Why I use a Kindle

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February 5, 2013

Rant By Will Johnson

Photo by Darby Jack

My girlfriend bought me a Kindle for my birthday last year.

I was pretty ambivalent about it for the first while, and it sat unused in its box for nearly three weeks before I decided to tinker with it. Like so many other people, I was reluctant to give up the tactile experience of holding a book in my hands. My most cherished novels were dog-eared, maybe water-stained, with notes scribbled in the margins and unrecognizable brown stains in the corners. They were vehicles of instant nostalgia. How could that be replaced by this tiny gray machine?

But after learning how many Hemingway novels I could download for free, my love affair with this gadget began.

The first book I read was The Antagonist by Lynn Coady, and right away I liked the way it updated me on my progress (7% done, 12% done) as I read and the way I could slip it into my coat pocket while rushing out to the bus. By the time I started The Hunger Games trilogy, it had become an irremovable part of my daily life.

Then I discovered the Clippings function, which meant I could highlight choice passages and save them for later. My Clippings file is now a compilation of hundreds of quotes from authors like Christopher Hitchens, David Mitchell and Kurt Vonnegut all thrown together at random.

But perhaps my favorite feature? Every time I reach a word I don’t understand, all I have to do is click over to it and the dictionary will pop up with a definition. This is especially helpful when reading short stories by David Foster Wallace.

My new word for today, learned while lounging in a soapy bath: Contrail.

(If you don’t know already, a contrail is the mist-like vapor that streaks across the sky when planes pass overhead. I never knew what to call those before. Cool, right?)

Then there are the daily deals. At first, I was annoyed by the constant advertising, but for every shitty mystery novel or random shaving gel, there’s a chance to get a classic book for less than three bucks. The other day I downloaded Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Junior for 99 cents!!!! (Sorry, I felt like one exclamation mark wasn’t quite enough there…)

Also, I find I can switch between books with ease. Buying Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond does not seem as daunting when it’s simply another bullet point in a list of titles. And though reading it sometimes feel likes a scholarly chore, on a Kindle I can dip into it for one grueling chapter, and then switch back to a Tom Clancy thriller to give my brain a rest.

I still read and buy normal books, but I’m finding my patience with them is starting to wear thin. I was working my way through the hefty hardcover of Dear Life by Alice Munro the other day, and I was frustrated that I couldn’t tap my finger on the page to find the definition for “bilious,” “commensurate” or “irascible.” What was I supposed to do? Go find a dictionary? And if I find a beautiful passage that I’d like to remember, which happens every page of two with Alice Munro, do I need to resort to a highlighter? Or maybe I could scribble it down on a notepad?

My Kindle has irrevocably changed the way I interact with literature. It has been a boon to my reading life, has probably saved me hundreds of dollars and it expands my vocabulary every day. Rather than having random piles of unread books lying around my bedroom and stacked on every windowsill, I have this little gray companion that fits comfortably into my bag.

I take it with me everywhere I go.

Will Johnson, a UVIC graduate, is completing his MFA in creative writing at UBC.

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