This Week in Millennial History: Amazon Launches the Kindle
Are ereaders the ultimate boner killer?
On November 19, 2007, Amazon launched the Kindle wireless electronic reader, catapulting e-books (or is it ebooks now? As in e-mail shifted to email?) into the mainstream.
I’m still an old soul who appreciates and prefers a book, printed on paper, its spine cracking as I open it for the first time. I like taking that book and handing it to someone to borrow, as if my thumbprints were somehow part of its creation, something to share and discuss, a connection between the two of us.
I get that the Kindle is convenient. “They’re good for travel,” I remember people saying about the Kindle, which, fair. And yet, after I bought one, I still found myself lugging around a book or two in addition to the Kindle, drawn to the paper in my hand when I’m on the plane or in the hotel room.
The last book I read on my Kindle was Gone With the Wind, which I bought for about $4 (the prices are good, once you buy the hardware, I will say that). I read it on a plane from New York to Shanghai for work in 2017. It was shortly before I was moving to Atlanta, so I felt it appropriate to read an epic about the South. I was grateful to not have to carry an 800 page book onto the plane because of the weight but, more importantly, that all the other people around me couldn’t see me reading the OG American Novel for Basics, because that would be embarrassing. (It’s a terrible book, by the way. I mean, fascinating as far as what it represents in American history, but quite bad.)
Since then, my Kindle has sat in a desk drawer, dead. I forget which books are on it and, even worse, which books I’ve read, because they’re stuck on a machine somewhere. I prefer to sit on my couch and look at my bookshelf. I can go through the library of work I have and have not read, as if I’m viewing an old photo album.
When I visit someone’s home for the first time, I look at their books; I see if there are ones we have in common, conversations to bring up. I doubt this delightful exercise would be as welcome if I asked to scan all of their electronics. But then again, books have always connected me to other people in some way.
I went to a bookstore in Brooklyn this year — because if I see one I always have to stop — and this hunk behind the counter kept the store open past closing time for me because, he said, “I can tell you’re a big reader.” Reader, when he said that, I got an erection. See? Books! Trust me, that magic doesn’t happen with a Kindle. I was like Belle in the first 10 minutes of Beauty and the Beast, but the shopkeeper was a 30-something blond rugby player from Brooklyn, and Belle was old and tired, holding a copy of Larry Kramer’s Faggots over her hips. (Still have not read, by the way.)
Of course, I’m glad that anyone is reading these days, electronically or not. (Hello, Reader!) But for me, the thrill of reading a book is closing the cover at the end, seeing it looking back at work, feeling the weight of the words in your palm. It’s not turning off a button and watching those words disappear on a screen, as if it’s a magic trick.
Of course, it’s not Amazon’s only effort at illusion. Since 2007, Amazon has made practically every part of the shopping experience invisible. Leaving our house isn’t required (no more hunky chunkies keeping the shop open for customers). Shipping fees vanish by convincing us to pay them only once a year. The people selling the goods or getting the products to us are hidden behind walls and kept out of headlines. Even our own selves become unrecognizable; we’re no longer humans but pieces of data to sell the next thing to.
Perhaps, then, that solitary act of reading a book is creating a moment that cannot be erased. It may not have Wi-Fi, but the weight of a book, seeing it on our shelf, connects us to ourselves and to each other. It’s something real, tangible. So go ahead. Open the cover. Turn to Page 1.