Commentary Magazine


Topic: Kindle

When a Kindle Goes Bad

While on a Thanksgiving trip to California, my Kindle decided to go blooey. More technically, the device’s screen was permanently burned with one of those goofy literary images that come up when the Kindle goes to “sleep.” Now Harriet Beecher Stowe’s head and upper torso block most of the text I’d like to read. Because of travel and its preparations, I hadn’t turned the device on for three or four whole days. My bad!

The question of what happens to electronic texts when the hardware goes bad or becomes obsolete has worried me before. Now that it has happened I find myself in a quandary. I’m no fan of the Kindle. To navigate around in a book you must click-click-click through multiple screens. (In a paper-and-binding book, you can flip to where you want to go in about one-tenth the time.) The print on the screen is unattractive, and if the earliest research is to be trusted, the human mind does not process and save information from a screen nearly as efficiently or durably as information from a page.

As I’ve suggested before, the Kindle may appeal largely to older readers for whom it solves long-standing problems (how to take along a stack of books on vacation, for example). Younger readers, with a different experience of reading, may not find them as tempting. From this angle, the evidence offered by John Podhoretz in his editorial in the November issue of COMMENTARY (on a 2010 cruise sponsored by the magazine, he found that “people over the age of 50 were reading” predominately on Kindles and iPads) may not be as “stunning” as he thinks.

Now that my Kindle is useless, I must either (a) purchase a new device that I am not thrilled with, before I was ready to upgrade, or (b) discard the rather substantial investment that I have made in electronic texts by giving up on the Kindle, either by purchasing a different kind of e-reader or waiting for something better. I still believe that the technology must and will eventually reconceive literary text. Right now physical text, designed for a printed page, is simply (and awkwardly) migrated onto an electronic screen, a platform for which it was not designed.

These are the sorts of bad choices that cause a slow bubble of consumer resentment. One more reason to remain skeptical about the future of the Kindle.

While on a Thanksgiving trip to California, my Kindle decided to go blooey. More technically, the device’s screen was permanently burned with one of those goofy literary images that come up when the Kindle goes to “sleep.” Now Harriet Beecher Stowe’s head and upper torso block most of the text I’d like to read. Because of travel and its preparations, I hadn’t turned the device on for three or four whole days. My bad!

The question of what happens to electronic texts when the hardware goes bad or becomes obsolete has worried me before. Now that it has happened I find myself in a quandary. I’m no fan of the Kindle. To navigate around in a book you must click-click-click through multiple screens. (In a paper-and-binding book, you can flip to where you want to go in about one-tenth the time.) The print on the screen is unattractive, and if the earliest research is to be trusted, the human mind does not process and save information from a screen nearly as efficiently or durably as information from a page.

As I’ve suggested before, the Kindle may appeal largely to older readers for whom it solves long-standing problems (how to take along a stack of books on vacation, for example). Younger readers, with a different experience of reading, may not find them as tempting. From this angle, the evidence offered by John Podhoretz in his editorial in the November issue of COMMENTARY (on a 2010 cruise sponsored by the magazine, he found that “people over the age of 50 were reading” predominately on Kindles and iPads) may not be as “stunning” as he thinks.

Now that my Kindle is useless, I must either (a) purchase a new device that I am not thrilled with, before I was ready to upgrade, or (b) discard the rather substantial investment that I have made in electronic texts by giving up on the Kindle, either by purchasing a different kind of e-reader or waiting for something better. I still believe that the technology must and will eventually reconceive literary text. Right now physical text, designed for a printed page, is simply (and awkwardly) migrated onto an electronic screen, a platform for which it was not designed.

These are the sorts of bad choices that cause a slow bubble of consumer resentment. One more reason to remain skeptical about the future of the Kindle.

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Children and the Future of the Book

Over at the Atlantic’s technology blog, Edward Tenner asks whether children will save printed books. A historian of technology (whose 1996 book Why Things Bite Back ought to be required reading for the uncritical cheerleaders of technological progress), Tenner points out that, despite the “consensus of many e-book enthusiasts and elegiac traditionalists alike” that the codex is doomed, responsible thought about the future requires “alternative scenarios.”

