The Personality of Books and the Big Problem with my Kindle

By Deane Barker

I love my Kindle, but there’s one thing that’s…icky, about it. One thing that confirms all the background fear and dread I had about transitioning from actual paper to ebooks.

The Kindle strips out all the tangible character of a book. In doing this, it eliminates the mental “markers” I retain about a book after I’ve read it.

When you remember a book you read, you’re of course remembering the content of the book. But there are also physical markers about the book you remember:

  • The typeface, including the size
  • The color and tactile feel of the pages
  • The cover – the content of it, the colors, the way it fades and ages, the beating it took as it got tossed around in your car, etc.
  • The weight of the book, it’s dimensions, and how it fits in your hand

These things all combine to “set” the book in your mind. These tactile reminders help the book to occupy a place in your head. They help give the book a personality – a character.

With a Kindle, you get none of this. The fonts, colors, weight, dimensions, etc. are all same. One book looks just like another one.

I purchased Wikinomics and Here Comes Everybody at the same time. I read them back-to-back, overlapping a bit.

To this day, I can’t separate the books in my head. When I think of a concept in either of them, I can’t figure out which one it was from. Granted they were about similar topics, but I still think that if they had been actual books made out of paper, each with their own personality, I would be able to isolate them more readily.

Does this mean I got less out of the books? Not at the time I read them for sure – I remember being glued to my Kindle on multiple airplane trips reading Shirky’s book in particular. But looking back on them, do they occupy a less readily available place in my mind because of their Kindle-imposed homogeneity? I suspect they might.

I love my Kindle, and it’s a net positive to own one, but in the sense of what I’ve written above, the Kindle can be a little depressing. It’s also made me understand that there’s more to a book than just the words in it. Books have personality – they have character. And at least some of this is conveyed by things that the Kindle can’t reproduce.

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