I have not been an early adopter of e-books or e-book readers. Wipf and Stock has now published hundreds of books that also have e-book editions, but until recently—my wife and I just bought a pair of Kindle Fires as “family gifts” for Christmas—I have only been able to read Kindle books on my cell phone app (a lame experience) or laptop (a decent reading experience, but not something I enjoy doing outside of the office).Yet not having a Kindle device hasn’t stopped me from collecting free or inexpensive e-books whenever opportunities have presented themselves. I have 23 theology titles in my Kindle library, most of them unread, and I think I’ve spent less than five bucks on all of them combined. Almost all of them were free on a particular day, though a couple of them were a buck or two for a short period of time.
I purchased the Kindle edition of Tracey Rowland’s little book on the theology of Benedict the XVI for $1.99 back in May of 2013, but I only recently started reading it on the Kindle Fire. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how easy it is to read a book this way. The reading itself is easy on the eyes, you don’t need a light to read in the dark, and you never need a bookmark. It’s easy to highlight passages, look up words in a dictionary or Wikipedia, you can see passages that have been frequently highlighted by others, add notes, rapidly search the contents of the book, review all of your notes and highlights, etc.
One of my favorite features is the ability to open the book to the “furthest read place” on another device. So, for example, I’ve just opened Rowland’s book in my Kindle App on my laptop to the same place I left off reading at home. By clicking on the Notes & Marks tab, I see all the passages I found interesting the first read through. Among my favorites, here’s Rowland glossing Ratzinger’s christology:
If Christ himself is the measure of what it means to be human, then humanity only finds itself and is truly at its best, when it freely enters into a dialogue of love with its Creator. (Rowland, Tracey [2008-03-06]. Ratzinger’s Faith:The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI [p. 38]. Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.)
(Note that the reference was created automatically when I copied the passage from within the Kindle App.)
Rowland’s book has been a joy to read, and that mainly because of the substance of the book and not the technology used to display it. I’m not Catholic, and though I know more than the average Protestant lay reader about developments in twentieth-century Roman Catholic theology, I’m really not in a position to appreciate the distinctive contribution of Ratzinger/Benedict in light of these broader developments. The first chapter—”Ratzinger and Contemporary Theological Circles”—was extraordinarily helpful in this regard, as Rowland offers a lucid introduction to the rival interpretations of Vatican II that have dominated so much of contemporary Catholic theology. I’m curious what some of my Catholic colleagues think about Rowland’s book.
I do have some concerns about e-books, concerns similar to the ones I have about digital music. For example, how do we sell our content when we no longer need or want it? There’s been reporting that suggests that, according to Amazon, nobody actually owns the Kindle books they’re purchasing from Amazon. There are similar issues with music.
Rights questions aside, there’s little doubt that digital books are becoming more and more popular. Whether or not they will replace paper books, I’m convinced e-books are here to stay and will only continue to grow in popularity. How steep the growth curve will be is anybody’s guess, and I’m particularly curious about the market for academic e-books. But the ability to pack features and content into digital files that call all be carried on a single device that doesn’t get heavier or bulkier when content is added strikes me as as big a deal as many people have been loudly proclaiming.