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Friday, September 3, 2010

The Problem with the Kindle

So I have always taken the view that if anyone wants to read my novel on a screen that is fine. But then as I was reading from that dinosaur of pulp and ink...the hit me. Reading fiction from a screen is different than reading it from paper. The message changes. I know this because when I edit novels I work for a long time on the screen, but then I have print it out to read it through. And it changes. I see a hundred things I didn't see before. Now why is that?

Simply put fiction takes a form on the page. The paragraph, sentence, dialogue have an actual shape that we pick up in our mind and transmute to an image. Let's say we read a dangling sentence that is something like, DIE! And lets say that is out there by itself. Our mind will rev up the that one exclamatory word until it becomes a statement with all sorts of connotations. Then let's say we slip into description of a goat cart starting down the road. "The goat cart jerked back as it pulled forward. " The words actually move. Jerked back collides with pulled forward. The sentence is alive and we see the goat cart jerk back and then pull forward.

This takes place on the page. In the world of kindle this takes place, but in a much different form. The glowing screen informs the work or changes the words and changes the image. Our brain interprets that image differently from the text on paper. It just does. Put aside the fact that in a lot of Ereaders text is rearranged with breaks in paragraphs and sentences routinely scrambled. Well this can be worked out, but the lack of physicality to the words existing on paper makes the world inhabited more of a phantom.

Hogwash the converted scream. Really? Take the digital revolution and the IPOD. Listening to digitized music on tiny ear plugs is immensely different than analog music on a stereo in a room with sound dampening furniture and wood floors. The music then comes alive. Compare that with the tinny little buzz that comes out of an IPOD. There is no comparison. Music changed once it became digitized and we weren't quite sure how for a long time, but it just does.

So in the Kindle revolution there will be something lost. I read text all the time on screens, my Blackberry, you name it. But when I settle in with a book in a chair in a library and I see those words on the page take shape, then I enter the world as the author saw it. And that is verisimilitude. Something quietly being lost in the digital age.

William Hazelgrove's latest novel is Rocket Man.

Books by William Hazelgrove