And one possibility is that a younger generation will reject the prized possessions, the revolutionary amazements, of an older generation. Your father could not believe the convenience of his Remington Lektronic shaver and your mother raved about her Touch-o-Matic electric can opener; you shave with a safety razor and crank your cans open. Tenner suggests that a “pro-book rebellion” is possible, though not inevitable. The success of Mad Men has cleared the closets of wide neckties.

Indeed, heeding the Baseball Crank’s warning that knowledge is not settled, one possibility is as good as another at this point. Many of the features that Kindle and iPad devotees brag about (what Ed Driscoll hails, for example, as “being able to read a book anywhere, and carry the digital equivalent of a massive stack of them onto an airplane”) may not seem all that remarkable or important in a few years.

Electronic reading devices are new devices for old readers. Younger readers do not come to books with the same personal history. In fact, their own history with books might lead them to prefer paper and binding. I’ve suggested as much before (here and here). Children first encounter books as physical things. Board books, lift-the-flap books, touch-and-feel books, pop-up books — their first books are three-dimensional objects that encourage children to explore them in all three dimensions. When they acquire their own books, the books they have selected for themselves, children are proud of them. They like to display them on their shelves and carry them everywhere. They may even begin to develop a love for good paper and fine binding.

I’m not saying that printed books will triumph in the end. I’m no better than anyone else at predicting the future. What I am suggesting is that older readers, excited about their Kindles and iPads, have become strangers to their first experience with books and reading. The newfangled devices are exciting because they appear to solve longstanding problems — the problems of older readers, who have spent a lifetime with books. Younger readers, who do not share that excitement and are not yet estranged from their own literary history, may not prefer ebooks to printed books after all.
____________________

Many thanks to Daniel Bloom for getting this whole discussion started.

Over at the Atlantic’s technology blog, Edward Tenner asks whether children will save printed books. A historian of technology (whose 1996 book Why Things Bite Back ought to be required reading for the uncritical cheerleaders of technological progress), Tenner points out that, despite the “consensus of many e-book enthusiasts and elegiac traditionalists alike” that the codex is doomed, responsible thought about the future requires “alternative scenarios.”

And one possibility is that a younger generation will reject the prized possessions, the revolutionary amazements, of an older generation. Your father could not believe the convenience of his Remington Lektronic shaver and your mother raved about her Touch-o-Matic electric can opener; you shave with a safety razor and crank your cans open. Tenner suggests that a “pro-book rebellion” is possible, though not inevitable. The success of Mad Men has cleared the closets of wide neckties.

Indeed, heeding the Baseball Crank’s warning that knowledge is not settled, one possibility is as good as another at this point. Many of the features that Kindle and iPad devotees brag about (what Ed Driscoll hails, for example, as “being able to read a book anywhere, and carry the digital equivalent of a massive stack of them onto an airplane”) may not seem all that remarkable or important in a few years.

Electronic reading devices are new devices for old readers. Younger readers do not come to books with the same personal history. In fact, their own history with books might lead them to prefer paper and binding. I’ve suggested as much before (here and here). Children first encounter books as physical things. Board books, lift-the-flap books, touch-and-feel books, pop-up books — their first books are three-dimensional objects that encourage children to explore them in all three dimensions. When they acquire their own books, the books they have selected for themselves, children are proud of them. They like to display them on their shelves and carry them everywhere. They may even begin to develop a love for good paper and fine binding.

I’m not saying that printed books will triumph in the end. I’m no better than anyone else at predicting the future. What I am suggesting is that older readers, excited about their Kindles and iPads, have become strangers to their first experience with books and reading. The newfangled devices are exciting because they appear to solve longstanding problems — the problems of older readers, who have spent a lifetime with books. Younger readers, who do not share that excitement and are not yet estranged from their own literary history, may not prefer ebooks to printed books after all.
____________________

Many thanks to Daniel Bloom for getting this whole discussion started.

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The Battle between eBook and Print Is Not Yet Over

An excellent longish piece in the Guardian this morning by the novelist Lloyd Shepherd argues that the death of books has been greatly exaggerated. As opposed to the armchair philosophizing that most of us who debate this subject are prone to — I include myself in the indictment — Shepherd marshals empirical evidence to back up his claim.

Shepherd points out, for example, that while it is may be true that Barnes & Noble “sells three times as many digital books as all formats of physical books combined,” those numbers are for online sales only. Although it is still losing money, Barnes & Noble reported that book sales in all formats has increased by twenty percent so far this year. And while Amazon now says that it peddles more Kindle-ready texts than hardbacks and paperbacks combined, the sales of printed books are still increasing (the italics are Shepherd’s).

