Posts Tagged ‘Kindle’

To E or Not to E: That Need Not Be the Question

June 24, 2011 @ 3:11 pm | Filed under: Books

Another day, another ebooks-BAD-because-you-can’t-dogear-the-pages screed—this time in the L.A. Times, which should know better. As astute commenter Kate points out in a recent thread at Mental Multivitamin, ebook doomsayers often make a faulty assumption that it’s an either/or situation: that once you’ve gone Kindle you’ll never pick up a codex again. Which is just silly—a narrow vision of the reading life. I didn’t ditch my oven just because my microwave does some things better. Sometimes I want to bake a cake. Sometimes I want to curl up with a couple of kids on each side and pore over the pictures in a book made of paper.

But…sometimes I want to read the new Connie Willis novel without getting a squint-headache from the small print.

Sometimes I want to bring a half-dozen books with me on a trip, but I’d rather not weigh down my shoulder bag.

Sometimes I want to read in the dark without disturbing my husband. (For this, my phone is better than my Kindle.)

Sometimes I want to fall asleep reading without smacking myself awake when a big fat book falls on my face at the moment I drift off. (This has happened more times than I can count.)

Sometimes I want to sit down in a chair, which is a lot easier when it isn’t full of advanced review copies awaiting my attention. (NetGalley, you are a revelation.)

But also? Sometimes I want to read Elizabeth Bishop and see the notes I wrote in the margins in grad school.

Sometimes I want to walk through the house grabbing picture books off a shelf, building a pile with which to delight a small child at what she calls “quiet reading time,” which means “time ALONE with Mom and a mountain of books.” (Ain’t nothing quiet about it.)

Sometimes I want to flip back and forth in the pages of a nonfiction text, filling the pages with flags and sticky notes.

Sometimes I want to follow a cookbook recipe, and you just know I’m going to splatter something.

Sometimes I want to leave a book in the path of a person I suspect is going to be swept away by its charms.

It’s awfully nice to have choices.

UPDATED to add: I love this comment by Mary Alice about the unforeseen benefits of her family’s shared Kindle account.

Hey Rebecca West fans!

June 2, 2011 @ 6:48 am | Filed under: Books

The Fountain Overflows is available on Kindle for 99 cents through June 15. I never did finish Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, though I was captivated by the lush writing and wry observation of the bit I did read—the unwieldy size of the tome conspired with the tiny print to defeat me before I got too far. For me, a book of that scope is definitely a candidate for e-reading.

The Amazon Kindle: Initial Impressions

July 13, 2010 @ 9:13 pm | Filed under: Books

To cut to the chase: a Kindle has come into my possession, and I’m surprised to find I adore it. That’s right, Mac-fangirl, iPad-coveting me.

After a mere four days of Kindle use, I find myself eyeing the stacks of books in the TBR pile and wishing I had their digital versions instead.

This feels passing strange, considering how much I love the tactile aspects of a book-book. The intriguing or unsuitable cover, the shush of pages rustling, the crisp words springing up from the page. Font, margin, endpapers: these things I cherish.

But: the Kindle—it’s so slim and smooth in the hand, and one hand is enough. Tap, tap, tap, a single thumb—either thumb, a detail I appreciate—advances the pages. Three chapters into a book about Sudan, I find myself wanting some background; I nudge the little square button and make my way, lightning-quick, to Google or Wikipedia. (How much saner I’d have been had I read the recent Byatt book this way instead.) Dickens makes me laugh, and I want to share the passage with Scott: chk chk, I’ve highlighted the quote and added a note of my own.

The Dickens was free, of course, and easy to find.

Unlike my iPod Touch, I can’t read the Kindle in the dark. But any book I download to the Kindle can be sent to the Touch as well, and there’s a sync function to make sure my bookmark is always in the right spot.

When I first turned the Kindle on, I was disappointed. The contrast is not terrific; the background of the page is gray, not white, not the creamy color my Touch can produce. Oh dear, I thought, this is going to be a bust. My eyes require good contrast. I drive Scott crazy by wearing down my laptop battery with the screen turned always to maximum bright.

But I wasn’t sitting in good light during that first encounter. I upped the font size and moved to a sunny corner, and I could read just fine. Under a lamp or reading light, it’s the same as reading a real book.

(I will always call them real books, you know.)

When I read on my iPod, the device seldom ceases calling attention to itself. I’ve written before about feeling curiously distant from the text of a book-on-iPod. Is it the small screen? The backlighting? Whatever the cause,  I have to concentrate harder. That isn’t happening with the Kindle. The Kindle disappears. There’s just the unfolding story. I’d heard people say that, but I was skeptical. It’s true. It disappears—until the moment I desire its presence. I really love that note-and-highlight function.

The iPod Touch is a brilliant multitasker. You know I love its versatility: mail, web, games, books, language lessons, social networks, videos, good grief is there anything it can’t do? Well, it seems it can’t stop nibbling at my attention, that’s what. I’m reading a book but I know I can do a quick mail check with two taps. Temptations. Distractions.

