It’s a fairly innocuous object, the Kindle – flat, grey and quiet. It doesn’t scream division. But it’s deceptive.
I’m an oldfashioned kind of book addict. I love the hush of a good bookshop or library. Some find piles of books messy, but to me they’re comforting. As a child, I went to bed with a book rather than a teddy bear. The closed covers of a book contain the escape of story, for me; a deeply familiar excitement every time.
So the Kindle in all its plastic electronic gimmickry is wrong on so many levels. How can such a dead object ever think to replace the texture of printed paper under your hands? How can a brand name dream of ousting an elegant hardback? A book is innately physical. It has a weight, a presence in your bag or by your bed. A Kindle is a book crushed flat with its beauty made hollow.
And yet, as a booklover, I should only be pleased that the Kindle is renewing interest in reading and taking novels to a wider audience. Many who wouldn’t usually read are enticed by the idea of an easily accessible tablet, similar to an iPad. You can fit a million books onto a Kindle, whereas an actual real book will push your holiday luggage entitlement way over the allowance. There is now a Kindle family, according to Amazon. Imagine: an extended family as a byproduct of an expensive gadget. Grandma will be delighted. She’ll be even more excited about the fact that she can read ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ in public with anonymous pleasure.
But at what price do these glories come? Isn’t a story cheapened by its vehicle? Jane Eyre’s longing for Rochester loses its romance once it’s computerised. Atticus’ honour lacks depth on a tablet. And, worst of all, the race to Poirot’s revelation loses its excitement when there’s no pages to turn. If the Kindle juggernaut continues pace and a book eventually becomes an anachronism, a thousand libraries will lie in ruins and Waterstones will atrophy with dust.
Maybe I’m overreacting?
What do you think?
‘You never really understand a person until . . . you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’ Harper Lee
Empathy is an almost forgotten art. I call it art because it’s a skill, and any skill performed well can become art. It’s a skill because it takes practice, and sensitivity, and thought, and instinct.
It’s almost forgotten because so few people practice it. It’s rare to hear someone take the time to say, ‘Well, let’s think about it from their point of view.’ It’s rare to hear anyone try and rationalise what their opponent or peer is thinking, or what motives lie behind their behaviour.
It’s hard to do. We all have a certain appearance on the outside, but we’re trapped inside our own minds, and obsessed with our own experience. Events around us, people’s behaviour and things that are said come to us through a thick filter, arriving at a wholly self-centred ego which interprets everything through its own needs. It’s hard to forcibly step outside of that, and to make our minds imagine the thought patterns of others. Even more difficult is the process of feeling as others feel – putting aside our own ME ME ME experience for a moment, and climbing into another person’s skin.
Literature is one vehicle by which we access empathy. A story takes us away from ourselves, and allows us to look into someone else’s experience. It’s easier when it’s done for us – when a writer takes us by the hand, and shows us how that someone else feels. Atticus teaches Finch about empathy, and by doing so Harper Lee teaches us, too.
It frightens me that To Kill A Mockingbird was published in 1960, and today, in 2013, fifty-three years later, we still have a lot to learn about empathy. One novel certainly doesn’t change the world, of course; but we understand the universal truth Lee spoke. We understood it then, and we understand it now. Believing in the power of empathy or optimism is often seen as naive, but cynicism is dangerous.