Me and my Kindle

Me and my Kindle December 29, 2010

When it comes to reading electronic books, or e-books, I was an agnostic.

All that changed over the holidays.

Now, I’m a believer.  I have seen the light.  It emanates from a little grey pad of plastic called a Kindle.

My in-laws gave me a Kindle (Amazon’s version of an e-reader) for Christmas.  Minutes after unpacking it from the box, I was downloading books, excerpts, free samples, games, magazines, newspapers, you name it.

I have to confess: I am in love with this thing.  (Don’t tell my wife.)

It’s ridiculous, I know.  But it’s just so darn…cool.  I am still in awe of the fact that I could potentially carry 3,000 books in something that could fit inside a manila envelope.  I stare at the wall of books lining our apartment and think: “You guys could be history.”

I think of all the money we could have saved on shelving.

The sociological impact of this tiny device cannot be underestimated.  I’m seeing it on the subway when I travel to work – more people are carrying it instead of a newspaper or book to read on the way.  (Can you download Sodoku?  I wonder….) This means a tremendous saving of space (thank God) but it also means, sadly, that the great art of How To Fold A Newspaper Into Quarters To Read on the Train will soon be gone – becoming as primitive and exotic as origami.

I first latched on to the possibilities of electronic reading over the summer, when I managed to download a version of the Liturgy of the Hours onto my iPod.   I also have a copy of the daily missal on it – which means I have every reading for mass, plus every reading for the Liturgy of the Hours, forever, in a metal and plastic box only slightly larger than a credit card.

I feel like George Jetson.

The electronic revolution in reading is undeniably convenient, portable, user-friendly, accessible and fun.

But – and this is not insignificant — it’s also just a little bit unsatisfying.

I’ve discovered that, as much as I love my new 21st century toys, there is a lot to be said for actually holding a book in your hands, feeling its heft, turning its pages, seeing the dog-ears left behind and the pencil marks in the margins.  There is the moving of ribbons, the inserting of a bookmark, the hushed sound of a two- pound tome being returned to its place on the shelf.

What I’m talking about, I think, is something that can only be called the Reading Experience – the sensual contact of finger to paper, the faint smell of the ink and glue and binding, the sound of a page as it turns, the comforting appearance of Times Roman type.  Reading a newspaper on an e-reader isn’t the same as holding it in your hands, damp after it was left on your doorstep in the rain, and seeing the words bleed into one another, and breathing deep of the aroma of information, as newsprint and ink and advertising leave stains on your fingertips.   This is the way so many people read about Gettysburg, and the Armistice, and Pearl Harbor and Watergate.  It’s woven, somehow, into our DNA.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love what I’m able to do with my Kindle and iPod, and can’t wait to see what the wizards at Apple and Amazon will come up with next.   But I’ve also been reminded that reading is more than just words on a page.  It is, truly, an experience.  It would be a tragedy for us to lose that experience, for the sake of being modern or efficient.

Not long ago, I read about an Italian priest who developed an application that would make it possible to celebrate mass from an iPad. It will be the same mass.  The words and prayers and effects – consecration of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ – will all be the same.

But will it be the same experience?   Will the priest perceive what he is doing differently?  Will the “cool” medium of an iPad be different from the “hot” medium of an open book?  Will it affect the celebrant somehow?  Will people perceive any difference?

I hope not.  But I have to wonder.

P.S. For those who have asked: the first book I downloaded was “Can You Drink the Cup?” by Henri Nouwen, with a forward by (Deacon) Ron Hansen.  I’m curious: if you have an e-reader, what was your first book??

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8 responses to “Me and my Kindle”

  1. Greg,

    I’m right there with you: Kindle, ipad, Droid, Mac, PC – I can read any book on any of these and could, conceivably, use the ipad to celebrate Mass. Given the reported size of the new (one volume) English translation of the Roman Missal, I think it would be a heck of a lot easier on a younger altar server to hold an ipad rather than the heavy book! But I digress.

    Overall, I think it’s a good thing. No more excuses for missing the Liturgy of the Hours because of a forgotten book. It’s always with me and while, it’s missing the ribbons and the quasi-monastic feel that comes with the page-turning, I find it no less effective.