The Kindle’s web browser is boring black-and-white, not at all tempting. It’s a unitasker, and that’s what this fidgety brain of mine needs in order to focus on a book. A real book is a single-purpose tool. (Unless you count serving as the dominant element of my home’s interior design.)

These are just notes on the honeymoon phase of the Kindle experience. The novelty may wear off quickly; we’ll see. I have all these lovely realbooks here waiting to be read. Real books with no DRM attached—that’s a major strike against the Kindle, when it comes to newer publications, the kind you actually pay for. And of course with a great many children’s books (picture books go without saying), you want to turn real pages, pages your four-year-old can point at and and pore over.

For classics, though? And thinking as a homeschooler? There’s a lot to recommend a cool, slim, ten-ounce tablet that can put any of the Great Books before your children’s eyes in a matter of seconds. As for new books, even if you can’t live with DRM-laden purchases, you gotta love the free download of first chapters to help you decide what to buy, in any form.

Well, we’ll see how long the honeymoon lasts.

Notes on E-Reading

June 2, 2009 @ 4:21 pm | Filed under: Books

A few more e-reading notes of the thinking-aloud sort, if you don’t mind.

E-readers I’ve tried:

Classics. My favorite platform so far—best looking, most book-like text, fun page-turning effect. Obvious drawback: limited book selection. 99cent download. No cost to download additional titles as they become available.

Stanza. Very nice reading experience. Easy-to-use search function offers huge selection of free and for-purchase books (including Project Gutenberg catalog). Customizable text display (font, size, color). Center tap brings up page meter, options. One-tap page turn (you can select which zone you want to tap).

Kindle for iPhone/iPod Touch. See yesterday’s post.

Books I’ve read on my Touch:

Pride and Prejudice. Picked this for my first e-reading experience because I know and love the book so well. Read it via the Classics app. Enjoyed it just as much as ever, and loved being able to read in the dark in bed with a single hand. Made me realize e-reading offered its own set of advantages, although I will always prefer the sensory pleasures of a “real” book.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow. Stanza. E-reading felt entirely appropriate for this futuristic novel! Great fun.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. Stanza. Found myself wanting a hard copy to flip back and forth in. Fast-paced suspenseful techie novel; I wound up obsessively tapping for the status meter so I’d know how far I had to go—how long I had to keep holding my breath! This was the first time I started to wonder about the relationship between pacing and book format.

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. Stanza. As I said yesterday, I felt curiously distanced from this stark, bleak novel, and couldn’t tell how much that had to do with the book itself, and how much was because of the e-reader. Is it just me, I wondered? Do other people engage as deeply with the characters in books they read on their phones, or does the small screen showing only a paragraph at a time pull our consciousness too far into the forefront, preventing us from total suspension of disbelief? Or is it like that because it’s new? In five years or ten, will I even notice? Would it be the same on a Kindle, which with its bigger screen and e-ink technology tries very hard to duplicate a hard-copy reading experience? Would Amazon kindly send me a Kindle on which to test the theory?

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams. Kindle for iPhone. Well, you know how that went.

Short stories: “The Dead” by James Joyce; “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Stanza.

Things I like about reading on my Touch:

I can hold it in one hand and turn pages with a tap of my thumb. For a nursing mother, this is a great delight. And since the screen is backlit, I can read in bed, sleeping baby to my left, sleeping hubby to my right, and disturb no one, neither with light nor with the rustle of turning pages.

Takes up less space in my bag than a book. My 4-month-old baby weighs almost 19 pounds. Any lightening of my shoulder-load is a blessing.

Thousands of books literally at my fingertips. Hundreds and hundreds of them, all the older classics, for free.

Things I don’t like:

Not as cozy as a book!

If I’m reading a book on the iPod, my kids can’t tell at a glance that I’m reading a book and not, say, email or blogs. And this does bother me. Seems like it’s one thing for a child to see mom curled up with a book, and another thing entirely to see mom staring at yet another screen. “I’m reading Pride and Prejudice!” I’ll find myself saying, or “I’m reading Edith Wharton!” as if to defend myself against complaints no one is even making.

How Does E-Reading Affect the Reader?

June 1, 2009 @ 8:00 pm | Filed under: Books

I continue to ponder the question of whether e-reading causes me to react to books differently than I would if I’d read them in a traditional paper format. Today I finished my first Kindle download. I don’t have a Kindle, but I do have an iPod Touch, and there’s an app now that allows you to download Kindle purchases to your iPhone or Touch. I’ve been wanting to try it, curious about how the Kindle format would compare to e-readers like Stanza or Classics. Jen Robinson’s review of The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams made me want to read the book (that’s a nod to a recurring theme at Jen’s excellent children’s literature blog), and since our library system doesn’t have a copy yet, I decided this was the perfect opportunity to give the Kindle app a try.

I’m afraid reading The Chosen One on my Touch may have affected my experience of the book. I know it affected my feelings about the book’s ending, because I was stunned when I realized I had reached the end. It didn’t feel finished. I kept flicking and flicking to get the page to turn, but there was nothing but a blank white screen.

