I buy books like a maniac. For readers like me, a Kindle makes economic sense. In theory.
In actual practice, downloading books onto my Kindle instead of buying the more expensive, book-object versions hasn’t saved me any money. It just means I can download more books.
And I do.
I can read about a book in a magazine — or (more likely) somewhere online — and reach into the air and grab it. It’s mine. It’s the microwave equivalent of book-buying. Thirty-five seconds and you’re done.
One of the worst things you could do to me would be to stick me somewhere without reading material. If I was going on a trip, my eclectic and demanding reading habits forced me to pack different books for different moods. Lugging that weight around is a serious pain in the ass. This is why I broke down and bought a Kindle in the first place: the idea of carrying five or ten or more books within an object as slender as a volume of contemporary poetry proved bewitching.
But the ability to read what I want when I want has made me a slightly different kind of reader. I’m more fickle now. I’m high-maintenance. I start lots of books I don’t finish.
Life is short, and reading is long.
Used to be that you’d get a longer, stronger chance to hold my attention. Purchasing your book was like giving you a promise ring, a commitment. And many readers still feel an obligation to finish a book even if they dislike it. The hope is that you’ll be rewarded for slugging it out: the book picks up speed and you start to really care what happens to the characters.
But now I feel the reverse: the writer is obligated to me. And it’s not about the money I spent, it’s my time. My attention. Tripping to a bookstore or library or newsstand is no longer required for me to change my reading material. I don’t even have to return home to get a different book off my shelves.
I can change my mind right now, this very moment. It’s not because I have a lesser ability to concentrate. It’s because I am constantly surrounded by choice in a way that wasn’t possible before. And no matter how complex and diverse the digital world becomes, the human mind can still only hold one thing at a time.
My attention is your privilege.
If you get it, that’s awesome.
But then it’s your job to keep it.
If you don’t, you’ll probably never get another chance.