I’ve been completely disinterested in the e-book phenomenon. I like reading, I get books cheaply, I read them, it works out. I love buying used books, ex-library books with card pockets in the front and exotic stamps from places like “Ohio” and “Florida.” I can set a cup of tea on a book. I can smash flies with a book. I can use a book to prop open a window. I can bring a book in the bathtub with me without any real worry about what will happen if I drop it. (I don’t love books that someone else has underlined in, though. Nobody’s perfect.)
I’m also kind of weird about electronics. I don’t use an iPod despite my years of involvement with music and my not-insignificant CD collection. I never got an iPhone. I cancelled my Android phone’s data contract; I liked it OK, but I just didn’t need it. I don’t have an HDTV or a BluRay player. I’ve tried iPads, and I think they’re neat and fun and I have no interest in having one because for all the cool things you can do with them, they’re computers, and I already spend wayyyyy more time than I want to in front of one.
As much as I can be a gadget guy in certain specific ways and in certain specific cases, I can take or leave most of it. The accolades being showered upon the latest batch of ebook readers were interesting, but in the same way that haggis is, or maybe army ants. I read about things because things are interesting, but I don’t want all of them.
But I ended up with a Kindle.
Partly, I have to acknowledge that my frequent visits to Amazon probably wore me down. I forget what the exact number is and I don’t care enough to look it up, but there’s some magical number in branding and advertising whereby a person will suddenly find a certain proposition intriguing. I must have seen 16,000 Kindle ads on the Amazon home page, so maybe the number is 16,000. I cannot swear that marketing didn’t affect me, that’s all I’m sayin’.
Partly, I’ve been more and more interested in writing again. I’ve been journaling and doing “the morning pages” and even sketching out and falsely starting novels. The attention that lesser-known authors have occasionally managed to gain through doing self-published ebooks was inspiring, people like Amanda Hawking. The more I read about people like that, the more I became interested. Once my interest crossed a certain threshhold, I realized that as inspiring as their successes were, I had no idea what a) the ebook experience was like, and b) what the quality of writing was in these overnight (yeah, I know, I know) runaway successes’ works. I’d occasionally try to read an ebook either on my laptop or my Android phone, but I couldn’t get into it. (I don’t even like reading instruction manuals on a computer screen. PRINT ME A BOOK!!!!!)
So I suddenly became interested; my interest was partly selfish, in the sense that I wanted to research a possible writing outlet. The more reviews I read about readers and how people liked them and how good the screens were getting and all, the closer I moved from “I might not completely hate it” to “I might actually enjoy having something like that.”
After my usual painstaking research and considering different makes and models and different sizes and colors, I pulled the trigger and got a 3G Kindle 3. The screen in the third generation Kindle was reviewed very well, it had enough space, and the free 3G was a kicker – I occasionally need to check my email on the run, and it would theoretically handle it for me. I like Amazon anyway, and with one of the freely available conversion utilities, I could most likely wrangle any ebook content I came across into a readable form. I didn’t care that it didn’t work with any library systems at that time. I wrestled with getting the WiFi one just to save a few bucks, and the ad-sponsered one that’s a bit cheaper wasn’t in the mix yet to confuse me further. I bought it sight unseen; I hadn’t read any review issues that led me to believe that I’d need to hold one to make my decision.
I never considered the iPad seriously; I’ve seen their ebook interface and found it compelling and attractive, and I loved the ease of the touchscreen, but I’d read mixed reviews of using it for reading for long periods. I’ve tried Angry Birds and Garageband for the iPad, and I’d use it about 20 minutes a year, so it was kind of expensive as a reader anyway.
I considered the nook, especially the color one with the hackable Android OS, as I mentioned, I liked my Android phone just fine so I’d assumed it would be comfortable territory. In the big scheme of things, I couldn’t think of any important use for color in a book reader; if I was buying a photography book, I surely wouldn’t buy it electronically anyway, and not a single novel I own makes use of any color. And my faith in Amazon as a company made a difference; the free 3G was honestly a deciding factor, and if I was betting on a free 3G provider who was probably going to stay in business for the next couple of years, I knew who I was going to bet on, and it wasn’t B&N. (Sorry, guys. I liked your stores!)
I read about several others, but all things considered, only the Nook and the Kindle made my short list.
The Kindle came in a cool little box, partly charged, and with my Amazon account already put in. The 3G worked out of the box, no contracts, no personal info. Getting books onto the Kindle was as easy as copying files to a hard drive. The user interface took almost no learning, although I did look up a couple of less obvious features over the first couple of days. It was as close to plug and play as I could have hoped.
The screen is great. It is very easy on the eyes, pleasant to look at, smudge resistant (which is important because the first 2 weeks of use, I kept trying to do things with the touch screen, and it doesn’t have a touch screen). Redraws and page turns are a little slow, but not any real hinderance.
