Stephen King: Books With Batteries -- Why Not?

I've argued all my life that the story means more than the delivery systems involved (and that includes the writer). I have never been able to understand the prejudice some people seem to feel about recorded books, for instance. Not only are good stories better when they are told out loud; bad stories declare themselves almost at once, because the spoken word is merciless. You cannot, for instance, listen to one of the later Patricia Cornwell novels without realizing how little feel she has for language, or to a Sue Grafton without appreciating her divine eye for the minutiae of ordinary life.

The Kindle isn't as gratifying as a good book narrated by a great reader...but for what it is, it's just fine. It's light, holds its charge, is simple to operate. And for a fellow of my years (a less-than-generous reader recently referred to me in his blog as ''that elderly douchenozzle''), the Kindle has one great feature: You can adjust the typeface. In the printed version of In Pale Battalions, the type is readable but small; after an hour or so, I'd be maxed out. At its highest Kindle magnification, though, the narrative looks twice as big as this, and I can breeze along for twice that length of time, my finger stuttering on the NEXT PAGE button. It's a boon that makes up for having to charge the gadget at night...which I never had to do with a novel until this one.

Will Kindles replace books? No. And not just because books furnish a room, either. There's a permanence to books that underlines the importance of the ideas and the stories we find inside them; books solidify an otherwise fragile medium.

But can a Kindle enrich any reader's life? My own experience — so far limited to 1.5 books, I'll admit — suggests that it can. For a while I was very aware that I was looking at a screen and bopping a button instead of turning pages. Then the story simply swallowed me, as the good ones always do. I wasn't thinking about my Kindle anymore; I was rooting for someone to stop the evil Lady Powerstock. It became about the message instead of the medium, and that's the way it's supposed to be.

And did I mention that you can also look up definitions of words that puzzle you as you read? My definition of Kindle: a gadget with stories hiding inside it. What's wrong with that?

Originally posted Jan 18, 2008 Published in issue #975 Jan 25, 2008 Order article reprints

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