Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Nicholson Baker on the Kindle

A number of people have ben linking to this piece by novelist Nicholson Baker in The New Yorker about the Kindle, describing it as a take down.

While it is a rather clear-eyed view of the Kindle and of ebooks in general, one of the things you have to consider is the source. Baker wrote a book a few years back called "Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper." In it, he chronicled various anti-paper initiatives undertaken by American libraries in order to free up space and reduce large, bulky, underutilized collections, while documenting the shortcomings of each of the technological solutions, such as replacing card catalogs with computer databases and scanning books and newspapers to microfilm instead of keeping rarely referenced paper copies. (The title itself comes from a test librarians were to perform to determine whether a book was too fragile to keep. The corner of a page was to be folded over once, then folded back on itself -- the double fold -- and if the acidic paper broke off, the book was a candidate for destructive scanning. This meant that the spine would be guillotined off, the pages hastily scanned to microfilm, and the paper pages thrown away.)

So for Baker to enter into his Kindle experiment with an open mind is admirable. And it is surprising (to me, anyway) that he ultimately preferred the experience of reading ebooks on his iPhone rather than the Kindle itself, deciding that the Kindle tried to mimic the experience of ink on paper and came up short, while the iPhone/iPod touch did it's own thing, which made it more immersive.