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Contemporary Fiction vs. Nonfiction on the Kindle

Even before Nicholson Baker published “A New Page
Can the Kindle really improve on the book?”
http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/08/03/090803fa_fact_baker, I was having unsettling thoughts about reading contemporary fiction on the Kindle. I’ve downloaded a lot of books since March but read mostly nonfiction (five books), some poetry, a classic or two. On the TBR Kindle stack are at least ten contemporary novels. I can’t get into them.

Admittedly this happened to me even before I owned a Kindle. I buy a book, think I want to read it, but the time isn’t right, somehow. And weeks, months, even years later, the story resonates, I’m gripped and held.

But I haven’t gotten anywhere near gripped or held on the Kindle. What’s missing? Like Nicholson Baker, I think I have some answers.

I was up at my mother’s house looking through her many books and found three I wanted to borrow. They were heavy but their heft oddly did not bother me and the smell of the paper, the feel of the cover, the design of the cover, was intoxicating. It was as though I’d been in a sensory deprivation chamber for five months. I took the books and added them to a TBR pile I’ve poured into the trunk of my car. I’ll be upstate next week, between projects, and plan to read a book a day or, realistically, every two days. The trunk of my car has become my library. I’ll have the Kindle also, of course, because I’m struggling through Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine,” perfect for the Kindle as I don’t daydream as I’m reading it or care about the book’s design or the author’s picture. Ms. Klein has a website, she’s a journalist, I can check her out on Google.

I’m trying to not feel guilty about this. I hesitated to tell my husband who gave me the Kindle as a gift. But here’s the reality: For me, reading nonfiction on the Kindle works very well as I am reading for information and ideas. But contemporary fiction is much harder for all the reasons I have already mentioned. Maybe this won’t be true forever; I’ll get used to reading fiction on the Kindle. Narrative nonfiction that reads like fiction is fine, for example. Any book I’ve read before such as “The Great Gatsby,” is also fine, more than fine. It’s in my Kindle library and I can go back to it whenever I want; it’s always with me.

With any new technology there are gains as well as losses. And though the Kindle is here and the digitizing of books is well underway, it’s still just a tool to be used with intelligence and discretion for the benefit of our reading life.
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