Thursday, February 11, 2010

You Can't Throw a Kindle

As I have professed in previous posts, my husband and I are bookworms. We have what is probably an unhealthy obsession with reading and books. We can't buy bookshelves fast enough to store our precious tomes. In fact, it was getting to the point where we could probably build the walls of our next home entirely out of bookshelves. We probably have over 500 books. I don't know an exact number, because I'm afraid to count. But admitting you have a problem is the first step, right?

We've made hard choices and weeded our collection. We started selling and buying books through used bookstores. We've made a rule that we're only going to buy a book that we will re-read or reference and use again. I've made a commitment to use the library whenever possible, for my book club reads and such, and have been meaning to look into All these actions have somewhat stemmed the tide of hardbacks into our house, but we still have a problem. This is why, in December, we broke down and purchased a Kindle electronic book reader.

Since purchasing the Kindle, and using it for the last couple of months, several of my friends have asked my opinion of it. Naturally, that inspired this blog post. So without further ado, here is a breakdown of the things that I love and hate about the Kindle. First up are the positives.

1. Cuts down on storage.
Obviously, this is the main reason we purchased the Kindle. In fact, we're trying to convert some of our books to digital, then we'll sell the hard copy versions to the used bookstore, to save space. The Kindle will hold up to 1,500 books, all in one 10 ounce, 7 inch by 5 inch device. Just think how many bookshelves that saves us from buying.

2. Can transport a lot of books with you.
With my husband (the apologist, philosopher and teacher) when he travels to conferences and seminars, he takes a lot of reference books with him. We've had trouble packing luggage because of the reference materials he needs to take with him. Not anymore! And for me, I always struggled with what book I should bring on our long trips or vacations. What will I be in the mood to read? What if I bring the non-fiction, and end up feeling like reading a fantasy? Well, now I can bring my collection with me, and read whatever inspires me in the moment.

3. Can read books online or on my iPhone.
One of the first discussions we had was how we were going to share custody of the Kindle. What if my husband was reading for his college class, but I need to read for my book club. Do we make a schedule? No. There is an online reader, as well as a Kindle iPhone application, so one of us can still access our collection and read a book, while the other person is on the Kindle.

4. It has an embedded dictionary.
No more stopping to look up a word. Just highlight the word, and the built-in dictionary shows the definition. Nice.

5. The screen has no glare.
It can be read in any kind of light, and is easy on the eyes compared to, for example, a computer screen. It's an amazing thing to behold, and really does simulate the printed page. Clicking the "turn page" button was intuitive as well. I was surprised at how quickly I got accustomed to using it.

6. Scribble in the margins and highlight passages.
My husband and I are notorious for dog-earing pages we want to reference later, highlighting passages, writing notes in the margins, etc. You can drop virtual bookmarks, digitally highlight passages and write notes connected to a certain section. You can even download those notes and e-mail them to yourself.

7. You can read .pdf documents on it, as well as magazine and newspaper subscriptions.
I haven't really used this feature much yet, but it's a nice option.

8. It will save us money in the long run.
Not only will we save money in bookshelves, and building extra rooms onto the house to store our collection (ha ha!), but Kindle editions are all $8 - $10 in price, which is cheaper than most hardbacks.

And now for the downside...

1. Missing the tactile beauty and experience of holding a book.
The feel of the pages against your fingers, the smell of new ink, getting lost in the cover art, the comforting weight of the book in your hand - it's all gone with the Kindle. As an artist, this really makes me sad. The physical design of a book always influences my perception of it.

2. No more illustrations.
The Kindle showcases some beautiful pen and ink type illustrations as its screensavers, so it has the ability to show graphics. However, all the books I have downloaded so far, where the hard copy actually had illustrations, the art was omitted from the digital edition. Additionally, the Kindle screen is black and white only. No color. Not that I'm reading a bunch of picture books on a regular basis, but as someone who considers herself an illustrator, this is just bad news.

3. If you get it wet, you can't dry it off in the microwave.
I was the kid that would never put her book down. I'd walk around the house reading. I'd brush my teeth while reading, which means I've accidentally dropped my book in the sink and knocked it off the counter into the toilet. As an adult, I read during my lunch hour, which mean I have spilled drinks on my book. (No, I'm not graceful. Yes, I'm a klutz.) Do that with a Kindle, and you're out of luck.

