Hey; Why Don’t You Electronically Read My Fuckin’ Nutsack?

June 23, 2010

I hate e-readers with a passion. The whole notion of a more elaborate, costlier version of something as simple as a book seems absurd to me. I feel like there’s a room full of technocrats in California snickering at Barnes & Noble CCTV footage of people buying the Nook: ‘I can’t (GIGGLE) believe it! They’re actually (GIGGLE) paying for an electric book! Hey, put that steam-powered stapler on sale, too! Let’s see if they go for that!’ The fact that our society is even considering e-readers as a mass-market item is, I think, indicative of our distorted view of what constitutes progress.

I am by no means a Luddite. I own a large TV, two Macs, an iPod, a PS3 and a Blackberry. And if I’m ever hospitalized and in severe pain, I’ll opt for factory-synthesized Morphine over a quid of pine bark extract. I understand the purpose of technology and how it improves our lives in small but highly appreciable increments. I do, however, think there is a marked lack of skepticism among a certain class of people when it comes to technology. My friends and co-workers are intelligent, liberal, creative forward thinkers. They wouldn’t dream of watching a newscast or listening to a politician without being analytical of every word and statement. But the moment Steve Jobs stands up against a black screen to talk about Apple’s newest piece of proprietary nodes and wires, they line up to hand him their money. I’m not impugning Steve or Apple. They do good work. I’m simply saying that we often lack perspective in our pursuit of all things newer and better. E-readers seem to be the epitome of this phenomenon. I ask the following question with the wide-eyed naïveté of a child:

what’s wrong with books?

Imprinting paper with ink is, in this day and age, a lightweight, inexpensive way to communicate. There’s a reason books rank with fire and the wheel as the greatest inventions of all time. So why the improvement? What hitherto insoluble problem do e-readers address? The answer, I believe, is a cynical but (as cynicism usually is) truthful one: E-readers serve a need created by the people who sell them. Without the mighty arm of Amazon to wave the Kindle ensign, an e-reader would seem like something a half-crazy alcoholic retiree invented in his garage and was trying to get you to invest in (HIM: ‘Braaaaar! Check out my new invention! It takes pages from a book and puts them on a screen! That way the library can’t get your fingerprints!’ YOU: (BACKING SLOWLY BUT STEADILY OUT OF THE GARAGE) ‘I’m going to go find your nurse….’). But once the Kindle had Oprah’s endorsement, many people were convinced it was as indispensible as, say, ‘O’ magazine.

In the spirit of transparency, I have to admit I feel e-readers take some of the charm out of the act of reading. As a lifelong reader, I’ve come to learn that a book is much more than the sum of its parts. It is a tactile sensory experience as much as it is a mental one. Each book has a different look, feel, heft and even smell that comes close to imbuing it with a personality. An e-reader sterilizes the act of reading to a great extent. Of course, I understand that for some people reading is far less a pleasure and more a necessity (students cramming for exams, proofreaders, etc.) and that, for them, an e-reader would be a boon. That’s fine. In those cases, an e-reader would be like any other tool, sold to a specific segment of society for a specific purpose. But it’s not. It’s being marketed en masse as a new and improved version of the common book, a technology that has operated more or less flawlessly for 550 years.

Of course, my cranky feelings are highly subjective. So I like the feel of paper? So fucking what? You’re right to dismiss my opinions. But what you can’t dismiss is fact. The following exercise pits the most salient selling features of the e-reader against the corresponding features of the common paper book it was designed to replace. For the sake of argument, I have chosen Amazon’s K2 Kindle to represent e-readers. I know there’s different models with different features, but the K2 will do. We’ll examine and explain 9 K2 features (taken verbatim from kindle.com) and award a point to whichever technology, the e-reader or the paper book, uses it best. The purpose of this exercise is to remove the shadow of my subjective ire from the discussion and determine whether or not an e-reader is a useful thing to buy based on a logical analysis of the facts.

Ready? Read on.