I read faster on the Kindle than I can in print for some reason, and it’s got to be largely because of the screen. One less-than-obvious benefit to an electronic book is that the type size is not fixed. I prefer to read with pretty small letters under perfect circumstances. But as the day turns to night and my eyes start to glaze, I can bump the text size up in increments and just keep going.
It took me a few moments to get used to the page turning mechanism. It’s quite clear and not difficult, but it’s set up so that there’s a forward/back button combination on each side of the screen. My instinct was to Push Something On The Right to turn the page forward and Push Something On The Left to turn backwards. It doesn’t exactly work that way. I still think I might like it better if that’s how it were set up, but it’s a pretty minor consideration.
The size is perfect for me. The screen is roughly the size of a paperback novel’s page. The overall footprint is probably 50% larger than a typical smartphone, but it’s very lightweight and thin. I can fit it in every coat pocket I’ve tried and every cargo pant pocket I’ve tested. I bought a cheap neoprene sleeve on Ebay to protect it, and I bring it all over.
The free 3g works. For book delivery, it’s as quick as you could ever need.
The web browser is a little clunky, partly because of the navigation buttons, partly because of the keypad, and partly because the screen only displays 16 shades of gray. But it’s usable and it’s free and it’s there. I can check my Gmail from the road and I can use Google maps if I get stuck somewhere and I can check Facebook if I can’t remember the address of an event I’ve been invited to. If I ran my business off my Blackberry, I would not get much use from the internet connection here, but for my needs, it’s pretty excellent. And the 3g is supposed to work not just all over the US, but in 150 countries; no roaming when I’m on the east or west coast of the US, and it’s nice to know that I’m good next time I visit relatives in Denmark.
One of my favorite things about it is that the normal Kindle 3 fits perfectly in the zip lock sandwich bags we happen to have around the house. I can read in the bathtub without being unnecessarily distracted by the prospect of splashing or dropping my little portable library into the water. (My wife killed a cell phone by dropping it into the only glass of water in the room once. These things happen.)
I’ve read about 20 books on it at this point, some old friends and some new discoveries. I’ve purchased one book and downloaded many others freely. There are probably tons of other resources out there for people who know what terms like “seeding” and “leeching” are, but you may never need to resort to Those Ways Of Getting Things. (I’ve downloaded a couple of PDF books and converted them, and I was disappointed at how many typos and formatting errors there were compared to other sources, but I guarantee you that varies quite a bit.)
On dealnews.com they have 4-10 free Kindle books practically every day; the titles are all on Amazon anyway so that’s not the only way to find them, but I’ve found their suggestions frequently useful. (I visit dealnews all the time anyway though.) I’ve also downloaded many titles from www.manybooks.net as well, they have tons of cool public domain books in all sorts of categories and the quality of the formatting and proofreading was solid. If you’re the kind of person who happily reads classics, you may never need to purchase a thing.
However, when it comes time to purchase, the process through Amazon is painless. You link your Kindle to your Amazon account, and you can send files wirelessly via “whispernet,” which I guess is their 3G network, freely and instantly. They have optional for-pay services, I’ve read that you can send PDFs to yourself through your Amazon account and they get translated into Kindle’s format and sent back to you for some nominal fee, $.15 I think it was, but I’ve never needed it.
If you source books from places other than Amazon, you may find Calibre handy. I have found it slightly less than intuitive as far as managing all my books, but it has tons of conversion capabilities so even if you just used it to mash other formats into something Kindle-friendly, you’ll find it well worth the free download and learning curve.
At the end of the day, I love my Kindle. At any given time I have about 150 books on it. I even have a jazz fake book or two on there on the off chance that I ever take another jazz gig, the screen rendering of sheet music PDFs is small but super useable. The experience of using the Kindle is transparent; once you’ve opened a book and started reading it, the minimal interface fades away and you’re left to your words. There are capabilities for annotation that I haven’t cared about (I don’t write in real books either), and I occasionally use the built-in dictionary to catch words that haven’t yet made it into my vocabulary, but for me it’s been less about how e-books can be better than books by being electronic and more about how they can be just as good as printed books without needing to be printed. A slightly clearer way of expressing the same way might be – books are still books even when they’re not printed on paper. For some reason, I’ve found it reassuring that this is the case.
I guess part of my resistance to the e-book thing could be phrased more or less, “But… I like REAL books!” Fortunately, I still live in a world where it’s possible to still love real books; I’ve purchased and read several since Kindle entered my life and I have no plans or reason to stop purchasing used books. Especially things with illustrations or color, like art, design, photography, and illustrated history books. Now that I’ve reconciled my love of real books with the peaceful and life-enhancing coexistance with my Kindle 3, it’s a good time to be a fan of reading.
The me that had never given e-books an honest tryout set up an imaginary war between “real books” and “electronic books,” but in the end, they’re all just books. And books are good.