Re: Kindle-ing

Book Reviews, Media, Other, Technology — By on May 24, 2010 at 3:00 am

Three years spent repairing old books in the basement of a university library can’t help but leave a girl like me with a definite bias.  I love books–and I don’t just love reading them.  I love the smell of leather, I love the texture of fine paper, and I love the way a well-bound volume falls open in my hands.

I was less than entranced when I first heard of Amazon.com’s electronic reader, the Kindle. No paper?  No binding?  No thanks.  Turns out, though, that 600 page hardbacks are a lot more difficult to carry when you’re not in college.  You can only wear a backpack for so long—pair that with the unfathomable number of toys, snacks, and other necessaries that inevitably accumulate in every mother’s purse, and I needed a change.

Or a bookmobile.  That might have worked, too.

Given the price of gas, it’s probably good that my friends and family didn’t go for the bookmobile idea.  They got me a Kindle instead.  And I love it.

The newest version of Amazon’s portable sales platform is slim, sleek, and satisfying to even an accomplished book snob aficionado like myself.  It will never replace the book’s traditional form, but it has some definite advantages that I’ve quickly come to rely on.

The Kindle is as easy to read as Amazon claims, and yes, you can read it in bright sunlight.  It’s easy to underline passages and to take notes, though unfortunately you can’t draw cartoon commentary in the margins.  (Come on, I know I’m not the only person who does that.)

The Kindle’s massive storage capabilities are an obvious advantage, and as I said it’s easy to read.  It’s not ideal for serious study of a complicated text, however.  Difficult books often require that you flip forward and backward in the text multiple times, and it’s much easier to do this in a book than on a Kindle.  The problem of flipping pages to find a specific passage is partially addressed by the fact that the Kindle stores all highlighted blocks in their own section which can be accessed from the main menu.  This does not solve the whole problem, however, because, if you read like I do, you must click through page upon page of these clips.  The clips are searchable, which helps, especially if you are comfortable bringing your google habits with you to your books—but if you prefer to treat google and great books separately, you’re out of luck.

I used to think the Kindle would change the way we read books in the way that changing the medium so often changes a message.  I’m not so concerned about that anymore, as I think the Kindle is basically a book with buttons instead of binding, pixels instead of pages.  My eyes do not tire from reading the Kindle in the same way that they do from staring at a computer screen, and the paperback-sized volume fits comfortably in either hand.   My comprehension of what I have read has always been lower when I’ve read from a computer screen instead of from a book, so I usually have to print online articles that I really care about reading.  I have no similar troubles with the Kindle.

There’s still something about the solid feel of a good book that simply cannot and should not be replaced—though the Kindle comes close.  Closer, at least, than most bookmobiles. ‘


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  • http://www.facebook.com/david.nilsen David Nilsen

    Would you recommend a division between “great” and “pretty good” books as a general guideline for using the Kindle? So, one should never buy Republic or the Summa for their Kindle (unless it's an extra copy), but it's OK (and possibly preferable) to buy most modern books or works of fiction for the Kindle, because such books generally don't require the kind of furious note-taking and page-flipping you described. Does that sound like a helpful distinction, or does it strike you as too black-and-white?

  • http://www.facebook.com/RachelMotte Rachel Motte

    David,
    Yes, that's a useful rule of thumb. Fiction is much easier to read on a Kindle than nonfiction, for starters, and modern books are typically not that hard to read–so yeah, the Kindle is great for those, too. Reading difficult old books requires a certain skill that you can't learn or practice well on a Kindle, though, so I would never want to use it for those.