At UC Press, I am one of the few staff members who actually lunches in our lunchroom. It’s an unattractive place with no windows and stained furniture, many of the stains contributed by me. Eating there gets me away from my desk, and the oppressive décor keeps me from lingering. Invariably, as colleagues arrive to prepare their own lunches, they peek at the cover of the book I’m reading and offer mini-reviews until the microwave dings. So when my partner surprised me with the very generous gift of a Kindle 2, I had a dilemma: Do I bring it into the lunchroom?
After all, one might be forgiven for thinking of Kindle as the enemy of the printed book. With slumping sales, budget cuts, and reduced staffing, the atmosphere in publishing houses today ranges from fear to fatalism. The book industry hasn’t yet decided how it will enter the electronic future, and our careers hang in the balance. Was I abandoning the troops by downloading my books instead of hunting them down in the increasingly rare independent bookstores of the Bay Area?
As a practical matter, I couldn’t see reading an e-book at home and carrying a print book to work. One of the real benefits of a Kindle is that you need never run out of reading material while commuting or traveling—I’ll never again have to lunch over the catalogs of other university presses.
So I sheepishly showed up with the offending instrument, and it’s been a conversation piece ever since. Some colleagues are excited by the prospect of downloading audio books; designers are alarmed by the gap-toothed justification of typeset lines that results from Kindle’s no-hyphenation policy. (Actually, there are plenty of hyphens left in place, mid-line, from the print editions.) Most agree with me that the tiny keyboard at the bottom should have been sacrificed so that the display could more closely approximate the trim dimensions of the standard paperback.
Two months in, I’m grateful for the gift because it has pushed me to begin engaging personally with the future of the book. Although I’m still not ready for what may come. One colleague saw the device and said, “That obsolete thing? My kids are reading their YA [Young Adult] books on their cell phones.” Meanwhile, with my middle-aged eyesight, I celebrate my favorite Kindle feature: type enlargement.