Image by TheFemGeek via FlickrLast month, as a gift I received Amazon's Kindle Amazon's Kindle.I wasn't ready to get one just yet. I read about a book a week and love having them around, as the scores of books at my office and bountiful floor-to-ceiling bookshelves at home can attest.
My first Kindle experience was with my uncle's. I tried it for a bit and was impressed with the clarity and usability; it's a very short learning curve to get up to speed. But that was a number of months ago, and I've preferred the old-fashioned version.
Books are for me what widgets are for MySpace users. In many ways, they're a form of self-expression:
- There's the physical manifestations on my shelves, so a small number of people encounter them that way.
- Then there's the self-expression by reading books in public; I'm almost always reading on the subway and often when I'm walking I keep a book in my hand. Usually someone will look over to see what I'm reading. I've had some interesting discussions that way, such as when I spoke with a Starbucks barista about Tim Sanders' book Love is the Killer App, or the two people who commented on David Vinjamuri's Accidental Branding – one of whom knew the author.
- Lastly, there's the virtual manifestations – and no, I don't mean the Virtual Bookshelf Facebook apps and the like. I mean how books come up in conversation, and when I ask someone what they're reading and they ask as much as me, it says something about me.
It's this more meta role – the concept of the book rather than its physical entity – that can still be served by the Kindle, and it's why it can augment rather than detract from my bibliophilia.
So, about the Kindle…
It's light, lighter than most books I read (not that the books I read are too dense). It feels twice as heavy in the cover that's included, which does a good job of protecting it (though if you're in a wet, sandy, or dirty area, you'll want to still keep it in a bag; it's not meant to totally shield it.
Downloading books takes less time than expected. It works on Sprint's wireless EVDO network, which Amazon calls the Whispernet. Full books take seconds to download.
Reading is really easy. You can set the text size to what works for you. The screen clarity's perfect. The buttons for flipping forward and back are easily accessible so you can read the book one-handed.
The weight and usability make it especially easy to read in the subway, even on the cramped Lexington line at rush hour where overcrowding is rampant. There's no need to fumble along to try to turn a page single-handedly or annoy others with newspapers getting in their faces.
Battery life is great – most of the time. If you keep the wireless access off, it can go for several days without a charge while using it frequently. An Amazon support representative told me that instead of turning it on and off, you can leave it on, where a static screensaver appears, and that takes even less energy. Apparently once the screensaver kicks in, it takes no additional power to keep displaying it.
I like taking notes in the back of books, and it's easy to write notes and create bookmarks on the Kindle. Also, there's easy access to a dictionary when you want to look something up.
There are a few negatives:
- You can't search the books or even get to the index.
- You can tell roughly how far you're into the book, but I miss page numbers, and you can't see how far you are into a chapter. I'll often read a couple more pages in a sitting if it means finishing a chapter, so that doesn't work here.
- It's hard to flip around. In the book I'm reading now offline, William Dalrymple's The Last Mughal, it's sometimes helpful to flip back to the glossary, or flip to the front where the character descriptions are listed. You can set bookmarks in the Kindle, but's not as easy as keeping your thumb in a certain place.
- The battery life caused me my greatest frustration. When I went to Boston for a one-night trip, I didn't bother bringing my Kindle charger as it looked like the the battery was mostly full. Yet it died on me soon after I got to Boston. I may have had the wireless access on too much, but there was still no indication that the juice was about to run out.
- While the Kindle is connected to my Amazon account, it's not connected to my Amazon shopping cart. I'd love to easily check to see which Amazon print books I've saved in my cart are available on the Kindle.
- The Kindle's a bit hard to hold without hitting buttons because the buttons take up so much space.
- You'll have to shut off the Kindle when a plane's taking off and landing. Those are my favorite times to read as a distraction. I guess there's always the seat pocket magazine.
- You can't get Kindle books autographed. I LOVE autographed books. Dang.
- Sharing books doesn't quite work either.
I read two books on the Kindle before writing this – Philip Roth's Indignation and Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea (both great reads and memorable stories. I'm not totally abandoning physical books thanks to the Kindle. I've got a few others, including Mughal, that I have around here and plan to read. I am really excited to have the Kindle with me when I travel (as long as I remember the charger); I'll be away at least 19 days between now and early January, and while I may take a physical book like Mughal that I'm in the middle of, I won't take any others; it's much easier to travel light now.
At some point, I'll have to make more conscious decisions about what I read in which format. Do I want something for the bookshelves? Will I need to flip around a lot? Or do I want the convenience of reading it, and the benefit of saving physical shelf space?
I'd imagine for some great books I'll buy them in both formats. I might download a Kindle version first and then wind up at a book signing where I'll buy a copy there, or I'll love it so much that I want to have the more permanent version.
While I'm a bit torn over some aspects of it, I will keep reading on the Kindle, and it is already changing how I read.