The conventional wisdom is that the price discrepancy between new hardback releases and digital editions at least partly explains why the ebook business is booming. (That’s the reason my wife bought me a Kindle — to cut the family’s book-buying expenses. She was not amused when I quoted Erasmus to the effect that, after buying the books I want, only then do I spend money on food and clothing.) Shepherd wonders if there is not another explanation. After all, most people are content to wait another year for a new book’s paperback release. Is it possible that the relatively less expensive digital version (less expensive than the hardback, at any rate) merely speeds up the process? That the convenience of downloading a book you want to read now is fueling the rise of ebooks?

In other words, the format — text shimmering on the screen of an electronic device versus handheld codex — may have less to do with what is happening than ebook enthusiasts like to think. Look, I am not in the business of predicting the future. My guess is that digital texts in their current format will not fully replace the paper-and-binding books. If even college students, the very population that should be most accustomed to electronic devices, prefer their textbooks in print by three to one, then the codex is not going to disappear any time soon.

What will happen, I imagine, is the emergence of a three-dimensional electronic text, or the invention of devices that make it possible to print one’s own books from source codes that have been downloaded from the internet. The means will evolve, I would bet, to integrate the convenience of etexts with the conceptual advantages of the codex. In any case, the battle between the ebook and the codex is not over. It has barely gotten started.

An excellent longish piece in the Guardian this morning by the novelist Lloyd Shepherd argues that the death of books has been greatly exaggerated. As opposed to the armchair philosophizing that most of us who debate this subject are prone to — I include myself in the indictment — Shepherd marshals empirical evidence to back up his claim.

Shepherd points out, for example, that while it is may be true that Barnes & Noble “sells three times as many digital books as all formats of physical books combined,” those numbers are for online sales only. Although it is still losing money, Barnes & Noble reported that book sales in all formats has increased by twenty percent so far this year. And while Amazon now says that it peddles more Kindle-ready texts than hardbacks and paperbacks combined, the sales of printed books are still increasing (the italics are Shepherd’s).

The conventional wisdom is that the price discrepancy between new hardback releases and digital editions at least partly explains why the ebook business is booming. (That’s the reason my wife bought me a Kindle — to cut the family’s book-buying expenses. She was not amused when I quoted Erasmus to the effect that, after buying the books I want, only then do I spend money on food and clothing.) Shepherd wonders if there is not another explanation. After all, most people are content to wait another year for a new book’s paperback release. Is it possible that the relatively less expensive digital version (less expensive than the hardback, at any rate) merely speeds up the process? That the convenience of downloading a book you want to read now is fueling the rise of ebooks?

In other words, the format — text shimmering on the screen of an electronic device versus handheld codex — may have less to do with what is happening than ebook enthusiasts like to think. Look, I am not in the business of predicting the future. My guess is that digital texts in their current format will not fully replace the paper-and-binding books. If even college students, the very population that should be most accustomed to electronic devices, prefer their textbooks in print by three to one, then the codex is not going to disappear any time soon.

What will happen, I imagine, is the emergence of a three-dimensional electronic text, or the invention of devices that make it possible to print one’s own books from source codes that have been downloaded from the internet. The means will evolve, I would bet, to integrate the convenience of etexts with the conceptual advantages of the codex. In any case, the battle between the ebook and the codex is not over. It has barely gotten started.

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The End of Books—This Time for Sure!

Bill Quick is the latest pundit to join the book-is-dead parade. Most of this ground has already been covered in a friendly debate between John Podhoretz and me. John claimed here that “the end of the physical book” is near. I expressed some skepticism here, John chuffed me for thinking like a book collector here, and I mounted a defense of the “physical book” here.

The only reason to hand out these links is that Quick fires off assertions as if, unlike him, no one had ever, you know, actually made an argument to back them up. Or — here’s a radical notion — pondered his assertions and actually disagreed with them.

Thus “Books have no real future,” Quick declares. After all, a book is an object. “The core of the matter is story, not object!” he writes, underlining every word. (By “story,” he means a piece of writing’s intellectual content. He would have been better off speaking of “text,” because a piece of writing also consists of its language and structure.) But books are objects, stories are not, and old objects are replaced by newer objects. “We have had other such objects,” he observes — “scrolls, chapbooks [another kind of physical book], writing on walls, whatever.”

