How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Kindle* by Christina McKenna
Last week, I took the plunge. I’d been putting off the evil hour for some time. Several years, in fact.
I was well aware that I’d been swimming against the tide. I knew that the world and her husband had one—they never stopped talking about this marvel of the modern age. Friends and family were forever singing its praises.
“I don’t know how I lived without it,” my best friend gushed. “If I think about the bother I used to have, lugging those heavy things around with me. I’d be flying off to the sun for a couple of weeks and the airline would charge me the earth for being overweight. No, not me,” she’d say for the umpteenth time, repeating her weak joke, “my baggage. Those things weigh a ton. Now I can carry my whole library in my handbag.”
She wasn’t exaggerating. In fact, she was understating the case. She has more books than I do; she’s been “collecting” them since she was a kid. I made a rough count of them once. She has more than three thousand.
And here’s the thing. They could all fit on her Kindle. With bags of room to spare.
It’s amazing. It’s wonderful. It’s miraculous. It’s a Kindle.
My argument against buying a Kindle? “They’re fine for readers,” I’d say (with more than a hint of smugness, a dash of haughtiness, and a soupçon of arrogance), “but it’s not the sort of thing we writers would warm to.”
“No,” I’d say, “we writers need the feel of a good book. We need to savor the smell of the binding, the rustle of the pages. We need to heft the hardcover edition in our hands and revel in its weightiness. Yes, a printed book is weighty in more than one sense.”
Now, seven days later, I know better. Now, I realize what the world was raving about. Now, I appreciate first hand the magic of the Kindle. My only regret is that I waited so long.
Okay, I admit it was a steep(ish) learning curve. I imagine how those Victorian writers must have felt when confronted with a Remington typewriter. All those keys to locate, all that new-fangled finger-work. It took me a whole afternoon to fully master my Kindle Fire.
I’m so glad I put the work in. Because it turns out that the Kindle lets me do stuff that a book does not. When I read books, I’m forever underlying passages I like, quotable and inspiring stuff that I may wish to return to at a later date. I also make notes for the same reason. My notebooks, going back decades, are a sort of library of manuscripts in their own right.
But all by myself, during that afternoon of study, I discovered that the Kindle lets me make as many notes as I want—or could possibly want. I can “bookmark” a page, highlight text, and more. It’s like compiling my own index; I can bring up all my notes and—true magic!—find them instantly by entering search terms on my Kindle “virtual” keyboard.
Oh yes, I nearly forgot. I love to read books on my Kindle. I have over 50 so far and I’ve never read so voraciously in all my life. I take those books everywhere: to the park, to the coffee shop, on a journey. No trouble finding my “place” again. No trouble finding those notes I made—or trying to decipher my handwriting. Bliss.
But the most magical thing of all is something I found almost by accident (I don’t read manuals, sorry). My Kindle actually speaks to me. Yes, it has a text-to-speech facility, with a lovely female voice that sounds anything but robotic—in fact, she could put a couple of our Ulster newsreaders to shame. I can read some pages then let her take over and she reads to me aloud. I can do my hair, my makeup, and the half-frog pose while being entertained by my favorite writers.
Yes, you guessed it: I am hooked, I am a convert.
I’m also as guilt-ridden as a medieval sinner. Why? Well, as I write this encomium to an electronic device using another electronic, paperless device—my laptop—I’m looking across at one of my bookshelves. It occurs to me that I might not open a single one of those books ever again.
Herr Gutenberg, forgive me!
* Many younger readers won’t recognize the play on words in the title. It parodies “Doctor Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” a black-comedy movie made at the height of the Cold War. The source of worry was the hydrogen bomb, a clear and present threat to civilization, if not to humankind itself. The literary Luddites among us continue to view the Kindle in a similar light.
Christina McKenna is a graduate of Belfast College of Art, where she gained an honors degree in fine art, and later a postgraduate degree in English from the University of Ulster. An accomplished painter and novelist, McKenna has exhibited her art internationally and in Ireland, and taught art and English for ten years. She is the author of the highly praised memoir My Mother Wore a Yellow Dress, as well as the nonfiction books The Dark Sacrament and Ireland’s Haunted Women, and a previous Tailorstown novel, The Misremembered Man. She currently lives in Northern Ireland with her husband, the author David M. Kiely, with whom she collaborates on occasion. Her latest novel, The Disenchanted Widow, is available here.
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