Thursday, October 21, 2010

Aesthetics and the Kindle

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a Facebook status update that dissed the Kindle. After several people commented, she said, "If you read a Kindle on an elegant train, I still have my doubts that you know anything about Beauty."

I puffed a bit at this because I, myself, have read my Kindle on some elegant trains.

But after my somewhat defensive fog began to clear, I realized that, to some degree, she might be right--at least when it comes to me.

I do know some things about beauty. In fact, I can tell you the difference--according to Edmund Burke--between the beautiful and the sublime. I can also discuss how the picturesque is different from both of these. I am especially moved by the sublime in both nature and literature.

But when it comes to aesthetics, especially in terms of visual artifice--I am woefully inept and indifferent.

The evidence:

  • In college, I would wear turquoise sweatpants with a red NCAA championship sweatshirt. With Reeboks. (A look which earned much astonishment and derision from my fashion-savvy cousin.)
  • I don't like to shop.
  • The only new clothing items I've purchased in the past six months (or year?) are some t-shirts from Kohls.
  • I only wear natural fibers.
  • I chose my couches because they don't show dirt, and all four sections recline.
  • I only purchase cars that I can sleep in, if necessary. My last car was a pickup truck. Now, I drive a minivan, and I love it.
  • I rarely buy shoes.
  • My favorite shoes are Chaco flip-flops. I also like Danskos, Borns, and my very old pair of second-hand Naturalizer black boots.
  • I've been carrying the same Fossil purse for about a year-and-a-half. Still going strong.
  • I don't wear make-up.
  • I don't blow dry my hair.
  • The glider that we got when our baby was born? Seven years later, it's still a central piece of furniture in our living room*.
  • The only art on my walls is by my children or my mother (all beautiful, I think).
  • I like quilts and knits more than I like paintings.
  • I like stunning, spare prose much more than complex, lyrical poetry.
  • When I worked at a used bookstore, I was not very interested in the rare books. I didn't associate much "value" with the book objects**.

So is it any surprise that I like the Kindle? I suppose not. Granted, for a long time, I didn't want one. I couldn't imagine wanting one. But then, about a year ago, I suddenly wanted one real bad. At first, I loved it. Loved. it. And I still do. But, admittedly, I find that, sometimes, I like to read a hard-copy novel. It's not that I rarely handle "real" books. As an English instructor and PhD student, I handle books every day. But, every once in a while, these are not enough, and I like the feel of a hard-copy novel in my purse or in my hands at bed time.

But I don't think it's the beauty of books that I miss. It's the tactile experience. It's the way a book affects all of my senses. When you pick up a hard-copy book, your brain has at least five seconds to prepare for the words, to orient itself to that particular book and all of its bookish nature (the size, the cover, the font, the feel of the pages, the smell). But with the Kindle, much of that is lost. No matter what book you're reading, you're picking up the same thing--the size, color, and font remain the same--and the brain does not receive diverse imagistic and tactile cues. And my brain misses those cues. And some books just smell so good.

But the Kindle is practical, and I'm a practical girl. It's easy to pack. I don't have to decide which books to pack. I can download a book in just a few seconds. Voila.

So my friend is probably right. Or perhaps I would say that though I do know a few things about Beauty, I am often insensitive to it. The sublime? Yes. I am moved by it. The beautiful? Not always so much.

But. right now, I need to finish this post so I can go curl up with my Kindle and get through the third book in the Hunger Games series. So there. Now you know the truth. Good Enough Woman is a Philistine.

*And even I am bothered by this.
**But there are some old books that do move me. Usually old books--books made with leather and amazing materials. Or original editions of Charles Dickens literary magazines. Things like that. But I am not moved by, say, a first edition copy of Interview with the Vampire.


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I'm anti-Kindle, but it's mainly because I love holding real books. I love the smell of them and the weight. I love cover art and liner notes.

That said, my sisters and I went in together and got my mom a Kindle for a combo mother's day and birthday gift. She loves it. She was never much of a reader, but she showed a tiny spark of interest in the Kindle, so I went on a campaign to get her one. (I encourage reading via any device when it comes to turning someone onto reading. Just read, damn it!) And we also figured out a way to get my novel on the Kindle for her, so she's finally freaking reading it. Sigh.

The biggest complaint I have about the Kindle? It's name. It reminds me of Fahrenheit 451 and burning books. The verb "to kindle," of course, is to set something on fire. And I'm not in love with the idea of a reading device implying that honest to god paper books might go up in a blaze. I love paper books too much to see it happen without scores of regrets. I hope it won't happen in my lifetime.

The Thirty-Something Bride said...

Is it weird that I feel the same was about the NAME of the Kindle as FUTQL? I honestly didn't get it. Burning books? Kindle? Eh?

And GEW readers, she is right. The turquoise sweatpant day? I was APPALLED. She fails to mention she was also sporting one navy sock and one black sock with her black Reeboks. Cousin was a hot mess that day! :)

"But when it comes to aesthetics, especially in terms of visual artifice--I am woefully inept and indifferent."

I'm not sure what to do with this comment. I don't think you're inept at all. Indifferent? Fo shizzle.

I was watching Project Runway at the gym the other day and Heidi Klum was commenting on a disjointd look and she turned to Michael Kors and says, "It do you say? Hosh Kaposh?"
I burst out laughing on the elliptical at the innocence of her remark (as did MK) and he steered her towards the correct "Hodge Podge."
I don't think you have issus with individual pieces (clothing, couches, whatever)because you do lean toards quality pieces in many cases. It's just the putting of them all together - Hosh Kaposh! But certainly not hodge podge.

Good Enough Woman said...

Fie, I think the name is mean to suggest kindling an interest in reading, as in sparking an interest--just as you used the words "tiny spark of interest" in your comment. At least, that's what I'm assuming. But I do take your point because burning books is very BAD. Also, about your mom reading, my dad just started reading in the last few years and it makes me very happy to know that he enjoys it. Now I just have my fingers crossed for my kids.

TSB, My Reeboks weren't *black*, were they? I don't remember having black Reeboks. But I don't doubt that my socks were mismatched. In fact, at this very moment I am wearing two different colored socks--one turquoise and one periwinkle--with my pink sweats. But I swear, it was just for a hike. Only my *one* friend (and a few others on the trail) saw me.

Anonymous said...

I find that I remember journal articles by the cover of the issue they came out in. My advisor used to plop STACKS of journals on my desk to sort and put away, but he would put tabs/stickies on pages that he could refer back to quickly (and nudge nudge, wanted me to read). My field books are the same way. I know the details of some things because of the strange drawings or bodily fluids on the report pages. I drove over one of the books, and I remember details about those pages because of the crush marks from the metal ring on the paper.

30-something... you know, you could start a hot mess reporting business. Got pics of those turquoise eye/ass sores?

baxie said...

ereaders are rat poison for books.

that said, the Kindle looks like some dude named Igor created it in a Soviet lab.

If you must kill literature, at least look good doing it and use an iPad.

Good Enough Woman said...

Baxie, Ah yes, the iPad. All well and good, but the backlight on the iPad makes my eyeballs send spikes of pain into my head--like reading on a computer. E-ink rocks. The Kindle has it's weakneses, but it is built perfectly for its purpose. Plus, as I established, I care little about looking good. ;)

The Thirty-Something Bride said...

@JC, God, I wish I did.

In Particular said...

Ahhhh, well done. I am formulating my response...