O Brave new world, that has such Kindles in it!

April 9, 2012 at 11:04 pm (books, Technology)

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.

As it happens, the above quote describes Your Faithful Blogger very neatly. It took me a while to make friends with my Kindle. But it has happened – boy, has it happened!

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.

Then, preparing for a trip, I downloaded some travel guides. I was particularly delighted with this one, which contained live links to places and attractions that might be of interest.   Cost: $4.99.

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….)

The Sony Vaio, renewed, restored - and resplendent!


  1. Angie Boyter said,

    Miss Marple, Rikki, Downi, and others of a feline persuasion ALL vote for the Kindle. It is not NEARLY so obtrusive when the cat is trying to enjoy a well-deserved lap!
    P S Why is it IMPOSSIBLE to go back and correct typos when posting a comment on this site!?

  2. Drew said,

    I have read several articles lately that make the extraordinary claim that readers are reading more with the Kindle than they did previously without ever explaining why this is so…and you do it again here. I haven’t switched to the Kindle yet, the main reason being that I don’t need faster access to books…what I really need is more time to read the books I already own. And as far as I know technology is not yet sufficiently advanced to expand the 24 hour day.
    Is the reading experience somehow enhanced on the Kindle, making reading easier and faster than it would be in print format? If so, how is that? Are people really reading more/faster? Or are they just buying more books faster? Is it that the new device is a novelty and therefore people are spending more time with it?
    The claim that people are reading more is a pretty big deal, and it surprises me that no one ever bothers to elucidate…which makes me a little suspicious of the claim.

    • Angie Boyter said,

      I can;sympathize with Drew’s feelings! I had not thought about it beforeI heard the claim, but I think I DO read more now thatI have the kindle. One of the reasaons is portability. I am more likely to take it with me to places where I will have a few minutes to kill than a hardcopy book. Also my phone has a Kindle app, so if I find myself with time on my hands I just open my phone and pick up whereI left off in my book; Amazon knows whereI was, and I can download it. I also take my kindle when I go for a walk and listen to whateverI am reading. I don’t know whether reading the free samples counts,but I do love to sample books I hear about even if I decide not to follow up.

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Drew, thanks for your thoughtful comment. In response I would suggest that at least some the people who are reading more with Kindles or other e-books might tend to have been more casual readers than compulsives – like you might be and I certainly am. And I agree with Angie’s observation that the incredible convenience of the Kindle is in itself a motivator.

      I have to see that one of the most marvelous – in the literal sense of the word – features of my reading world right now is watching the full text of a book appear on my Kindle about 3 seconds after I’ve requested it. It absolutely seems like magic! That said, the Kindle has also increased my frustration with the fact that there are so many books I want to read, and so little time. (And that does not count the books, especially classics, that I would like to re-read. Audiobooks have been a huge help in that regard, and also in my reading of crime fiction.) And let me tell you, when you’re approaching age 70, “time’s winged chariot” can seem perilously near….

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