Portability

The Kindle positively raves about its portability. I can’t argue, but I’m skeptical as to whether or not this matters.  I have read tens of thousands of books in my life, and never have I struggled to lift, carry or transport a single one of them. Even War And Peace failed to best me. Oh yeah; I lifted the fuck out of War And Peace. Granted, I do own several large-format tomes that would prove difficult to open and read in pubic. But the day my world shatters because I can’t consult my National Geographic Illustrated Atlas Of Space on the cross-town bus, I’ve officially got bigger problems. The Kindle is 1/3 of an inch thick (‘as thin as most magazines’) and weighs 10.2 ounces (‘lighter than a typical paperback’). While I certainly don’t dispute these claims, I seriously question their value to consumers. Unless you’re an Olympic sprinter who insists on keeping an unabridged Les Miserables on your person during races for good luck, I don’t see how a matter of ounces is really going to change your life. Still, I am forced to concede that the Kindle is lighter than a lot of books, even if it’s not necessarily smaller (its un-bragged about surface dimensions are 8 x 5.3 inches, which makes it almost as long as a standard sheet of paper; not exactly ‘pocket-sized’). It also has the advantage of being able to hold the contents of 1500 books. Because, pre-Kindle, people were staggering around like cursed characters out of Greek mythology forced to carry the crippling weight of their entire paper book collections on their shoulders because they defied Zeus.

ADVANTAGE: KINDLE

Paper-Like Display

The Kindle boasts a screen that ‘reads like real paper without glare, even in bright sunlight’. Y’know what else reads like real paper? Paper.

ADVANTAGE: BOOK

Books In Under 60 Seconds

The Kindle lets you download books in less than a minute. Compare that to the time it takes to go to a bookstore, walk down the aisle, find a book, pick it up, take it to the cash, take out your wallet, pull out your debit card, swipe it in the machine, wait for it to authourize, wait for the receipt to print out, have the clerk ask you if you need a bag, tell him you don’t need a bag and leave the store. You’re talking minutes. That’s your life running through your fingers like spilled soda, bub.

ADVANTAGE: KINDLE

Long Battery Life

The Kindle has a battery that lets you ‘read for up to one week on a single charge’. That reminds me; I’ve got to go plug in my copy of The Martian Chronicles before it dies. I’m being sarcastic, of course; books don’t have batteries, silly!

ADVANTAGE: BOOK

Out-of-Copyright, Pre-1923 Books:

The Kindle has ‘over 1.8 million free, out-of-copyright, pre-1923 books available to read…including titles such as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Pride and Prejudice, and Treasure Island.’ Finally, someone has unearthed texts from the mysterious, bygone era of ‘pre-1923’! Because, as everyone knows, you can’t find Pride And Prejudice anywhere. The Toronto Public Library certainly doesn’t have forty-two copies of Pride And Prejudice available. And, Lord knows I haven’t managed to somehow wind up with two copies of Pride And Prejudice on my bookshelf, despite never having read it through and not being especially fond of Jane Austen. We can only thank Christ the Kindle has made Pride And Prejudice, a book in publication for almost two hundred years and with millions of copies in existence, available to the public. Sarcasm!

ADVANTAGE: N/A (Kindle’s claim seems impressive, but it’s not)

3G Wireless Coverage

With the Kindle, you can get on the Internet. Books, not so much. This feature seems like an all-out victory for the Kindle, then. Right? Weeeeeelllll….hmmmmm. If you wanna be completely logical about it, then, no. Think about it: a book isn’t designed or intended to provide Internet access, so the addition of Internet access is irrelevant and can’t be leveraged to establish its inferiority to an electronic version of itself. There are dozens of devices we use every day which, despite their failure to be integrated into paper books has no bearing on our opinion of them. Is a book inferior to car because it can’t drive us somewhere? Is a book inferior to a toothbrush because it doesn’t have bristles? Is a book inferior to a Swedish gas-powered double-ended dildo because it doesn’t have Supergrip SuresuxTM technology? Of course not. However, I am aware of that people’s constant, constant need for Internet access is so deep-seeded that its mere presence provides a feeling of security during all unrelated activities, (reading, for example) so I grudgingly award the Kindle a half-point advantage in this category.

