I’m-just-a-caveman pleas when confronted with anything invented after 1991 (the device has “one of those annoying teeny-tiny keyboards most suited to the fingers of Keebler elves”); the false coziness with the reader (“your Uncle Stevie will now eludicate”); the biting commentary that isn’t particularly biting (“You cannot, for instance, listen to one of the later Patricia Cornwell novels without realizing how little feel she has for language”–everybody agrees that Cornwell’s off the rails now). Idolator says pretty much the same thing, but their take is a lot funnier than mine.
The biggest problem with his Kindle column is that he’s excited about it because…well, why? Because he’s impressed that a device designed to let you read a book lets you read a book, apparently; also, you can make the font size larger. That’s it.
I’ve scribbled some of my concerns with the Kindle shortly after its debut. I don’t own the device and have never used it, but my biggest worry has nothing to do with the usability of the physical product. My question: Do I own a book I’ve purchased for the Kindle, and for how long? I was reminded of this issue last week, when the hard drive of my computer died and I had to install a new one. I backed up all of my crucial docs, and plenty of non-crucial ones, but I didn’t have everything. I didn’t back up a lot of my MP3 files, for instance, and among the missing was my copy of In Rainbows. Do I still own this record, which I paid money for when Radiohead released it online? I’m not sure. The URL I was given when I purchased the album doesn’t appear to be working. And, as I pointed out in the blog post, technology has a way of rendering itself irrelevant in a few years–I had a rough time opening three-year-old e-mails, and my e-mails from 10 years ago are pretty much lost forever. I have no guarantee that the digital books I purchase through Amazon will last any longer.
So, no, Uncle Stevie, my concern isn’t that I’ll miss books because I like them as furniture. My concern is that, in time, it’ll turn out that I don’t own what I think I did.