4. Can't flip ahead.
No, I don't mean flipping ahead to read the ending first. I'm talking about reading-time-management. The Kindle has a runner along the bottom that shows you what percentage of the book you have read so far, which is nice, but it is hard to see how much more you have to read to get to the end of the chapter or to find a good stopping point. There's no easy way to flip a few pages ahead to see how much further you have to go.

5. It's not back lit.
You still need to use a booklight if you're going to read in low-light or no-light. It's not a big deal, but with iPhones and other technology, you expect it to light up in the dark.

6. No more fancy bookmarks.
Yes, there's a way to place digital bookmarks with the Kindle, and it remembers where you last left off in every book you've opened, but I enjoy collecting bookmarks. In fact, I almost always buy a new bookmark with every new book purchase. The fancy tassels, the little beads and jewels, the miniature artwork, the quotes about reading and books - bookmarks are pleasant little things of beauty. Again, it's a tactile thing that I miss.

7. It's expensive.
The Kindle will save us money in the long-term, with all the bookshelves we won't have to buy, and with the average purchase price. However, the initial investment is still pretty steep. Additionally, you can't recoop your costs like you do when you sell your used volumes back to the used bookstore, or in your annual yard sale.

8. You can't slam it shut or throw it across the room in disgust. (Well, you can, but you'll regret it later.)
I discovered this unique wrinkle just recently, when I was reading probably the worst book I've ever read in my life. After reading one terribly offensive passage, I went to slam the book shut in disgust and realized I couldn't. Hitting the off button just doesn't have the same satisfaction. It's similar to how hanging up on someone is so much more satisfying by slamming down a classic handset onto the phone base instead of hitting a tiny button on a cordless phone. At another point in my reading adventure through this terrible example of "what not to do when writing a novel" I actually had the urge to throw the book across the room, and realized I couldn't do that either. And please know, I'm not typically a violent reader or someone with a short fuse. That just goes to show you how bad this book was.

So if you take anything from this post, just remember, you can't throw a Kindle (unless you want shards of broken glass, plastic and microchips all over your floor).


Kristi said...

I'm still not sold on the Kindle yet, but I appreciate the pros/cons blog post! (And a note about our recent book club read--isn't it interesting how everyone reacts differently? The comments on the STS book in this blog made me laugh and think back to when we read The Shack and I had similar feelings--I literally wanted to throw that book across the room (and think I actually did a time or two), but other people hear that and think I'm crazy because they totally loved that book. I'm mostly not crazy, but I am entitled to my own opinion!)

And, what's this about you being an artist?! Tell me more!

Jessie said...

The worst book every written! HA HA HA! I completely agree. And yeah, punching the off button just wouldn't have the same effect. I just don't think I'm ready to go digital with my books yet. But thanks for the post.


Laura said...

As much as I LOVE digital media and the wide variety of materials it provides, I don't think I will ever get to where I want to read a book sans pages. In fact, I already know I prefer reading magazines, newspapers and such on a printed page but I think it's because my 40+ year old eyes have a harder time seeing something on a "screen"... there's just not as much light control as I need for reading.

And, may I just add I don't think I will EVER have a digital Bible... that's just weird. ;)

chandy said...

Well first of all, tell me how you really feel about Sworn to Silence.

I can't picture buying a kindle anytime soon. Mainly because I just don't buy many books, period. I am a walking advertisement for the library, and I probably use it more than anyone.

But I have really enjoyed the Kindle app in my ipod. It's great when you need a book last minute and won't have time to get it at the library, and I enjoy getting the old books for 99 cents each.

D.L. White said...

@ Kristi - That's what's so interesting about art, is how it effects people differently. I think it all depends on how much exposure to literature you've had, what your goal/purpose is in reading, etc. "The Shack", on the other hand, complicates things with heresey... but that's a whole other discussion... (one that I unfortunately missed).

As far as the artist thing, I work with pen and ink drawings, colored pencil drawings, and paint in oils. Once upon a time, I wanted to write and illustrate my own children's books...