Kindle me this: eBooks versus treeBooks

I've been reading on my Kindle almost every day since I received it in April (but it was supposed to arrive in December, so I'll just pretend I've had it for six months). That's given me enough time to discover the changes eBooks have brought to my reading:

  • I immediately forget the title of the book and its author. With a hard-copy novel, that information is rather prominently displayed on the cover -- complete with embossed chrome and explosions -- which I see every time I pick it up, but there's no cover on an eBook unless I go look for it on a special page somewhere.
  • Looking back a few pages to review after I've put down the book for a few days is tiresome. In a paper book, my positional memory will quickly flip me to the appropriate chapter to figure out who is who and what it is they're doing and to whom they're doing it, but jumping around in a eBook is a painstaking effort. While eBook readers have a built-in search, it's not useful for picking up the plot. I have to remind myself to set bookmarks for pages that I expect to return to over and over again: maps, character introductions, illustrations, sexy bits, etc.
  • It's tough to judge how far you've read into the story. While the Kindle does show the percentage of the book that's been read, I can't seem to easily translate that to a sense of where I am, in part because I don't know how thick the book is to begin with. Since the display may use different font sizes or margins, there's no concept of a page in an eBook, although sometimes it will tell you what the corresponding printed page would have been. Quite a contrast from how I usually estimate my progress: looking at the top edge of an open paperback and comparing the thicknesses of the two sides.
  • The reader remembers my progress in any eBook and returns me to the last page that I read. That's fine for fiction, but doesn't work nearly so well for reference books that I read in discrete chunks and out of order: I'm always sent to the section nearest the end, regardless of what I most recently read.

None of this means that eBooks are worse than treeBooks; they just afford different reading conventions.

As for the Kindle itself, I really like it. Above all, the electronic ink screen is easy to read and works great outdoors. My eyes don't tire as they do when I'm reading from an illuminated display. A few secondary features, both the good and the bad, occur to me:

  • The electronic ink display flashes whenever you change the page. I don't notice it anymore though.
  • Battery life is fantastic, once you turn off wireless. I rarely charge the thing more than once a month.
  • Get the leather case with the pull-out LED lamp. Perfect for nighttime reading and doesn't seem to drain the battery too quickly.
  • The button-packed panel is a user-interface disaster. I rarely use the keyboard, but accidentally press letter keys all of the time, and sometimes that does things I don't want. The button I use the most is a tiny square on the right and I'm forever pressing the wrong part of it or one of the buttons next to it.
  • The page-turning buttons are convenient. Too convenient, actually, since I press them accidentally every time I pick the thing up.
  • It's very easy to buy books. It's very hard to find good books to buy though. I always download a sample first.
  • The reader software that runs on computers and mobile devices is great. All of your books can show up on any number of gadgets. I use the iPad Kindle reader to follow along in tech manuals alongside the computer.
  • I can e-mail myself documents to a special Kindle account and they'll show up on my reader. Optionally, they can be translated to the Kindle's proprietary format.
  • Free classics from Amazon or Project Gutenberg are easy to get. I've been reading bits of Edgar Allan Poe in between apocalyptic zombie stories.
  • The free 3G download service will be terrific if I ever travel anywhere. Works in Whitehorse too.
  • I keep forgetting that it doesn't have a touch screen. Supposedly the next one will. In the meantime, my greasy paw prints seem to wipe off without lasting damage.


Archived Comments

  1. Stephen on 20110704.Monday:
    I read more books in my first six months with the Kindle than I did in the prior three years with conventional books. That's waned a bit but the travel/portability of the device is really what sold me: I literally brought hundreds of books with me on our sojourn. Okay, I barely cracked one but the Kindle made a snappy coaster for various adult beverages. Multi-use! And the samples are great. No need to trust the user reviews on Amazon for book recommendations any longer: I used to have many moments of, "Ugh. What book were they reading when they wrote their review?!? Because it sure wasn't this one..." It does fail on the graphics front though - maps are indistinguishable when reading history tomes ("Is that Egypt or PEI?") and graphic novels (ahem... comics) look fantastic on the iPad. But for the literary annals of the zombie genre, I'll bet it's a winner.
  2. Dave on 20110704.Monday:
    Yes, all that's missing is one of those goo-dripping fonts for the zombie chapter titles. Also, how do can you collect signatures at author book signings? You can fit maybe two on the back, and the writer would have to have one of those special white ink signature pens. An obvious omission on Amazon's part.
  3. Stephen on 20110704.Monday:
    I hear Mags Atwood just licks the screen.
  4. Dave on 20110704.Monday:
    That might just explain why I haven't yet been able to get a good offer on my "autographed" copy of Oryx and Crake.