I’ve had this happen with e-books before. I think our minds are trained to interpret the pacing and arc of a book in the context of how much book is left to read. Now and then, I’ve read a book which I thought had twenty or thirty pages left to go, and it was a mental jolt to discover an appendix or afterword occupying those pages, so that the story ended long before I was expecting it to. On an e-reader, that is always the experience, unless I remember to check the total page count and pay attention to how far along I am. That’s one of the features I appreciate in the Stanza reader: a tap on the center of the screen brings up a page meter. Page 40/244. 20.33% into book. It’s maybe a little more detail than I require, but very helpful indeed.

The Kindle app lacks a one-tap progress gauge.* You can check total page count and do the gauging yourself, but let’s face it: that’s a number I’m just not going to be able to keep in my head, not if I’m going to remember my kids’ birthdays and stuff.

So wham, there I was suddenly at the end of The Chosen One, with no warning whatsoever. And I was stunned. The story didn’t feel finished yet—I’d have guessed the climax was some thirty or forty pages away. So unprepared was I by the absence of the subtle information transmitted by the weight and heft of the traditional book-in-hand (just a sliver of pages left: you know it’s wrapping up) that it was a good five minutes before I actually believed I was at the last page. I thought I must have messed up the download or something. I even considered firing Jen an email to ask if my last page was THE last page. Finally, after rereading the final paragraphs seven or eight times, I grasped that no, that really was the end of the book. I felt the most curious combination of disappointment and guilt—disappointment that the story concluded before I was ready (I really wanted to see how certain events played out. Joshua? Patrick?) and guilt over the possibility that I’d shortchanged the author’s intent by reading in a format that deprived me of pacing clues. Maybe I’d have been prepared to accept the open-ended resolution (there’s an oxymoron, eh?) if I’d known it was coming.

I wrote a book with an open-ended resolution once, and it was a deliberate and carefully considered choice. Even so, and even with a dwindling page count to alert my readers that the tale was about to end, more than one young reader wrote me notes of mingled praise and reproach. “Please hurry up and write the next book FAST because I want to know what happens!” Readers like resolution. We like answers. We want, as my young fans so plainly put it, to know what happens.

So here I am in the aftermath of The Chosen One, frustrated because I want to know what happens to thirteen-year-old Kyra, the daughter of her father’s third wife, all of them members of a fundamentalist sect living in the desert behind a wire fence, restricted from books and medicine and outside influences of any kind. I didn’t love this book, I’m afraid. (I always feel terribly apologetic when that is the case, because I know how hard the author must have labored, and criticizing someone’s book feels very much like criticizing someone’s child.) I could point at specific things that bothered me, but I can’t shake the curiosity over how much influence format had on my reaction. I mean, I’m a huge Edith Wharton fan, but when I read Ethan Frome on my iPod, my first and only time reading the novel, I had great difficulty in losing myself in the story. The unfolding narrative seemed to be happening at a great distance. I never felt completely engaged with the characters. Was it the cold, sterile e-reader, robbing me of the sensory experience of the book? No rustle of paper, no smell of ink, no satisfying weight in my hands? Or was the distance an integral part of the novel itself: the frigidity a parallel of the bleak, snowlocked New England landscape of the setting and the bleak, frozen emotional states of the characters? If I were to read it again (as I will, someday) in proper ink-and-paper format, will I say, Ah, yes, this story means to keep me at a distance; Ethan and his wife are sealed so permanently inside their pain that there can be no warmth, no welcome for the reader. That’s part of the point.

If I’d read The Chosen One on paper, would I feel more accepting of its unanswered questions? Would I have felt more of an emotional connection with Kyra, a heroine who is certainly brave and complex, but whose narrative struck me as bare, rushed, not fully realized? One reviewer described the novel as “lyrical,” which perplexes me because I’d thought it distinctly not lyrical and kept wishing the prose had been more lush, more complex. I’m seeing a lot of spare, lean, bare prose in contemporary YA, most often in first-person present-tense narratives—which makes sense; a first-person novel can sound pretentious, flowery, or inauthentic if the narrator’s voice is poetic or linguistically eccentric. It takes great skill to tell a first-person story in rich and lovely language. (I’m seeing it happen right now in the opening chapter of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls, which I downloaded as a free sample on the Kindle app. The narrator’s voice is first person, present tense, yet layered and idiosyncratic and, yes, absolutely, lyrical. So, okay, here’s a case where the richness of the language is not being stripped in any way by the format in which I’m reading it. Hmm.)


* A commenter pointed out that the Kindle for iPhone app does have a blue status bar that pops up at the bottom of the screen with a center tap. I’d seen it, but since the page numbers just above it read “page 80-81” or “page 752-753” for, say, a 1250-page book—tiny screen-sized pages, you understand—I’d mentally dismissed the status bar as inaccurate. So whoops there. However, the larger question stands. A book automatically conveys information about length and pacing to the reader. An e-reader requires the reader to seek out that information with an extra tap. I’m fascinated by the idea that a book’s physical presence participates in the communication of narrative tension. Of course, reading a story in a collection or anthology can deprive the reader of subtle pacing clues in the same way that an e-reader does; the reader must consciously seek out that information.