The Classic Library v. Kindle Disposability of eBooks

Over the holidays something struck me (as all wrong) about the rise of ebooks and “Kindle editions”: In Colorado I have a kind of classic library, not a zillion crappy paperbacks, but a good number (around a thousand, I would guess) of (hardbacks, mostly) top-quality titles, with a smattering of the Quirky. With the hardbacks, each has a history and a provenance of its own: a first-edition Lolita (1955), with the reference to the Olympia Press edition permission in the fly leaf (Nabokov had a serious row with the French publisher of the Olympia Press edition, which was its first appearance in print, before wrestling away the rights to publish it in a mainstream press in the U.S.), a first edition of Richard Wright’s Black Boy (1945), with dust jacket, bought for 25 cents at a garage sale in Colorado, complete with a plea to buy War Bonds in the fly leaf; a first-edition of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) and a first-edition of William Faulkner’s Sanctuary (1931), with his funny, odd foreword. Plus a great collection of Richard Brautigan’s books and hardback climbing sagas, including a first-edition of Maurice Herzog’s Annapurna (1951), with slightly torn dust jacket, which tells of the first ascent of an 8,000 meter peak in 1950, and is still one of the greatest climbing books ever written.

Compare that history/complexity with what happens when you download all to a Kindle: No dust jacket, no different font, no history at all. If the power dies, so do your books. A Kindle ad could proclaim, “It’s not a book, it’s a library.” This is true. But you’d have to add to that, “It’s a disposable library.” Or dubious. I’m using my Kindle, but mainly for convenience. I checked a Macbeth reference with it this morning (Act V, v: “out, out, brief candle”), using the Search function. And I’m reading the Old Testament on it, when I’m in that ole biblical mood. But overall, it’s a forgotten stepchild library, the one whining in the corner.

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