That the physical book (or the codex, as it is more properly called) has outlasted his “other such objects,” sometimes by a factor of ten, goes entirely overlooked. Quick gives no thought to whether the codex might have some qualities that make it superior to scrolls and writing on walls, and might even make it superior to Kindles and iPads. (Hint: reading is not, whatever he thinks, sheerly a mental activity.)

The real reason Quick has not thought about these issues is that he has confused two separate questions. But to declare that books have no real future is not the same as pronouncing the death of the “commercial structure undergirding our previous method of story delivery,” as he calls it — the corporate publishing model, with a single large company in control of all post-production aspects of literature (manuscript acceptance, editing, printing, distribution, advertising). As I’ve said before, it is a vulgar error to confuse the decline of publishing with anything else, including premature announcements of the book’s demise.

Electronic media, including self-publishing for the Kindle and iPad, have begun to liberate writers from the closed shops of the big publishing houses. Writers have begun to connect directly with readers, without the intermediacy of editors or even booksellers. That’s what has everybody excited. Whether electronic media are the best objects for the storing and retrieval of literary texts — well, that’s a different question altogether. Perhaps writers may even find a way to take control of the best possible object for literature, whatever it might turn out to be.

Update: In an update to his original post, Quick dismisses my reply as the “turgid” reflections of a mere “academic.” “Those that can’t write, teach,” he sneers. (Do you show pictures with these clichés, Bill?) He’s probably right about the “vapidity” of my intellect. God knows I bore my wife and children to tears!

But on one thing he is wrong, no matter how often he congratulates himself for publishing more books than I have. I admit it! I’m a one-book author! (My poor Elephants Teach, in print for fifteen years now.) When he says, though, that “those who can do neither [write or teach] become critics,” he is a buffoon. Like it or not, some of the best English writing — better writing even than Quick’s, if you can believe it — has been in the form of literary criticism. The only question about writing is whether it is any good: not whether it is written by an “academic” or a cheerleader for the singularity.

Bill Quick is the latest pundit to join the book-is-dead parade. Most of this ground has already been covered in a friendly debate between John Podhoretz and me. John claimed here that “the end of the physical book” is near. I expressed some skepticism here, John chuffed me for thinking like a book collector here, and I mounted a defense of the “physical book” here.

The only reason to hand out these links is that Quick fires off assertions as if, unlike him, no one had ever, you know, actually made an argument to back them up. Or — here’s a radical notion — pondered his assertions and actually disagreed with them.

Thus “Books have no real future,” Quick declares. After all, a book is an object. “The core of the matter is story, not object!” he writes, underlining every word. (By “story,” he means a piece of writing’s intellectual content. He would have been better off speaking of “text,” because a piece of writing also consists of its language and structure.) But books are objects, stories are not, and old objects are replaced by newer objects. “We have had other such objects,” he observes — “scrolls, chapbooks [another kind of physical book], writing on walls, whatever.”

That the physical book (or the codex, as it is more properly called) has outlasted his “other such objects,” sometimes by a factor of ten, goes entirely overlooked. Quick gives no thought to whether the codex might have some qualities that make it superior to scrolls and writing on walls, and might even make it superior to Kindles and iPads. (Hint: reading is not, whatever he thinks, sheerly a mental activity.)

The real reason Quick has not thought about these issues is that he has confused two separate questions. But to declare that books have no real future is not the same as pronouncing the death of the “commercial structure undergirding our previous method of story delivery,” as he calls it — the corporate publishing model, with a single large company in control of all post-production aspects of literature (manuscript acceptance, editing, printing, distribution, advertising). As I’ve said before, it is a vulgar error to confuse the decline of publishing with anything else, including premature announcements of the book’s demise.

Electronic media, including self-publishing for the Kindle and iPad, have begun to liberate writers from the closed shops of the big publishing houses. Writers have begun to connect directly with readers, without the intermediacy of editors or even booksellers. That’s what has everybody excited. Whether electronic media are the best objects for the storing and retrieval of literary texts — well, that’s a different question altogether. Perhaps writers may even find a way to take control of the best possible object for literature, whatever it might turn out to be.