    If all this technology puts the scriptures, prayers, etc. at the hands of people and leads them to prayer, it’s a good thing.

    Although I’ll have to admit, I don’t think you’ll be seeing me celebrate Mass with my ipad – at least not publicly!

  2. Dear Brother,
    I am an avid reader, 2-3 books going at once. Had to have a book in my hands. I received an E- Nook last year and never thought I’d use it. From the first page of the first book; I’ve enjoyed it. Enjoy!!

  3. Enjoy your Kindle Deacon.

    While I have read ebooks for a while this was the year of the eBook for me since I got the iPad.

    64 ebooks and 35 Paperback/Hardcover books, plus another 100 audio books.

    I much prefer eBooks, I have my book everywhere. Can read in bed without a light, can search text and create notes and highlights without ruining book. Can set text size and font, important as you get older. Plus I love just being able to prop the iPad up and read without pages needing to be pressed down. For paperbooks I have a stand with a couple of book weights to keep the pages in place.

  4. Dear brother:

    Congratulations on your new gift. I too ordered my Kindle just a couple days ago and have not received it yet. I am excited to receive it and waited throughout the year for the price to come down and sure enough, it did.

    I have a question for you. You see, about one year ago my wife and I lost our home and everything collected over 30 years of marriage and 5 children in the Auburn, CA 49er Fire……I lost hundreds and hundreds of theology books (5 years of diaconate formation, and 5 years of philosophy and theology from my seminary days 30 years past!)………
    So, I am wondering……..are there many theology/Scripture books that can be ‘downloaded’ on to the Kindle? Don’t know if you’ve had time to check that out but I thought I would ask.

    Bless you Greg, in your ministry in the coming year.

    Peace and Joy,

    Deacon David Ford

  5. David…

    I’m sorry to hear about your loss — that’s enormous! ( And I’m sure there were other more precious treasures besides your books that are gone for good…)

    But to answer your question: yes, almost anything on Amazon is downloadable (though I’m disappointed that the Liturgy of the Hours isn’t yet available…maybe someday soon?) But many books by Merton, Nouwen and a few of my other favorites are readily available, along with numerous translations of the bible. I’ve only scratched the surface. But you can easily search for what you’re looking for and find out if it’s available.

    Good luck and God bless you in the new year!


  6. I concur with everything you’ve said! — both your love for the Kindle and your nostalgia for ‘the reading experience’. Right now I find myself torn between the new books I’ve recently downloaded and the stack of books

    My first ebook — I couldn’t resist getting Aquinas’ ‘Summa Theologica’ for $.99, followed by the complete works of Shakespeare . . . and H.P. Lovecraft. =)

    Tip: if you look on’s Kindle section for ‘Mobi’ + (short for Mobile Reference) + author name, ths pu offer a ton (“over 10,000”) of complete works by all the classical authors — literary, philosophical, religious, etc.

  7. Yes, Deacon Greg, great post. I feel exactly the same way about my Kindle and my experiences as a reader of e-texts. The portability is wonderful; it’s with me when I’m waiting for Chinese take-out or at the dentist’s office, and everywhere else. Also great is how easily (and cheaply or even for free) I can download a work that’s in the public domain (e.g., Treasure Island, all of the works of Jack London, etc., etc.) to read with my son. And I like being able to jump from book to book, always having my spot in each book automatically saved.

    The biggest downside for me is that we’ll reach a point where we won’t have as many books lying around the house for my son to stumble across and perhaps pick up and read as he grows up. That’s a real loss. When my mom died, I made a point of gathering up some of her books and moving them to my shelves. Cheap books, but an inheritance nonetheless. (My wife gave me permission to buy a Kindle. Her hope, I know, was that I would start weeding through our overflowing collection of paperbacks and remaindered hardbacks. Tough to do, at least from an emotional standpoint!)

    My first e-book purchase: The Short Novels of John Steinbeck (was in the mood to reread Of Mice & Men, and knew I’d get to the rest eventually)

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