The English Professor and the Kindle

Inside Higher Ed has an interesting look at the Kindle today from an academic’s point of view. It’s worth reading and makes points I won’t be making here. My perspective is that of a highly idiosyncratic academic reader–the English major gone native, AKA the English professor.

I suppose that’s who I am, although I rarely wear tweed and don’t spend all my time in Great Books land. English Studies is multifaceted, and luckily for me, the Computers and Writing area is in the Rhetoric and Composition facet. All the same, I have more in common with my Literature colleagues than not when it comes to a love of reading for reading’s sake and when it comes to a love of the physicality of books–lining them on shelves and enjoying the pure beauty and uncomplicated portability they lend.

I love books so much that the two shelving units I’m allotted in my office and the three Danish teak shelves lining a full wall in the guest room plus a lawyer’s bookcase in the den are completely full. Worse, I have no more space for shelves, a dilemma that caused some colleagues to put their houses on the market or to seriously begin DIY built-in shelving projects at home when our departmental move over the summer to the beautifully restored Siceluff Hall meant reducing the campus office to two shelving units that are five feet high and about three feet wide (each).

For me, my love of books has reached a zero-sum solution. I can buy a book if I get rid of one of equivalent size on the shelf. Heaven only knows what I’m going to do when the hefty books for Modern Rhetorical Theory arrive; the SAGE Rhetoric book in particular looks like it has heft.

My solution for casual reading (yes, I do that too) is to buy Kindle ebooks that I read on the Kindle for iPhone. That way my library is with me no matter what, The print is clear and a good size for reading as-is, but is also adjustable for those who need larger (or smaller) text. At this point, none of the books in my professional library are available for Kindle, but I would like to see it happen. I’m already a screen reader; I just need a good way to annotate and underline, and if Amazon simply replicates what they do for their non-Kindle ebooks, of which Rebecca Moore Howard’sStanding on the Shoulders of GIants is one, I’ll be happy. It allows searchable, tag-able margin notes AND it retains the print-version page numbers, which are of paramount importance for citing. The lack of standard page numbers may be the dealbreaker  for academics with the Kindle. There is no immediate way around it for citation. However, the historian side of me notes that a similar objection was made for web sources in general–that there were no page numbers, making citing “impossible.” We seem to have overcome that problem for the most part, and web sources are, at least in the circles I move in, not seen as inferior merely because of format anymore. I’d like to see print page numbers on Kindle versions, but also realize I may be asking for too much, like expecting webtexts to mark off pages on the scroll. There is a good reason why they abandoned the page number. The books need to be scalable, and in the end, scalability is more important than mimicking a past medium.For that matter, I know there are a few books on my home shelves with overly optimistic small print that I will be replacing with Kindle versions. What needs to happen is a new citing convention developed by those who use the Kindle. It may involve page view, which as I understand it, is numbered. Somehow though, I don’t see this issue as not doable.

Much as I love print books, I also need to have some order in my life. I’ve committed to a zero-sum strategy (from the book, It’s All Too Much by Peter Walsh) to keep my home uncluttered, and my shelves are full. Slowly, I am replacing my reading classics with Kindle versions and thus keeping my home life in order.

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Author of the poetry collection The Tethered Ground and Professor of English at Missouri State University. Contact me for readings or for workshops on writing/publishing and on teaching writing online.

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