10 Years That Changed a City

2007: Kindle Takes Books Digital

It hit the market in November 2007 and sold out in five hours. And why on earth wouldn’t it?

By Kathryn Robinson March 4, 2016 Published in the March 2016 issue of Seattle Met

Zumaamericasthree109207 ranwcs

Image: Florence Low / ZUMA Press

It hit the market in November 2007 and sold out in five hours. And why on earth wouldn’t it? I remember thinking, stars in my eyes. Sure, there were earlier e-book devices—remember the Sony Reader?—but, thanks to Amazon’s vast bookstore and superior cachet, Kindle was the one destined to catch, literally, Fire. Better still, it came from Amazon—the fortunes of which only increased the fortunes of Seattle.  

And so when my husband and daughter gave me a Kindle for my birthday, I burst into tears right there in the restaurant. Because, seriously…whatever book I wanted? Touch of a button? Sick bed, airport gate, beach chair? My Kindle delivered my first pre–smart phone experience: at any given moment, the world could open in my hand. 

The honeymoon was bliss. Downloading Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom led to my discovery of his more obscure early essays. A relative’s stroke prompted a spontaneous midnight purchase of Diane Ackerman’s aching One Hundred Names for Love. Of course finding out that my reader didn’t come backlit for nighttime reading was an unhappy shock. (Silly me, I just assumed that something electronic would bring, you know, light.) More than once the wiggle in the “enter” joystick would buy me a book I only meant to browse. As for that beach chair—turns out sand is Kindle kryptonite.   

By the time I killed my second one that way—who knew the memory of sand rolling down the crack of a paperback could become fond?—I was adrift in Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace’s opus of infinite length, famous for its footnotes. Which were so laborious to toggle back and forth from on my Kindle that I ignored them. Missing much of the art of Wallace’s book. 

That has been fixed in the latest iterations of the device, along with the backlighting problem. The newest Kindles are slimmer and quicker, with better contrast, longer battery life, a touch screen. You can tap a name and get a reminder of who that character is. Along with a graph showing how often they’re mentioned. 

All of which represent technological advancements for sure—but the longer I have my Kindle, the more I wonder if more technology is what it needed. A graph showing how often a character is mentioned? Feels like a solution in search of a problem. What I could frankly use instead is the ability to page around in a book. I can’t be the only reader who leafs, who checks back, who wants to reread that one passage juxtaposed with a later development. It’s all part of the intangible aesthetic of the book reading experience—its heft in the hand, the beauty of its cover art, its unique font. No Kindle delivers that. 

It does, however, deliver any book you want—and fast! It took me a while, but finally I got it: The Kindle isn’t about book reading, it’s about marketing. I see you, Amazon. 

Yeah, the Kindle has revolutionized reading. Alas.

Filed under
Show Comments