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Melanie Chartoff Headshot

Kindle Your Kids?

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My fondest memories of childhood are of Aunt Vivian, my very first audiobook, reading to me from the Golden Book of the Bible when I was three.

Immersed in her ample lap, her adoring voice broadcasting stereophonically through her bosoms, I absorbed the sensationalistic stories and lush illustrations of baby Moses in his basket, later parting the very Red Sea. Her exclamations over his career trajectory egged me on to my own, and the joy of sharing a good book made that a fundamental part of bonding with those close to me.

Which brings me to the advances of E-Books and E-Readers. For those who live in a cave, unfamiliar with the frenzy of new formats, an E-book, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is "an electronic version of a printed book which can be read on a personal computer or hand-held device designed specifically for this purpose." An E-Reader is a lightweight device specifically developed for downloading and displaying these materials page by page. Kindle was the first on the market, and Barnes and Noble's Nook is now neck and neck in new sales. An Apple device a day can obsolete the others away. One can currently read an e-book in e-ink on an Iphone, and more challengers emerge at every electronics show, although their backlit black and white fonts don't come with an aunt.

Books should be shaking in their pages, as E-books develop the illusion of "sharing." Although it's hard to read the Nook with another person on the spot in your lap, in the moment, the Nook device has e-book sharing programs, so two sets of eyes can drink from the same download on distant receivers. And if your friend doesn't finish the borrowed book in two weeks, it disappears so they have to buy to complete it. Authors are getting short-changed financially, as the books only cost $9.99, but "long-changed" in terms of broader readership and immortality. The Nook has an MP3 player for hearing humanly read audio books. The Kindle can convert its materials to robotically read books. Actors are getting short-changed, and the no affect electronic voices could soon have groupies.

Although I value myself for being a veritable geisha girl of petite carbon footprints, a proud Prius person, a low plastics, solar radio listener, who recycles rabidly, and saves paper frugally, I still resist the very idea of E-Readers. I look at them and cringe with a sense of alienation. To me digital absorption feels coldly clinical and uncomfortable, like computer work, like nursing from surrogate monkey mommies. Even though I know for a fact, or from what passes as fact (Google and Wikipedia), that old fashioned paper and binding style books consume three times more raw materials and their production involves far more energy, I still can't get my mind around reading pleasure and leisure books on my Nook, complete with its high fashion Kate Spade cover.

I love books for their varieties of font and paper and their evocative, illustrated covers. They have personalities. I couldn't very well get my favorite authors to autograph my first editions on an E-reader, could I? I can't put my book label imprimaturs on the beloved tomes I loan. Books still feel warmer.

And so they feel to Josh and Andrew, my teen consumer experts next door. They use their Kindle minimally, still preferring the "feeling" of books, the smell of their pages. At first, they enjoyed the novelty of the Kindle reading to them, in its electronic monotone with its many mispronunciations, but tended to tune it out in a few pages, they tell me. They still lug thirty pounds of books to school in their backpacks. It's backbreaking, but also muscle building, their folks tell me. They find referring back to a prior piece of information works far better with a real live study book rather than a digital facsimile with an electronic bookmark. Why, J.K. Rowling, who rekindled kids' interest in reading, remains a "no Kindle" author.

On the other hand, avid reader friends, who ingest a book a day, burn the midnight oil with their "Kindling." They feel affection for it, travel with it, taking countless books to the South of France inside it. They're in love.

Are we simply old-fashioned, stick-in-the-mud, nostalgic, low-tech throwbacks, resisting progress? I no longer long for my LP's, molding in storage, my VHS's consuming so much space, and my collection of CD's will soon become a thing of the past, reduced to sound byte-able digits, too. What will we do with all this space?

Maybe both books and E-books will have their place in the age to come, maybe there will still be shelf space for the old and the new to exist side by side in our psyches. Maybe buying your kindergartner a Kindle or its next incarnation will set him/her on a far more advanced course of studies, while you continue to read to him/her from a fairy tale you both love. Maybe Moses will get the big ten on a Kindle tablet in the digital days ahead.

This winter, just to put a toe into the possibilities, I've taken to bringing my laptop to bed, downloading audio books from Audible. It's not the same as being amidst the lap of my wonderful Aunt Vivian, but it's warm'ish. Perhaps if it came with more bosomy headphones....