My Life with Kindle

kindle, surfing kindle
Sometimes you just have to let the river carry you

When New Yorker magazine became available for the Kindle e-book reader recently, I immediately subscribed. I was abuzz with excitement that first night when I powered up my new Kindle Voyager and clicked into that first e-issue. Not wanting too much change at once, I stuck to my standard procedure of starting off by ignoring all the magazine’s articles in favor of its exquisite, single-panel cartoons, the height of drollery and a welcome relief at the end of a week that was far too long.

Well, something curious happened. Many of the cartoons landed with a thud. I wasn’t getting the jokes, which elicited some serious head-scratching. What was going on?

Oh, I had no problem finding the laugh in the medieval guard chastising his buddy, “I’ve asked you not to use the siege tower to meet women,” and the Sumo wrestler bear-gripping his opponent while whispering, “Full disclosure—I really need this hug.” But I wasn’t sure about the guy telling his wife, “The utility bills for my secret other life are going through the roof.” Or the patient being wheeled out of the operating room, muttering, “The doctor didn’t make it.” I just squinted at those. Then I missed a few more punchlines.

Maybe there was fallout in funneling the magazine’s voluminous content into a six-inch window on a device that, well, actually, balanced quite nicely in the L-shaped crook of my fingers as I lay in bed reading. Which is why I’d bought the thing in the first place. No more weighty, flapping, dust-emitting paper. Now I had something the size of a few graham crackers that could store every book and magazine I would ever want to read.

I tapped over to the New Yorker’s short fiction, which had always been a little highbrow for my taste, and discovered more surprise. I was fully engaged, grinning away, getting everything. Somehow the Kindle had shifted things, made the lofty accessible. How? The mysteries were multiplying.

Over the next nights, I fell for theKindle, reveling in each print-like 300-ppi e-Ink word. I tapped and I swiped and I read, and tapped and swiped and read some more, rediscovering reading in a wholly unexpected place: on a small screen.

But there was deception in that display. Sure, you knew a book or magazine was in there, somewhere — the same way you knew the Himalayas were on the other side of the globe. But without the actual physical mass, things felt blurry and uncertain. Trust entered into the equation.

Even the magazine’s length was squirrelly and indeterminate. The number of pages swelled and receded depending on your choice of font. And forget about the comfort of page numbers anchored to actual pages. There was none since they changed, too. Content was always on the move, in flux, based on ever-shifting options. But, at the same time, it was stable.

If a printed New Yorker was a mountain, then the e-version was a river. And I, for one, was fixed on taking the ride. A Kindle ad I saw quoted Steinbeck, “We do not take a trip; it takes us.” Indeed.

Wide-eyed, I tapped on. Who would have thought that the turn of a page could be accompanied by a tiny vibration for a comforting hint of physicality (Did I just feel that?). Or that you could view the highlighted passages of other cyber-readers, too? Or that it could reach up into the cloud to snatch free sample chapters and Wikipedia entries while helpfully denying you access to Facebook and Gmail. Oh, technology! Oh product designers!

Finally, I sussed out the cartoon mystery. The ‘toons, those welcoming islands of laughter reliably afloat in the printed New Yorker‘s text-dense waters, had been rearranged in the e-version. Now, they were grouped together at the end, absent the familiar surrounding text, and therein lay the problem.

I had been compensating, albeit unconsciously — imagining the missing print around them. The magazine’s precious, time-honored cartoon-copy balance had shifted. That distraction had thrown me off my funny bone. Stubbornly I had resisted the change. (And the Voyage’s sketchy graphics didn’t help much, to be honest.)

The price of progress, I told myself. Relax, man. You’ve got a pretty cool device, a low $7.99 monthly subscription fee, and zero chance of adding to the stack of New Yorkers collecting dust over there in that corner of the office. Be thankful.

I did manage that and more. I made peace with the e-New Yorker. While in the past, I often was awed by the lofty patina and brilliant writing consistent in the New Yorker’s pages, which hint at a wee smack of snobbishness, now that got its due. In this new cyberreality, the mag had no choice but be more open and, well, accessible. It had been touched and altered by technology, forced to yield to the leveling force that came with being available at all times on a lowly device.

Whatever else comes down the river with my Kindle, I’ll say this: my eyes will be wide open for the next e-surprise. Who knows what will happen when I tap into the first book in my queue, the 700+ page Anna Karenina, now light as air. Tolstoy could never have imagined this. Nor anyone, even just a few years ago. It’s just the future, in its indomitable, head-spinning way, shocking you out of your comfort zone and forcing you experience things differently, whatever you may think or desire. Just as it is and must be.

Illustration by Kate Larson

Contact writer:

Warren Goldie