Sure, everyone in publishing agrees that the Kindle will kill book sales and authors’ advances, melt the ice caps, and further the spread of swine flu — but will it also impair literary snobs’ ability to broadcast their intellectualism to strangers by whipping out a copy of Ulysses on the subway? Alarmingly, yes, claims the Times’ Joanne Kaufman. She writes:
“The practice of judging people by the covers of their books is old and time-honored. And the Kindle, which looks kind of like a giant white calculator, is the technology equivalent of a plain brown wrapper. If people jettison their book collections or stop buying new volumes, it will grow increasingly hard to form snap opinions about them by wandering casually into their living rooms.”
As much as we love judging people, though, we’re not really concerned about any of this.
As Kaufman concedes, those most likely to spend $359 on Kindles are neither light-reading popular-fiction fans nor stuck-up first-edition fetishists. So the easiest (and most fun) people to make accurate snap judgments about will still carry around physical books. And anyone actually in the market for a device that holds 1,500 titles — those of us who’d like to read more Proust but don’t have the shelf space for all seven volumes of In Search of Lost Time, and would also welcome the opportunity to enjoy Twilight on a train without anyone else knowing — presumably have tastes broad enough to defy simple literary profiling anyway.
Also, for Kaufman’s bleak vision of the future to become a reality, Amazon will need to sell tons more Kindles than the measly 700,000 it has already — and by the time that happens, they’ll will inevitably come with Facebook-integrated social-networking features, enabling your acquaintances to find out not just what book you’re reading but also what page you’re on, probably. So then we won’t even need to buy a MetroCard to make snobby judgments about other people’s reading habits. Crisis averted!