HALF-POINT ADVANTAGE: KINDLE

Cost

At first glance, the Kindle seems to be a real cash-saver. It’s only $189.99 on amazon.com (let’s round it up to an even $200 after taxes and shipping) and features many titles staring at just $9.99 (round up to $10). Let’s assume a spankin’ new paperback will run you about $20. This means that downloading a Kindle book saves you about $10, so the Kindle pays for itself after you’ve downloaded 20 books.

SUB ADVANTAGE: KINDLE

That’s assuming, however, you buy all books new. But let’s say you buy books used, as I tend to do. And let’s assume the cost of a used book is $10. You’re not saving anything, then, by downloading Kindle books instead of buying paper ones, so you can never hope to recoup your initial $200 investment. Many books can also be re-sold depending on their condition, which, in the long run, lowers the $10 cost even further.

SUB ADVANTAGE: USED BOOKS

And if you have a library card, you can get books free.

SUB ADVANTAGE: LIBRARY BOOKS

Also, take into consideration the advantages of the low cost of a book. If you lose or damage it, it’s no big deal. If it’s a library book you’ll have to replace it, but if you bought it used or new, you’re out $10 – $20. But if you lose or damage a Kindle, you’re out a whopping $200.

SUB ADVANTAGE: BOOKS

OVERALL COST ADVANTAGE: BOOKS

Durability

Despite their apparent fragile nature, books are fairly hardy. As long as they’re kept away from fire and direct moisture, they’re generally okay. By my count, 38% of the books on my shelf were published more than 30 years ago, and they are all in perfectly readable condition, despite multiple reads, multiple moves in jam-packed cardboard boxes, repeated handling, etc. Can the Kindle brag the same durability? Perhaps. But the biggest threat to the Kindle isn’t the elements or rigors of everyday life. It’s itself. The Kindle is already on its second version, K2, a vast improvement over the original which debuted in 2007. In a mere three years, Kindle has made an earlier version of itself obsolete. This isn’t even taking into consideration the obsolescence-causing advantages brought about by competitive e-readers.

I own a ‘version’ of Catcher In The Rye published in 1951, 59 years ago. Will the K2 be around in 2069? Or will it have been replaced by dozens of superior $200 incarnations of itself, all better-designed to do what my then one hundred and eighteen year-old Salinger novel already does: display text?

ADVANTAGE: BOOK

Sharing Capabilities

Sharing a book with your Kindle is ridiculously easy, as evidenced from this five-step ehow.com walkthrough:

Step 1: Get an Amazon Kindle e-Reader and download some e-books to it.

Step 2: Then you need to talk to good friends or family members that have Amazon Kindles and that have content on them you would like to share.

Step 3: The next thing is to deregister your Amazon Kindle from your own account and register it on your friend or family members account. Then download the books that you would like to share from your family member and voila they are on your Amazon Kindle now.

Step 4: After that you deregister your Amazon Kindle from your family members account and reregister it back onto your account and you are done. If your family member wants books of yours to share then you just do it all in reverse putting their Kindle on your account etc.

Step 5: Amazon Kindle books come with DRM protection or Digital Rights Management software so that you are allowed to download a book a set number of times, similar to songs on I-Tunes, and once this limit is reached for each book you can’t download it anymore without repurchasing it. This number is typically 5-6 times per book but can vary based on publisher and specific book title negotiations.

This sure beats the old way of sharing books, i.e., fucking handing them to someone. ‘Hey, Matt, can I read that copy of Danielle Steel’s Passion’s Promise when you’re done with it?’ ‘Well, Roy, I’d love to share it with you, but you’re sitting all the way on the other side of the room.’ ‘Dammit! If only we could transmit the book’s contents electronically, thus retaining complete motionlessness! Plus, there’s gravity to contend with! Looks like we’re fucked.’

