Is This The Future Of Reading? : Blog Of The Nation Is the Amazon Kindle really the future of reading? Nicholson Baker hopes not.
NPR logo Is This The Future Of Reading?

Is This The Future Of Reading?

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveils the Kindle DX at a press conference in New York. Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

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?