Update: In an update to his original post, Quick dismisses my reply as the “turgid” reflections of a mere “academic.” “Those that can’t write, teach,” he sneers. (Do you show pictures with these clichés, Bill?) He’s probably right about the “vapidity” of my intellect. God knows I bore my wife and children to tears!

But on one thing he is wrong, no matter how often he congratulates himself for publishing more books than I have. I admit it! I’m a one-book author! (My poor Elephants Teach, in print for fifteen years now.) When he says, though, that “those who can do neither [write or teach] become critics,” he is a buffoon. Like it or not, some of the best English writing — better writing even than Quick’s, if you can believe it — has been in the form of literary criticism. The only question about writing is whether it is any good: not whether it is written by an “academic” or a cheerleader for the singularity.

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The Kindle Takes Over

If you want to know just how fast the world of the printed word — and thus the intellectual world as a whole — is changing, consider a report in today’s Washington Post.

Amazon is reporting that it is now selling 143 Kindle books for every 100 paper-and-ink books. Kindle books outsold regular books for a while after
Christmas last year, and everyone assumed, doubtlessly correctly, that many people had gotten Kindles for Christmas and were loading them up. But now, half a year later, it seems to be a permanent shift. The recent cut in the price of a Kindle has tripled sales.

“We’ve reached a tipping point with the new price of Kindle,” Bezos said in the statement. “Amazon.com customers now purchase more Kindle books than hardcover books — astonishing when you consider that we’ve been selling hardcover books for 15 years, and Kindle books for 33 months.”

Those of us who love books have to be of two minds about this trend. Books are lovely objects and convey a tactile pleasure along with, hopefully,
cerebral ones. But the horse and buggy was not without its charms too. I’m quite confident that 10 years from now, only a minority, perhaps a small
one, of books will be published in paper-and-ink form. That goes at least equally for magazines and newspapers.

When I first went to work in publishing as a production editor, fresh out of college, books were still being set “hot metal,” i.e., by linotype machines. That makes me feel like I remember the Dark Ages.

If you want to know just how fast the world of the printed word — and thus the intellectual world as a whole — is changing, consider a report in today’s Washington Post.

Amazon is reporting that it is now selling 143 Kindle books for every 100 paper-and-ink books. Kindle books outsold regular books for a while after
Christmas last year, and everyone assumed, doubtlessly correctly, that many people had gotten Kindles for Christmas and were loading them up. But now, half a year later, it seems to be a permanent shift. The recent cut in the price of a Kindle has tripled sales.

“We’ve reached a tipping point with the new price of Kindle,” Bezos said in the statement. “Amazon.com customers now purchase more Kindle books than hardcover books — astonishing when you consider that we’ve been selling hardcover books for 15 years, and Kindle books for 33 months.”

Those of us who love books have to be of two minds about this trend. Books are lovely objects and convey a tactile pleasure along with, hopefully,
cerebral ones. But the horse and buggy was not without its charms too. I’m quite confident that 10 years from now, only a minority, perhaps a small
one, of books will be published in paper-and-ink form. That goes at least equally for magazines and newspapers.

When I first went to work in publishing as a production editor, fresh out of college, books were still being set “hot metal,” i.e., by linotype machines. That makes me feel like I remember the Dark Ages.

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Words, Words, Words

Here at the horizon, Dara Mandle wonders about the death of reading. Over at The New Republic, James Wolcott offers a lengthy and vastly entertaining piece on the decline of book reviewing (the piece itself is a review of Gail Pool’s Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America), a topic also explored recently by Steve Wasserman in the Columbia Journalism Review. All seem to agree that reading (and serious thinking on it) is in a state of flux, and probably on the wane. Mandle’s post, for example, ends with the question, “Do electronics like the Kindle have what it takes to save reading?” The underlying assumption is that reading needs saving, and that recent cultural and technological shifts are part of what’s killing it.

It’s an easy assumption to make, of course, but as Wolcott’s essay points out, it’s hardly a novel idea. Academics, intellectuals, and ordinary book lovers have been fretting over the decline of serious writing and serious thinking about writing for decades. As always, reactions vary. Many, like Adam Kirsch in The New York Sun, have simply given up, pronouncing the internet-dominated literary scene a total loss. Others, including critics like Terry Teachout and journalists like Megan McArdle (now of the Atlantic), are more enthusiastic.

