[Sentences ]An Imaginary Kindle | Harper's Magazine

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An Imaginary Kindle


As reading is said to be dying, at least by our latest and most trusted oracles, rereading must not be dying but surely should be, by now, dead. And yet, all reading is rereading, even when we read the book in our hands for the first time. Whereas, when we watch a work of cinematic art for the first time, we cannot, in a theater, pause to appreciate a particularly compelling moment, or ponder a movingly complex insight into the human condition. But from the first crack of its spine a book has the pause-and-rewind option available at all times. This is not a detail I would use to argue for the superiority of reading as a delivery device for narrative entertainment so much as I would suggest that it is a significant feature of the difference between such experiences.

I put forth that all reading is rereading, and know I am not alone in professing this axiom. All readers who are also writers, for example, reread–their own work, of course, compulsively, but also the work of the particular writers in whose endeavors they find themselves at home, whether owing to similarity or difference.

For readers one of the great miseries is to find oneself trapped on a bus without a book, and one of the greater miseries is to be trapped on a bus with a bad book, or merely a book that one has no desire, at the moment, to read. As such, the Amazon Kindle has been, if only conceptually, much on my mind. I haven’t used one, much less seen one, much less actually done any research about what they do. For me the Kindle is like cold fusion–a terrific idea of the space age that I’d be all for, if it were to exist.

My hypothetical Kindle is a device upon which would reside all the books I’ve read and which I either reread or know I will reread. It waits weightless in my (hypothetical) carry-on that I take with me on my (nonexistent) frequent international flights. At 40,000 feet, 15 hours from my (imaginary) destination, I could, uninvolved by The Widows of Eastwick, dip back into Pale Fire or The Autobiography of John Stuart Mill or Tatlin!. My Kindle would be a device devoted not to the new but to the old, a portable library of greatest hits without a miss, an iPod of ideal literature. But, of course, I do not travel. Bookshelves suffice.

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