I bought a Kindle yesterday, and I’m still trying to decide whether or not I like it.

I had resisted buying a Kindle, or any sort of e-reader, for a long time. See, I am a book fetishist. Books for me are not just knowledge transmittal devices; when I’m reading a history book, I like to browse the index to see whether an expected topic or person will be discussed, and where, and how much. I like to look at the table of contents and know generally how long the chapters are. I like to be able to glance up at the running heads at the top of the page to remind myself what chapter I’m in, and I like to be able to flip ahead and see how many pages are left in the chapter I’m reading. I like to be able to flip back and refer to something I read earlier, which is not so hard to do when you remember vaguely where on a particular page it was.

But I do much of my reading on my commute to and from work, and I have to lug my laptop with me, which weighs 3.3 pounds. And many of the books I like to read — again, mostly history — are big, at 500 pages or more. A moderate-sized book along with the laptop can really weigh me down.

Last year I decided I wanted to read Vincent Bugliosi’s Reclaiming History, a humongous, 5.6-pound book about the Kennedy assassination, and because the physical book would have been impossible to take anywhere, I decided to buy the Kindle version to read on my iPhone. It was an okay experience — the screen was a little too small. But it did give me some e-book-reading experience.

My parents got a Kindle a few months ago and they think it’s great. And I had drinks with Dan the other night and he has one and seems to like it. The new Kindle that came out in August costs less than $200 — not too bad. So I decided to take a closer look. Staples, Target, and Best Buy now sell Kindles in their stores, so after a trip to Barnes & Noble yesterday afternoon, I walked a few blocks to the nearest Staples and tested out the Kindle on display, and I wound up buying one. I bought one with WiFi and 3G.

I’ve downloaded several book samples so far, and… I don’t know. The Kindle is incredibly light and I can hold it with one hand, which is great. But there’s just something missing. Because the screen is just six inches, there are fewer words on the screen than on two pages of an open book, and I feel like that matters. I always like being able to see more than one paragraph at a time when I’m reading — it gives me more spatial context. With an e-reader, I don’t really know what’s ahead of me or behind me. Something about the small six-inch screen feels cramped.

I wonder if this has to do with reading a dense, information-heavy history book as opposed to a novel?

Then there’s the fact that I won’t actually have the book on my bookshelves to look at when I’m done reading it.

I have two weeks to return it to Staples if I want, although I’m really not sure whether they’ll actually take it back, because to open the Kindle box, you have to pull a cardboard tab that rips the box open. They said they’d take it back even if I’d used it, but I don’t know if they realize that there is no way to “un-open” the box. If I decide I want to return it and they don’t accept it, I guess I can buy one from Amazon directly and return the opened one to Amazon (since their Kindle return policy is pretty liberal) and the closed one to Staples.

Those of you who own a Kindle or another e-reader: have you gotten used to it?

8 thoughts on “Kindle

  1. Jeff, I’m a huge fan of reading and of books (when we moved to California, I gave several /thousand/ books to the local library, and still had hundreds of pounds of books in boxes to ship out here), but I absolutely love my Kindle. The benefits for me far outweigh the very few drawbacks. There are some kinds of books for which it’s not at all well-suited like, say, cookbooks, but for the general reading I do, I’m absolutely hooked. I love the immediate dictionary look-up of any word, and the ability to highlight passages and take notes that are then searchable on any of my devices (I have the Kindle, but I also have the Kindle app on my PC and on my Droid phone).

    Most of all, though, I love being able to have multiple books with me at a time; I’m a natural speed-reader, and it’s frustrating to read one book at a time because I finish to quickly. And, when traveling, it meant I had to take a backpack just for books, since I’d finish at least one or two just on the plane ride there. Now I can have an entire library with me in a unit that weighs and measures less than a single physical book, and can switch among books with a couple of key presses. And I love that I can download a new book or a sample of it and start reading it within seconds — this happened the other day when I was at a friend’s mother’s house, and the two of them recommended a book they thought I’d love. I pulled out my Kindle, downloaded the sample chapter for free, and started reading it on the BART ride home.

    I got used to the screen size very quickly, and soon stopped noticing that I was reading on a screen without the two full pages of text always present; reading on the Kindle has become a very natural experience to me.

    I’m already on my second Kindle — I wanted the Kindle 3 so I gave myJeff my original Kindle 2.

  2. All that said, I understand that e-readers are not everyone’s cup of tea. I appreciate that you’re at least willing to try one out — I’ve grown tired of the simplistic sort of e-reader-bashing that comes from some circles as a matter of some kind of “principle” I just don’t understand, and usually from people who have never even tried one but are just sure that physical books are always better. In its infancy, book printing was viewed with a similar kind of disdain and suspicion.

    That said, I still buy some paper books, but now I can be more discerning about which ones. We still have several walls of our homes covered with filled bookshelves, and there are still unpacked boxes of books downstairs, but I feel like it’s become much more manageable and less cluttered since I started buying most of my reading just for the Kindle.

