One of the things I love about the Kindle is the way the device becomes almost invisible. There is no pinging email, no temptation to check Facebook or play Angry Birds. Kindles, like good old-fashioned books, offer a respite against digital noise. As was meant, you immerse yourself in the book. It is incredibly utilitarian in its design. Its aesthetic is protestant: functionality over frippery, stripped down, nothing distractingly baroque about it -- despite what book "purists" will tell you, with a Kindle you're more focused on the written word than ever before.
But I do find myself missing book covers. Nothing to do with all those tactile qualities people often lament with the switch to digital. I couldn't care less about cover design, illuminated manuscripts, or book binding, or all that nostalgia about the touch of paper on flesh (always seemed annoyingly dry to me). No, I'd been reading a good book on my Kindle and I was recommending it to a friend: "Yeah, it's called, 'Room
,' by, er, by…." Then I realized I had no idea who the author was. No idea. (It's Emma Donoghue by the way). When your Kindle is on standby, it displays woodcuts of famous literary figures -- no book cover. You switch it on, and go straight to the text of the last book you were reading.
If the book, with its cover face up, had been sitting on my nightstand and in my bag and on my desk, the author's name would be entrenched in my memory. I would buy her future books when I saw her name. But as it stands with Kindle now, "Room" would be just another decent thing I had read somewhere on the internets, but to me it would remain authorless -- certainly a high point, but like a drunken memory, the ethos would be stark but the details vague.
There have been several other aspects of analogue reading that didn't translate very well to the Kindle. One of them being page numbers. (There were reasons for this: something to do with the fact that the amount of pages would differ depending on the size of the font on the screen. But Amazon listened to its customers
and on newer versions you can now get them.)
With a Kindle you do miss the physical weight of the book, the quick visual cue of how far you are through that brick sitting on your nightstand. The precision of the percentage (I am now 45 percent through this book) or even page numbers somehow feels less precise than the quick glance at the bookmarked book.
The obvious answer for Kindle would be to exchange the generic literary woodcuts for a screensaver cover of the book you're currently reading, or at least the book you last put down (on Kindles, of course, people are reading multiple books.) There are apparently ways around this
, but I'd bet most people can't be fussed to download images, photoshop them, and install them in the Kindle's screensaver directory.
There is a downside to book covers, though. One of the benefits of the Kindle is that it hides what you're reading from a nosy public. Your guilty pleasures can remain hidden. So you can still read, without subway sneers, "Return To The Dragon's Lair 4" or "How To Be A Better Person And Make People Like You." So maybe it's better this way. Maybe it's just easier for everyone to forget Emma Donoghue's name.