Thursday, December 12, 2013 0 reflections

About a Kindle

A few days ago on the bus to work a woman came and sat next to me. A few seconds later she had pulled out a questionnaire for me to respond to about my reading habits. Now the reason she had managed to lasso me into this little project of hers was because I had a Kindle in my hands. So absorbed was I in the book that it took her a second calling to get my attention.

As she pounded me with questions on my reading and sought my feedback on the device I found myself grappling for the right answers. In the few minutes we spent interacting I surprisingly found it a challenge to surmise what the Kindle has really done for me over the last few months. I did give her a gist of the deal eventually but after much reflection thereafter I knew I had to pen my thoughts properly on the subject.

It was perhaps either happy coincidence or just plain destiny. Earlier this year, around April, I was pondering over whether or not to buy a Tablet PC (this was when iPads and RT Surfaces were plastered everywhere in town trying to seduce you into their lair). The one question that kept bugging me was this – Why do I need one?

The answer, regardless of the rationale, invariably was settling on just one word – to read. But to read what? And how often? If by reading I meant magazine articles, data hurricanes from social networks and the chronic email check syndrome then my android phone was plenty sufficient for that. Then why did I need a Tablet? Well, I would justify, for lengthier reads, long type articles and such (whilst still being able to access the same assortment of online information as I was already doing on my phone). Somehow that still looked precariously insufficient for an investment which would undoubtedly be a bulky one.

It was during such a season of thoughts that I ran into the Kindle Fire HD. As I watched their made-to-please commercials featuring happy people sitting in sun drenched living rooms and cozily reading a book on their device my gut feeling was that it looked great. Along with connectivity to social networks it even had a full blown video streaming app with NetFlix using which entire movies and television shows could be watched. I could surf the net, check my messages, share cool stuff on Twitter and yes, also read books. Yes – this looked and felt like the device I wanted. The plus was obviously that it was cheaper than the other Tablets I had seen (definitely the iPad!). A Tablet but also a cool reader for my long reading purposes. That dilemma resolved I signed on to Amazon, looked up the Kindle Fire HD and hit the “Buy” button.

There were a lot of factors I would come to realize much later but when I went to the next stage of buying the device and having it shipped to me an error message greeted me. Was it that my card was not processing properly? No. Was it that I had accidently selected something else instead of the Fire? Nope. Turned out at the time Amazon could not ship the Fire to Denmark. A deep disappointment fell over me like a silent curtain. In fact, the Amazon page went on to tell me, the only device I could order was the less fancy, basic touch screen type, black and white, non-social media connected model called PaperWhite.

I spent almost a week brooding over this bizarre turn of events. I had the money, I had the will and just when I had thought my decision had been the right one fate was throwing me another curveball with this technicality. I looked at the commercials for the PaperWhite in an effort to rationalize the incident somehow. Yet my initial thoughts were that of grief. It didn’t do anything except allow you to read books! No connection to FB or Twitter, no surfing online (except the Amazon’s store) or no popups to tell me something I had shared was being retweeted by some big names on Twitter. In fact, and the sunshine of the possibility began to ascend in my psyche’s skies, it was a device with absolutely no distractions.

For the longest time whenever posed with the query – Do you read? – I had always answered back “Oh yes! I am an avid reader!” But for the last couple of years the word “avid” had sort of become untrue what with me barely finishing one novel in six months. The only things I would read were the bursts of profundity on Twitter or the regular sites I would visit to get my daily dose of updates in fields of my interest. Was this the same as reading proper literature? Hardly. The effects of such a lifestyle became more evident when my vocabulary was filled with terms like TIL and WTF. What sort of an avid reader was I whose immediate refuge for an argument was an acronym? Something had gone woefully wrong. No – I had to fess up. I was not an avid reader. In fact I was barely a reader at all.

A few weeks later when the PaperWhite showed up I began connecting the dots. Its unassuming down to earth look caught my admiration right away. No fancy 3D buttons with a light halo on their foreheads. No decorative icons to sift through and definitely no familiar symbols of distraction like a W of Wiki, a T of Twitter and an F of Facebook. Not having access to this W-T-F was perhaps the first step to escaping the short term bursts of my knowledge bank.

I spent a day getting familiar with the minimalistic interface. The device was quite light to hold, big enough to read a page but small enough to push inside a jacket pocket and most importantly had a fantastic light setting which made reading text in any type of visibility easy. One of my biggest apprehensions of digital display has been the degree of ease with which black and white text can be read effortlessly on it. The PaperWhite, as it became evident quickly, was brilliant at this.

I have had it now since early May 2013 and just as a self-check exercise I made a list of all the books I have managed to read on it thus far.

The Home and the World
The Great Gatsby
Love in the time of cholera
The Canterville Ghost
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Murder as a Fine Art
Straw Men
We Are Here
The Shining
The Prophet
Fight Club
Gods, Sages and Kings
The Man Who Knew Infinity

And currently “A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate”.
So that means 17 books and 18th in progress. I also did read an offline book – For The Love Of a Son – on a long haul flight to India which I did not include. But the idea that reading as a habit has kicked in big time needs no further proof. So seven months and 18 books – averaging between two to three books a month. That to me comes closer to being an “avid reader” than the one book per six months ritual I had going on for the past couple of years.

Not being able to order the Fire HD version of this device quickly seems like a divine act of providence now. Somehow, knowing myself, I suspect I would have succumbed to the familiar allure of dings and popups once more despite being in the middle of a really good book. This short attention span habit I have developed has been a big reason behind me reducing the amount of books I was reading in the pre-Kindle era. The android would constantly remind me of an alert that had to be attended right away thus making the whole act of having to carry a book everywhere that much less of a priority. I cringe to think of the times I spent an entire year on a 400 odd page novel without even getting past page 50. Why? Too many distractions. Too many sources of quick validation.

Now, does this mean I am never going to buy a book ever? Of course not. Nothing can replace the look and feel of a really good book. So yes, I will continue to invest in books but only after they have passed the “Kindle test”. If I read it first on the Kindle and it happens to be one of those classics that are impossible not to own a hard copy of then yes – my feet will find their way to the nearest book store. But until that happens I look forward to completing more books each month in a consistent effort to get back to the sane habit of reading.

And for this I thank Amazon for not shipping the Fire to Denmark at the right time in my reading life.