To Kindle or not to Kindle?

By Elizabeth Montalbano, IDG News Service |  Internet

About a year or so ago there was an amusing bit of writing circulating on the Web that deconstructed Shakepeare's "Hamlet" into a series of Facebook-styled newsfeeds.

Written by Sarah Schmelling, the piece imagined humorous status updates and activities "Hamlet" characters might have posted on Facebook, had there been such a thing in 14th-century Denmark.

Some of the more cheeky zingers included, "Hamlet wonders if he should continue to exist. Or not"; "Ophelia removed 'moody princes' from her interests"; and "Ophelia joined the group Maidens Who Don't Float."

That last activity from Ophelia is now the title of a book by Schmelling, published by Penguin Books, that gives this Facebook news-update treatment to other literary works. And, in a fine bit of technology synergy, that book just so happens to be available for Amazon's e-reader, the Kindle.

So goes the state of the book industry in this, the golden age of technology -- clever memes are reducing fine literature into Facebook news-feed updates and Kindle e-readers are replacing our beloved, dog-eared paperbacks.

These technology-influenced changes to what we read and how we read have book experts and sociologists raising an alarm about whether all of this technology is really a good thing. A panel at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival in New York City that included Schmelling recently tackled this topic.

To be fair, there have been and likely always will be humorous or gimmick-oriented books on the market to appeal to the demographic that doesn't have the time or inclination to sit down and devote itself to a more weighty tome -- or to inspire those folks to take themselves a bit less seriously. And Kindles have been available for nearly two years now and people are still, so far, buying paper-based books.

Schmelling acknowledged that her humorous approach to literature is not meant to re-create the experience of actually reading the work of literature she pokes fun at. "I certainly don't think it would replace anything," she said.

However, she argued that technology and the Internet have been positive influences on great books, citing them as handy tools for building social networks around the appreciation of literature. She noted the existence of Facebook-based and other applications that allow people to share what is on their "virtual" bookshelves and exchange thoughts and ideas about books that way.

"People are recommending books to each other that might not be on the best-seller lists," Schmelling said.

Panelist John Freeman, editor of the London-based literary journal Granta and author of the book "The Tyranny of Email," said he doesn't exactly have a problem with virtual bookshelves, but with how the Internet is affecting our ability to consume and appreciate what's on them.

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