  3. Hi – I bought an iPad to use as an ebook reader on the bus, and for casual web surfing. I am shocked at how much I like it. Now, the price point is well above the kindle, but I **use** it. I too played with a kindle, and I can’t picture it replacing books.

    Reviewing what you like about physical books:
    “I like to browse the index to see whether an expected topic or person will be discussed, and where, and how much.”
    iBooks on the iPad: Fail. I haven’t seen an index in any of my ebooks yet. I don’t know if the format supports it.

    “I like to look at the table of contents and know generally how long the chapters are.”
    iBooks: Pass. Table of contents, with page counts, “clickable” to bring you to the start of the chapter/section.

    “I like to be able to glance up at the running heads at the top of the page to remind myself what chapter I’m in…”
    iBooks: Fail. Running head has the book title only.

    “and I like to be able to flip ahead and see how many pages are left in the chapter I’m reading. ”
    iBooks: Pass. Bottom of the page shows “Page X of Y” and “Z pages left in this chapter”.

    “I like to be able to flip back and refer to something I read earlier, which is not so hard to do when you remember vaguely where on a particular page it was.”
    iBooks – pass. You can easily bookmark pages for future recall, and/or highlight and make notes on any block of text. Notes are auto-stamped with the date. You can browse a list of all bookmarks and notes.

    One other thing that I’ve made good use of is the integrated dictionary. Highlight a word and you can look it up from within your ebook. It surprised me how often I used it once I knew it existed, especially with historical texts.

    There’s a bunch of other little things I like too… changing the background to sepia makes the page nicer to read from. Changing the font size when I’m on the bus and find it easier to read with it on my lap.

    Next time you’re at an apple store, give one a try and see what you think.

  4. Thom, maybe I’ll get used to it. I hope so — it’s really convenient and I want to like it. It’s hard when I’ve spent my whole life reading books a certain way.

    And I envy your speed-reading ability! I am not a particularly fast reader and it’s one thing that can frustrate me.

    chzplz — I’d thought about the iPad, and I’ve tried one out in the store before, but it weighs more than the Kindle, and I’ve read that the backlit screen can tire your eyes after a long reading session. On the other hand, I like that the nice white background on the iPad gives you greater contrast when reading, and I wish the Kindle had a touch-screen, but I guess that’s not possible with e-ink.

  5. It took me a long time to warm to the e-reader concept. For a long time, I was in the “books are meant to be on paper” camp. To keep a long story short, I gave in back in July. I bought Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader. It quickly grew on me. It’s not the same as reading a book, but it has advantages over a traditional book.

    Also, as someone who likes the library but hates when prior borrowers have stained, marked or otherwise damaged a book, this is nice. I borrow e-books through the library’s website, and I don’t have to deal with the limited courtesy and care of some other borrowers.

    I use my public library, part of the Nassau County system. Since you’re in the city, you should check out all the e-books the New York Public Library has to offer. I understand their collection of e-books is pretty substantial. That may make you a believer!

  6. +1 for iPad. If you hold it horizontally most apps have the option to show two pages side-by-side. Plus you’re not limited to Amazon’s ebook store (although most of the time I buy from them). You get Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders/Kobo, iBooks. And if the book has color illustrations or photos, you can see the colors.

    The big downside is definitely the weight of it. The Kindle you can easily hold and maneuver with one hand (I used to have one and my bf has one now… although he just got an iPad today too :) ) while you’re standing up, but not so much with the iPad.

    I’m not sure about eye straight from reading on a backlit screen. I think there’s eyestrain in general from any extended length of reading on anything. With the iPad most apps do have the option of dimming the screen, reducing contrast by making the background grayer, or flipping the colors to white on black. I’d say there’s fewer times when I’m struggling to read because with a physical book or Kindle you need good light. The iPad works in dim places and when it’s pitch black.

    You make a good point about the index. If you have a sample of a book usually the index will be linked to a part of the book you don’t have yet. They should include that in the sample. But even better is that in any book you’re reading you can search the text and get every single page that has that text in it. I’m bad with names and if I’m reading a novel and I need to remind myself what a character has done, I type their name and get allll the pages that have mentioned their name all in one list. Can’t do that with a physical book. Or tap a word (scroll to and highlight on a Kindle) to get its definition. And if you have an iPad, you can highlight something and load it up in Safari to google it. :)

  7. I love love love my Kindle. I decided to buy one for two reasons, as I shared with you last week: I have way too many physical books to realistically move and buying books electronically saves tremendous space; the Kindle’s battery life, comparedto the iPad, can’t be beaten.
    As far as reading dense historical tomes, I’m about 1/3 into Diarmaid MacCulloch’s massive history of “Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years” and am enjoying every virtual page.
    If I increase the text size, I can easily read on the treadmill at the gym, too. Welcome to the Kindle family!

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