Part the First: In which I learn to stop worrying and love my Kindle
I was greatly intrigued by an article by Cecilia Kang in Sunday’s Washington Post about the reading habits of people who use e-readers. It seems that these individuals are consuming books at a substantially greater rate than those who read only what Kang terms “physical books.” And there’s more:
Even as e-readers are downloading books on computers, tablets and smartphones, they are also checking out more books at libraries and buying more at bookstores and online. About nine in 10 e-book readers said they have also read printed books in the past year, Pew reported in its survey of about 3,000 people 16 and older.
Many, many titles are available for downloading onto the Kindle. When you line up your purchase, you are informed that you can “Start reading [Title of Book] on your Kindle in under a minute.” It was not until I actually observed this lightning-swift phenomenon with my own eyes that I truly appreciated the momentous nature of this paradigm shift. It seems miraculous – almost like magic.
Actually, the scales were tipped for me when I began exploring the world of lesser known short story classics. While reading Michael Dirda’s On Conan Doyle, I became interested in the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that were outside the Sherlock Holmes canon. These were tricky to locate in hard copy. But voila! Look what I found available for downloading on Amazon: The Captain of the Polestar cost $2.99; For Tales of Terror and Mystery, there was no charge.
I’ve mentioned that the January selection of the Usual Suspects was The Mystery of Edwin Drood. When I found that the print in the library copy of this title was uncomfortably small for my no-longer-young eyes, I downloaded a copy onto the Kindle. I could have opted for a free version, but instead got one that cost $0.99, because it featured illustrations. (Several of these appear in my post on the Usual Suspects discussion of Edwin Drood.)
In the course of my reading, I came across a reference to a monograph on Nathaniel Hawthorne written by Henry James. In the course of my English major days and a subsequent lifelong interest in the works of both of these great writers, I had never heard of this work. I was able to obtain it instantly from the Kindle store. Cost? $0.00.
Packing for a recent solo trip to New York, I struggled to minimize the weight and bulk of the reading matter in my luggage. I also wanted to finish Dana Stabenow’s A Cold Day for Murder, the next selection of the Usual Suspects Mystery Group. I was able to downloaded the novel onto my Kindle and leave the hardback copy at home. Cost? $0.00. (Great book, by the way. More on this after tomorrow night’s discussion.)
After perusing, at the local Barnes & Noble, the first few pages of Richard Mason’s The Memoirs of a Pleasure Seeker , I decided that I wanted to read it as soon as possible. I was relatively well positioned on the library’s list of reserves, but that simply was not good enough – I wanted the book at once. You’ll know by now what I did. Cost: $9.99
After recent being waylaid by the Egyptian antiquities at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I found myself possessed of a strong urge to revisit in literature the story of that illustrious ancient civilization. This topic has held a lifelong fascination for me – ever since, as a child, I received this most singular little gift:
I wanted a history that was eminently readable and well written. But I hadn’t been paying attention to recent publications on this subject. So I went on the Kirkus site and searched for “Egypt.” I then refined the search to display only starred reviews. The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt by Tony Wilkinson seemed like the best bet. Although it was a bit of splurge from Amazon – $18.99 – I went for it anyway. I should mention at this juncture that this title was available for free download on the library’s site. I have not gone that route as of yet, but might do so in the future. One consideration, though: titles downloaded from the library are on loan, and I was pretty sure that I would want the Wilkinson title for keeps. And BTW, no regrets – I’m loving the book. It was worth price of admission alone to be reading about the Narmer Palette, which I’d never heard of, and then next, to see the images sharp and vibrant on the Kindle’s screen. (I’ve not used Kirkus for this purpose before, but I certainly will in the future.)
Part the Second: Instantaneous access to content
So, what was it that caused me to change my attitude toward the Kindle? Lately, the need to know more about a given subject has, for me, become increasingly urgent. The same impulse is operating with regard to works of fiction, though it is more muted because I have been so disappointed with a number of new works that Ive tried to read. For me, of late, short stories have been better than novels and crime fiction has been better than ‘literary’ fiction, which often seems to me to be striving too mightily to be literary. Unfortunately, a number of my favorite contemporary mystery authors have produced new works that have struck me as singularly lackluster. So, where fiction is concerned, I’ve been returning to the classics. And this, of course, is where the Kindle shines, providing instant access to obscure yet worthy works that stand a chance of ameliorating my literary malaise.
Department of cavils, complaints, and lingering reservations
In the early days of our Kindle ownership, Ron and I were having a number of problems with the device. First of all, the touch screen technology was far more difficult to master than I had anticipated. Accustomed as I was to the precision of the mouse, I found it extremely difficult to hit with your finger the precise the spot you were aiming for on the little screen (with its tiny print). Operations I could perform with ease on my beloved Sony Vaio* proved very tricky on the Kindle. I’d touch the screen inadvertently – a hard thing to avoid doing – and the screen would jump to a different display, and I would not know how to get back to where I’d been. My son suggested that I make more use of the pinch to zoom gesture; this advice helped, somewhat.
In short, I could have used a tutor, standing helpfully at my shoulder. (I’ve recently found out that Barnes & Noble provides this service for Nook users.) And yes, I looked at the online manual. It was but moderately helpful.
My friend Angie recently commented that you can’t riffle through the pages of a book when you’re reading it on an e-reader. (she was having trouble finding the table of contents for a lengthy work she’d recently downloaded.) I loved her use of ‘riffle,’ and her point is, of course, a good one. Finally, there’s no getting away from the fact that all this ready accessibility to content is exacerbating my already nearly out-of-control tendency to read several books simultaneously. This is most emphatically not a fault owing to the Kindle, but rather, a fault – if such it is – owing to me.
So to sum up, all in all….
The good far outweighs the bad
Precious books, swiftly acquired; back lit text and the ability to change the font size, both so helpful for these aging eyes; extreme compactness for traveling….these are just some of the reasons I’ve come to love my Kindle. Shortly after purchasing it, I bought a case made by Marware. This acquisition has made handling the Kindle and keeping it safe a lot easier.
It’s still true for me that late at night, while reading in bed, I crave a physical book. My whole history as a passionate reader is bound up in that timeless format. So at this point in my life, I’ll take both, thank you, and be very grateful.
*While I was gallivanting ’round New York City two weeks ago, Ron was hard at work executing a hard disc replacement for the Sony Vaio. A corrupted hard disc was increasingly disabling this best of computers. It took Ron pretty much the entire weekend to set things right – but he did it! (“Its pieces are all over the kitchen table!” he informed me on the phone, cheerfully. Just as well I was not there….)