ADVANTAGE: BOOKS

FINAL SCORE: KINDLE = 2.5, BOOKS = 5

There you have it. Cold, unerring logic that proves 21st century technology has yet to improve on the design and function of the book.

In the event that you still would like to buy an e-reader, though, let me offer you some advice: For maximum ease of use and readability, make sure you shove it directly up your ass, since that’s obviously where your head is.

Thanks for reading.

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13 Responses to “Hey; Why Don’t You Electronically Read My Fuckin’ Nutsack?”

  1. I suppose you fail to see the deep and rich irony of the fact that your rant against electronic format publishing appears on a blog? In other words, on an electronic format that requires a device to read? Perhaps your narrow minded rant would have carried more weight if you’d written it on a type writer, copied it with an offset printer and distributed it in the form of leaflets stapled to telephone polls?

    • Box of Tissues for Mr Hughes said

      He’s writing a blog, not a novel; he mentions that he has no problem with technology, and owns various electronic devices himself, including two macs. I think you need to read the first few paragraphs again, very slowly, recognise that there is no “deep” or “rich” irony in what this article is saying, then realise that it’s also supposed to be funny (it seems like this article really upset you, I hope you’re feeling better by the time you read this reply), then go ahead and read his fuckin’ nutsack, fag.

  2. Jenna said

    The nice thing about ereaders is the sheer number of books they carry in one small, very portable place. I travel a lot, and read a lot — and let me tell you how NOT FUN packing ten or so books in one suitcase is. Its actually miserable. The Kindle has changed my life for the better.

  3. Red Clydeside said

    Very entertaining read. Having just sold my kindle (feel so much better to be free of that sterile piece of plastic!) I agree completely with your point of view.

  4. Joe said

    I visited the family for christmas. I’ve been here 9 days, I’ve read 12 books. Did I shove twelve paperbacks in my luggage (taking up approximately all of my luggage space)? No, of course not, I just put my Kindle in my pocket.

    I have the curse of being one of those readers who has two or three books on the go at once, flicking between them depending on what I feel like reading. Again, something far easier to do with my Hitchhikers Guide.

    I’m also sick of people thinking books have a soul or personality. That is a serious mental delusion.

  5. Sam said

    Fuck the Kindle – yup, total agreement. Also Fuck Amazon and their multi-million Kindle push, Fuck their lies about how many they’ve sold – and above all, FUCK corporate greed. Amazon have set out to destory the book trade in any way they can that doesn’t destory ther own profits – this is big business at it’s most brutal and selfish. And I’m afraid there’s quite a few million shiny shallow mugs out there who’ve bought into this – fucking idiots.

    Ereaders exist – they even have their uses, but Amazon’s shove it down your throat promotion of the Kindle is super cynical and devious. At least in my local Tesco their Kindle display looks untouched and unloved…… the boring little pieces of grey plastic turned upside down, moribund in their bland nothingness – or with a nice big bogey stuck to the screen. If I could, I’d wipe my arse on one.

    Real people buy real books. Not all books are another Michael Connelly bestseller. Some folks still appreciate books in all their richness and diversity. Ultimately the Kindle is about as interesting as Mrs Thatcher’s underwear.

  6. John said

    I’m an American living abroad and buying books in English can be difficult and expensive. Shipping books is even more costly that buying them second-hand online. And while I’d never read some books on the kindle, there are a ton of books available for download on torrent sites– huge Sci-Fi collections that I’d never go out and buy or want on my bookshelf but I’ll hold on my hard drive and upload to my Kindle.

    It’s a tool for reading. An e-reader is not a book and cannot replace books. I loved this rant, it was hilarious. Though I disagree and think the kindle has a place in society– or at least I found a utility in Kindle ownership– I found this rant humorous enough on a dull day on teh internets. One bit of advice though: don’t get too polemic on this shit (looking at some of your recent posts too) ’cause it makes you sound subvertive and arrogant.

  7. Piripi said

    Well said, sir.

    I wonder if Cormac McCarthy would sign my e-reader?

