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Is This The Future Of Reading?

by David Gura
Aug 3, 2009

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and a Kindle. Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

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David Gura

I first saw — and held and used — an Amazon Kindle three or four months ago. One of my friends, visiting from San Francisco, had the "wireless reading device" in his messenger bag. Immediately, I was impressed with its thinness, its lightness, and its speed, but I didn't covet it.

A few weeks later, at a backyard dinner party, a professor — with a few books under his belt — complained about the Kindle. Everyone joined in: "On the subway, I can't see what other commuters are reading!" "It can't be as satisfying as a real book!" "Will I get the same royalties?!"

In the most-recent issue of The New Yorker, which I read — in the real, paper edition — on the Metro this morning, Nicholson Baker reviews the Kindle 2. It is a great essay, in which he asks, "Can the Kindle really improve on the book?"

Baker goes from the banner ads to the buzz: "Everybody was saying that the new Kindle was terribly important — that it was an alpenhorn blast of post-Gutenbergian revalorization." Ultimately, to him, it was a disappointment. Many of the titles he wanted weren't Kindle-ready. Illustrations were hard to see. Books, to his eyes, just didn't look right:

The problem was not that the screen was in black-and-white; if it had really been black-and-white, that would have been fine. The problem was that the screen was gray. And it wasn't just gray; it was a greenish, sickly gray. A postmortem gray. The resizable typeface, Monotype Caecilia, appeared as a darker gray. Dark gray on paler greenish gray was the palette of the Amazon Kindle.

This was what they were calling e-paper? This four-by-five window onto an overcast afternoon? Where was paper white, or paper cream? Forget RGB or CMYK. Where were sharp black letters laid out like lacquered chopsticks on a clean tablecloth?

I am sure there is plenty of disagreement about his assessment. (I can hear the cries of "neo-Luddite!" already.) Have you used one of the devices? What do you think?

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