Why I Turned Up My Nose At The Kindle

A dramatic reenactment of my childhood...

Back in October and November, family members started fishing for Christmas gift ideas, despite the fact that I already had an Amazon Wish List that was four pages long.

“Are you still against getting an e-reader?” asked my sister-in-law, as she showed off her Kindle in its pretty pink case with the built-in book light. “What do you think about the Nook versus the Kindle?” asked my brother, later admitting that he was trying to get a feel for whether or not he should buy me one or the other.

I fiddled with my SIL’s Kindle, admitting that it was pretty neat… yet not for me. I told my brother about what I’d read on sites like Gizmodo and Engadget, and then declared my intention to avoid e-readers altogether. I tried to explain why I wanted to keep buying books, despite the fact that I was struggling with a lack of shelf space. I waved my hands around, trying to convey something indefinable, mentioning things like smell and wraparound bookshelves.

Among the gifts I actually got that Christmas was Sean Manning’s Bound To Last: 30 Writers on Their Most Cherished Book. It contained 30 essays on why, exactly, books mattered. The fifteenth essay — one by Philipp Meyer about For Whom the Bell Tolls — managed to put into words exactly what I’d been trying to tell everyone else, with little to no success.

In his essay, Meyer describes falling in love with books when he was young. He explains that this love of reading developed as he explored the books his parents already had lining their shelves. “It is hard to imagine that I would have had anything remotely resembling this relationship to literature,” he wrote, “if my parents had all their books on a Kindle, laptop, or other electronic device.” He goes on to say:

“…my mother’s hardback copy of Ulysses, the one she read and annotated at NYU in the 1960s, the one that about seven years ago made me realize Joyce was a genius — I recently donated that copy to the library at my graduate writing center. It’s forty-five years old, and tattered, but it continues to be read. Whereas my Kindle, forty-five years from now, will be buried in a landfill under approximately eleven million other Kindles.”

This is really what it’s all about. That opportunity for discovery. Happy accidents. Love at first sight.

I didn’t start with the classics. My dad had shelves filled with John Saul, Dean Koontz, Stephen King. My mom has Mary Higgins Clark and V.C. Andrews. This doesn’t make my love for literature any less fierce. These are the authors who pulled me in. These are the ones who made me want to write.

It started with John Saul’s Suffer the Children. Sick as hell, but I was hooked.

Which book made you want to be a writer?


  1. Hey Steph,
    I couldn’t agree more! I am going to get the Bound to Last book. I recently wrote an essay for Novel Adventurers about my love of real books. You can find it here- http://noveladventurers.blogspot.com/search/label/Lavanya%20Sankara. 🙂

    I didn’t read much growing up, but when I moved to the States in the mid-90s as a teenager, the books that got me hooked were by R.L. Stine, V.C. Andrews(I am still traumatized by Flowers in the Attic), and Nora Roberts. My most cherished right now would be The Good Earth, Life of Pi, and The Art of Racing in the Rain(which has the most divine smell 😉

  2. I see your point, but have to say I own a kindle and love it. I do not see it as replacing “real” books in my life. But it is easier to tote around than a 1200 page Diana Gabaldon novel. Those things are heavy, and hard to carry on a flight. I have actually only paid for two books. I have it loaded with “free” classics that I kept meaning to read (or re-read) for years. It is so cool to be able to flip open Little Women and Sense and Sensibility whenever the mood strikes.

  3. I’m with Melanie. I wouldn’t buy an ereader for it to be the *only* way I read books, but it would be helpful when going away on vacation. And of course, publishers are starting to put out ARCs in digital format only, so there’s that. Most of the published books I read come from the library, and Kindles aren’t library friendly, so I definitely wouldn’t buy one unless that changed. The NookColor (which works with library ebooks) does look appealing though…We’ll see.

  4. I have a Kindle but I don’t read books on it. Since I read submissions for a literary journal, I upload them to my Kindle because I can’t stand reading 30-page stories on my computer. And I upload my writing group’s manuscripts to read them as well.

    That all fits into the category of work-related (although pleasant) reading.

    But for when I really want to curl up with a book, I need an actual book. I think books make up a part of who you are–I love it when people come over to my home and learn more about me just by browsing my bookshelf. That’s something that digital books could never offer. I love that I can pick one up and flip to a page I dog-eared just because there was a line that touched me. And I love that I can read a book on an airplane and have someone ask about it because they see the cover and are curious.

    The book that made me want to be a writer was Roald Dahl’s Matilda. It’s still sitting on my shelf, old and peeling a bit along the spine, but it’s a part of me and I think it deserves a literal place in my home.

  5. Yeah Steph! I’m against an e-reader too for all the reasons you mention and more. My best friend, who in many ways couldn’t be more different from me, recently asked what I thought about them and I sort of hedged without just blurting out “I can’t stand that s#!+” because I didn’t want to offend her. Turns out she doesn’t like them either! “I like BOOKS,” she said. Me too!!

    There’s a really wonderful essay in Jonathan Frazen’s collection How To Be Alone about how voracious readers grow up to be writers. I read it when I was 20 and was like, THIS. THIS IS IT. I used to read it to friends or potential boyfriends in hopes it would make them understand me. It sounds like the Meyer one is your version of my Franzen essay 😀

    I think Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room made me think about how great writing can be at an age when I was still figuring that stuff out. I read it waaay too young and didn’t understand half of it at the time, but it remains the one book I’ve reread more than a few times, so it seems to be the novel that impacts me the most (despite being a mostly non-fiction writer). I even buy up used copies because I can’t stand to see it on a used bookstore shelf, as if someone didn’t want it! I’ve tried giving my rescued copies to apathetic friends and think I’d better just leave it alone. Otherwise, no one will stumble across my own favorite book and maybe make it their own. That would be so fortuitous, instead of me thrusting it at unwilling pals.

    Thanks for such a thoughtful post! Really made my night.

    • i had the very same experience with the women’s room all the way up to buying it every time i see it on a used bookshelf. (i give the extra copies i collect to friends and younger females in my family). i credit it with starting my own ideas on feminism, even though the first time i read it (in high school) i had no idea what i was reading. i read it again in college and have gone back to it more than once as “real” adult.

  6. I’m loving reading about the books that inspired everyone to write. While John Saul (funnily enough) was my intro into adult literature, it was actually the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe and Emily Dickinson that got me writing. And later on, Bill Ervolino made me want to have my own humor column.

  7. I was in the “no Kindle” camp until I received one as a gift so don’t knock it until you try it! Now when I wake up at 2:30 a.m. with insomnia and I have nothing to read, I can instantly have an entire novel with the click of a button. I spend less than half what I used to spend on physical books and I’m not using up any more trees. Most books you read are not memorably special and those that are I still have the option of buying and displaying them in the “hey, look what I read” shelf.

  8. I’m with you. Your picture says it all. I read “under the covers” when I was little, too, and now enjoy reading over the covers.

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