    Otherwise it will just end up on a slag heap of e-waste somewhere in southern Asia in five years time.

  8. Guy said

    I want the words of the author in my head, and I do not want a library of books I have to store and move. I do want access to what I’ve read. The Kindle does this.

  9. Randall Marshall said

    I think you didn’t give enough advantage to portability and transmittal. I had a prof drop a “Get this book. The quiz is day after tomorrow.” scenario on me, and really, the only option was to download that shit stat. Ten minutes later, I had it; no store in town had a copy, but now I do, for cheaper than a “real” book.

    Now…granted I’m using the kindle program on my PC, because I don’t want to dump $100 on the stupid reader… but it’s still electronic. I also have a couple thousand pages of papers on my hard drive relevant to my thesis that I wouldn’t like stacked up in hard copy one bit.

  10. Great Post!!
    I enjoyed it very much!! Still smiling!!
    Every coin has 2 sides as some people have pointed out.
    Some of the advantages to the Kindle surprised me as I
    share many of the views with this article.

    As a content creator however(comics industry) I have grown
    very disenchanted with the many workings of the internet.
    Amazon.com does very little to combat theft,fraud and piracy. Their attitude has always been one of arrogance to the brick and mortar establishment. This seems to be the standard pro-quo
    of Silicon Valley in general and nothing matters but corporate greed. The behind the scenes back-drop of Amazon.com is a battle ground of law suits brought on by even the U.S.Dept.of
    Justice. They seem to create a lot of problems for themselves.

    I think in some ways the Kindle reader is another example of
    technology that is very useful to some people but it tends to personify how “disconnected” we are becoming as societies.
    School children and young adults glued to a small screen
    constantly while in public oblivious to their surroundings.
    But …that’s another story….would enjoy another article from
    this author on that subject! I suppose we could all be glue to
    our paper books just as well…but that historically has really
    never been the case.

    Give me ISBN numbers…registered copyrights and paper.
    I love the smell…and the feel. Different than Apple’s bullshit
    claim over Samsung…” The look and feel”….over a chunk
    of plastic! Please……A REAL BOOK…any day!!!

    • “I love the smell…and the feel” – totally lame! Every single advance in technology gets accompanied by this kind of sentimental bullshit about the sensory superiority of whatever got replaced. Instead of all being solitarily glued to screens (as the corny old grumble goes), why don’t we all go right back to sitting around the “smell and feel” of a smoky communal fire, avoiding the odd blow-out of sparks and trying keeping warm in our itchy handwoven clothes interrupted only by having to experience the “smell and feel” of the wooden, earthen-pit outhouse every now and then and wipe our asses on a fragrant, textured “smell and feel” clump of grass? Give me a break!

      • Glenn Garrison said

        “Loving the smell and feel” of a book LAME?
        I happen to Love the feel and smell of my wife. Would you
        consider that lame as well…the smell and feel of a frosty
        cold brew sliding down my throat on a hot July afternoon,
        while huddling over a smoky communal hickory driven fire
        know as a barbecue….all lame? At least we are all being
        truly social..(face to face) with logging in and all that corny
        nonsense.

        Is wearing a hand knitted cardigan sweater during the winter
        a cave man thing to you ?

        Sensory perception and enjoyment can like you say ..be
        sentimental but it is a key human element. Chunks of plastic
        just can’t really compare…yeah I know…it’s the cool thing
        huh?

        Solitary confinement to back-lit plastic screens are not a
        “corny old grumble!” It has raised enough real concerns that
        laws are being passed in communities to regulate the disengagement of reality.

        As for outhouses…haven’t you heard Bill Gates is on a mission to re-invent that, and I won’t stop him.

        As for that textured,fragrant clump of grass? Ever try putting it
        in a pipe? But even if you haven’t, heck give it try pleasure is
        where you find it.

        I don’t need batteries for a book, and I don’t to be tracked every second of my life so some group of people can see what I’m reading and how often. My books are mine…I own them.

        Real books are never lame.

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