My Incunabular Kindle( 2014.4.1[Tue.])


  Recently it seems I have been doing more and more reading on my Kindle. I didn’t buy it on impulse, but rather when I found, later than I should have, really, that it was becoming a necessity. I have to travel more for work these days and packing up a bunch of hardcovers and paperbacks was getting to be too much for me. Just because I would stuff a book into my suitcase, doesn’t mean I would end up reading it, making it just another useless (and heavy!) piece of luggage. But if I decide to minimize, I will often find I zip through all the books I brought, leaving me starved for the printed word. In such cases, I can jot some notes into my laptop, or read a few papers, but that doesn’t rally satisfy my fundamental urge.

  Another Kindle advantage is all those great Aozora Bunko mystery books that can be downloaded for free, which means I can carry works by the likes of Kyūsaku Yumeno, Fuboku Kosakai, Juuza Unno, and Mushitaro Oguri around in my bag with me anytime. The day mine arrived, I hoped on the Internet and downloaded works by such writers as Edogawa Ranpo. Good stuff! Next I tried a few essays by Terada Torahiko. Wonderful! RIKEN researchers should make a point of reading his work (as he was a scientist here as well).  I have read Yumeno’s “Dogra Magra” four times already, and I am sure to read it a fifth sometime soon, so I pulled that from the virtual shelf as well.

  The LED screen is non-reflective an easy on the eyes, and you don’t need to use the touchscreen to flip pages. It’s almost too good. If I rave any more about it, people will accuse me of shilling for Amazon, but I felt that I should nonetheless write about just what my e-book experience means, in a broader sense. Cultures and civilizations resemble a kind of ecosystem in which we can see convergences of form and what you might call harmonies emerge. People aren’t just interested in isolated things, but how they connect and how they perform together on the stage of life, in the same way that gourmets get excited about matching a certain dish with just the right wine. Some might think this is no more than frivolity. But an appreciation of such things is what makes culture, culture. And it is within just such a cultural context that the Kindle was born.

  So, here I am with my freshly purchased device. I can’t help but feel a sense of incongruity in calling how I use this media ‘reading’.... It brings to mind a short manga comic I once read. A bear gets aboard a train  and spots a man sprawled on the seat, reading . The man looks at the bear and says, “Sorry, could you turn the page for me?” (from Isami Nakagawa’s “Kuma no Pū-taro”). So, let me explain why this is funny (with regards, and a zabuton, to the late rakugo raconteur Hayashiya Sanpei, one of whose signature gags was comedic explication). The point is that, when you see somebody this lazy, the only thing to do is laugh.  Now does it make sense? Actual reading is the not particularly physical activity involving sitting, holding a book, and occasionally turning pages with your thumb. But reading on a Kindle is like being the laughably lethargic passenger on that train. You don’t even need to hold down the pages with your thumb, which cuts out the element that makes that manga funny. In a few decades, people accustomed to e-readers probably won’t get the joke at all.

  I had an even more remarkable sense of this reading the popular manga by En Mikami, “Biblia Koshodō no Jiken Techō”. The main character says, “I love old books. I think there is a story in how the book itself has passed from person to person over time.” For me, reading, without leaving so much as a finger smudge, a digital version that shows no wear, but also no gain, I felt like a betrayer. What was I to make of myself, who loves old books, and has collected them with such enthusiasm?

  Reading e-books is nothing other than a new kind of media experience, one that is destined to lead to new forms of appreciation as cultural forms change over time. Natsuhiko Kyogoku wrote in a magazine, “Eureka”, that the experience of reading differs by printed medium. That is, there are certain environments that are suited to novels. The atmosphere is created by the combination of the novel itself and the medium it is printed in. I have the complete works of a number of my favorite authors, but I have to admit I don’t see myself reading bulky hardbound editions of Shigeru Kayama or Ranpo. However, there are some works of theirs that are only available in hardcover, so I can’t avoid them, but truth be told I would prefer to read them in paperback or even pocket book editions. I have my own demands for the color and quality of the paper, the edition, the kerning, the leading, the typeface and font size, and the Japanese syllabary used (if you must know, the Chuko Bunko editions of Junichiro Tanizaki’s works strike the ideal balance of old syllabary, antique type, and a highly readable font). Which edition is considered the true original is also a major consideration. It is not just a question of who wrote it. Publishing is a cultural activity that inevitably involves the labor known as editing (which is why I take a dim view of cheap knockoff versions of out-of-copyright works).

  And so I cannot help but think that new cultural forms will appear that are adapted to the e-book reader. The various decisions made about type and presentation in the traditional printing process have now shifted to become customizable by the reader, which opens up all kinds of new possibilities. So I am looking forward to the new forms of literary publishing that are bound to emerge. Even the authors of today are certain to keep the new formats available in mind as they craft their future works. These new means of expression are still waiting to be discovered and adopted. But, just as true, true lovers of books won’t find themselves disposing of their collections after taking up the Kindle, still in its infancy and yet unadapted to the ecosystem into which it was born.