I lean towards enthusiasm, but I think some of the worries and criticisms are valid, if somewhat misplaced. The danger to reading, it seems to me, is less of the lack of respect for books and book criticism, or the uninformed opinions of amateurs replacing the thoughtful screeds of professionals, or the diminishing number of book reviews in newspapers, but instead, the glut of written material fighting for our collective attention. Even the most robust literary scene would have difficulty keeping up with the truckloads of books published each year. And although newspapers may be publishing fewer book reviews, the internet, by giving free and easy access to all those with internet access, has actually expanded access to top-tier reviews for nearly everyone.

Book review pages in medium sized newspapers have fallen off in large part because they are unnecessary in a world where nearly everyone can easily browse the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the L.A. Times. Meanwhile, smaller publications, including blogs, but also established print journals, are flourishing on the web, creating a wealth of easy-to-access material for every niche. The difficulty with reading these days is not that there is too little being written, or that no one is doing it, or even that no one is doing it well. It’s that there’s too much to read, too much to process. We are not short for words. We are drowning in them.

Here at the horizon, Dara Mandle wonders about the death of reading. Over at The New Republic, James Wolcott offers a lengthy and vastly entertaining piece on the decline of book reviewing (the piece itself is a review of Gail Pool’s Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America), a topic also explored recently by Steve Wasserman in the Columbia Journalism Review. All seem to agree that reading (and serious thinking on it) is in a state of flux, and probably on the wane. Mandle’s post, for example, ends with the question, “Do electronics like the Kindle have what it takes to save reading?” The underlying assumption is that reading needs saving, and that recent cultural and technological shifts are part of what’s killing it.

It’s an easy assumption to make, of course, but as Wolcott’s essay points out, it’s hardly a novel idea. Academics, intellectuals, and ordinary book lovers have been fretting over the decline of serious writing and serious thinking about writing for decades. As always, reactions vary. Many, like Adam Kirsch in The New York Sun, have simply given up, pronouncing the internet-dominated literary scene a total loss. Others, including critics like Terry Teachout and journalists like Megan McArdle (now of the Atlantic), are more enthusiastic.

I lean towards enthusiasm, but I think some of the worries and criticisms are valid, if somewhat misplaced. The danger to reading, it seems to me, is less of the lack of respect for books and book criticism, or the uninformed opinions of amateurs replacing the thoughtful screeds of professionals, or the diminishing number of book reviews in newspapers, but instead, the glut of written material fighting for our collective attention. Even the most robust literary scene would have difficulty keeping up with the truckloads of books published each year. And although newspapers may be publishing fewer book reviews, the internet, by giving free and easy access to all those with internet access, has actually expanded access to top-tier reviews for nearly everyone.

Book review pages in medium sized newspapers have fallen off in large part because they are unnecessary in a world where nearly everyone can easily browse the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the L.A. Times. Meanwhile, smaller publications, including blogs, but also established print journals, are flourishing on the web, creating a wealth of easy-to-access material for every niche. The difficulty with reading these days is not that there is too little being written, or that no one is doing it, or even that no one is doing it well. It’s that there’s too much to read, too much to process. We are not short for words. We are drowning in them.

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Light the Fire

So much in our hectic, 21st century lives takes place onscreen, why not literature?

Jeff Bezos and his company Amazon have treaded where all other such attempts have failed: into the land of e-book readers. Bezos’s device is called the “Kindle” and features a six-inch screen and a $400 price tag. Mediabistro’s GalleyCat blog today displays the headline, “Two Weeks In, Kindle Still ‘Fugly’ & Expensive.”

It seems the Kindle could become a kind of iPod for books, where content can be catalogued and shared. Personally, I find it difficult to read at length onscreen. But if the device were comfortable to use, I would do so. And let’s face it, books are dirty and take up space. Why not get rid of them?

According to an opinion column in last week’s Wall Street Journal, reading is on the way out. Do electronics like the Kindle have what it takes to save reading?

So much in our hectic, 21st century lives takes place onscreen, why not literature?

Jeff Bezos and his company Amazon have treaded where all other such attempts have failed: into the land of e-book readers. Bezos’s device is called the “Kindle” and features a six-inch screen and a $400 price tag. Mediabistro’s GalleyCat blog today displays the headline, “Two Weeks In, Kindle Still ‘Fugly’ & Expensive.”

It seems the Kindle could become a kind of iPod for books, where content can be catalogued and shared. Personally, I find it difficult to read at length onscreen. But if the device were comfortable to use, I would do so. And let’s face it, books are dirty and take up space. Why not get rid of them?

According to an opinion column in last week’s Wall Street Journal, reading is on the way out. Do electronics like the Kindle have what it takes to save reading?

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Too Mormon or Too Liberal?

The New York Times ran a front-page story Thursday on how Mitt Romney’s being a Mormon may damage his chances as he seeks the GOP nomination. Of special concern, according to the story, are Southern evangelical Christians in early primary states who mistrust Mormonism. “Mr. Romney’s advisers,” wrote the Times, “acknowledge that . . . questions about whether Mormons are beholden to their church’s leader’s on public policy could give his opponents ammunition in the wide-open fight among Republicans to become the consensus candidate of social conservatives.”

Well, evangelicals may or may not mistrust Mormonism as a religion. But when it comes to public policy, those Mormon “church leaders” stand hard against abortion, gay marriage, gambling, and alcohol consumption—views that handily comport with those of evangelicals. The Times, in other words, has it backwards. The real concern of many social conservatives—and of the Romney campaign—is not that Romney is a tool of his socially conservative church but that as a politician he has had too liberal a record to get through the primaries.

True, as governor, Romney fought (and pretty much lost) a long, tough battle against court-imposed gay marriage in the Bay State. But as a politician, for better or worse, he has always been more of a businessman/technocrat than a red-meat guy. True again, on the issue of abortion, he claims to have had an epiphany that has made him pro-life. One of his favorites lines is that “even Reagan didn’t always hold Reaganite views on abortion.” Still, he ran for (and won) the Massachusetts governorship as a pro-choice candidate, with support from Planned Parenthood.

Romney is working hard, with some notable recent success, to win the support of evangelical leaders who cannot bring themselves to back Rudy Giuliani (pro-choice) or John McCain (whose pro-life views are widely mistrusted). But why does the New York Times not want to tell its readers that the ex-governor has, until recently, had a solidly liberal record on abortion, a record entirely at odds with the Mormon church and, incidentally, to the left of Democratic Senator Harry Reid, a fellow Mormon who is pro-life? Could it be because this information might kindle friendly interest among potential moderate voters who will believe he is really one of their own? In a perverse way, the Romney campaign could regard the Times story as a sign of success.

The New York Times ran a front-page story Thursday on how Mitt Romney’s being a Mormon may damage his chances as he seeks the GOP nomination. Of special concern, according to the story, are Southern evangelical Christians in early primary states who mistrust Mormonism. “Mr. Romney’s advisers,” wrote the Times, “acknowledge that . . . questions about whether Mormons are beholden to their church’s leader’s on public policy could give his opponents ammunition in the wide-open fight among Republicans to become the consensus candidate of social conservatives.”

Well, evangelicals may or may not mistrust Mormonism as a religion. But when it comes to public policy, those Mormon “church leaders” stand hard against abortion, gay marriage, gambling, and alcohol consumption—views that handily comport with those of evangelicals. The Times, in other words, has it backwards. The real concern of many social conservatives—and of the Romney campaign—is not that Romney is a tool of his socially conservative church but that as a politician he has had too liberal a record to get through the primaries.

True, as governor, Romney fought (and pretty much lost) a long, tough battle against court-imposed gay marriage in the Bay State. But as a politician, for better or worse, he has always been more of a businessman/technocrat than a red-meat guy. True again, on the issue of abortion, he claims to have had an epiphany that has made him pro-life. One of his favorites lines is that “even Reagan didn’t always hold Reaganite views on abortion.” Still, he ran for (and won) the Massachusetts governorship as a pro-choice candidate, with support from Planned Parenthood.

Romney is working hard, with some notable recent success, to win the support of evangelical leaders who cannot bring themselves to back Rudy Giuliani (pro-choice) or John McCain (whose pro-life views are widely mistrusted). But why does the New York Times not want to tell its readers that the ex-governor has, until recently, had a solidly liberal record on abortion, a record entirely at odds with the Mormon church and, incidentally, to the left of Democratic Senator Harry Reid, a fellow Mormon who is pro-life? Could it be because this information might kindle friendly interest among potential moderate voters who will believe he is really one of their own? In a perverse way, the Romney campaign could regard the Times story as a sign of success.

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