I got a Kindle eReader recently and shortly afterwards finished my first whole book using it – Dickens’ Great Expectations (conveniently available for free due to some aspect of Copyright law I barely understand, but deeply appreciate.)
Buying a Kindle was a tense decision for me: I’m both a bibliophile and a technophile. I love physical books. I enjoy having them in my hands, smelling them, seeing them on my shelves, flicking through them, sharing with friends. As I’m getting to know people, if I happen to be in their room I will, without fail, peruse their book shelf. Generally the people I’m friends with have a bunch of penguin classics, books by the beat generation, Peter Carey, and then non-English authors – Kazuo Ishiguro and Gabriel García Márquez often feature, as does Haruki Murakami.
I’m also a technophile – I think technology enables us to do new things, and to do old things better. This excites me a lot. I find it really exciting that we, as a society, are designing intuitive software and hardware such that people can use tech without facing a learning curve. Across the world, initiatives making use of technology are building community and harnessing ingenuity.
So, before having an eReader, I was ambivalent. The concept of eBooks and e-reading appeals to me intellectually and seems much more efficient and elegant. However, I have a romantic sense that something is lost when a printed book is converted to a 2.3 MB .epub file. I happily prevaricated for some time, but in the end I got an eReader. After checking out all the options, I figured a Kindle was the way to go – all else considered, I was aware that Amazon subsidises their Kindles to increase their online book sales (a razor blade business of sorts). Given my intention to buy my books elsewhere than Amazon’s store, I was fairly confident I would come out on top.
What it’s like using an eReader
So how did it go? It was far better than I expected.
The reading experience was equivalent or better. I thought the e-ink screen might cause me issues, but that was not the case. I was loving life. I found it easy and natural reading in bed, or on a sofa with a mug of tea. Further, I no longer had to worry about finding or losing my page. There was something so pleasant about sitting down and picking up straight where I left off. (Yes, I have heard of bookmarks.)
Reading was more interactive. I’m one of those sexy cats who reads with a pencil or highlighter, picking up interesting phrases and so on. This works out OK, except that it can then be hard down the track to find a section again. I hadn’t realised this, but Kindles make it very easy to ‘highlight’ sections and even to add ‘notes’. It is then possible to browse all highlights and noted sections – in fact, the highlights and notes can be synced with a desktop app, making it even easier to review them at depth. This ease-of-use adds to the reading experience, enabling you to pick out passages that strike you as particularly memorable and…not to have to memorise them! Sync them to the cloud and relive your favourite passages any time it pleases you.Sourcing and collecting books is a breeze. As I mentioned earlier, I’m a bibliophile. When I first began earning money, I set about building a book collection. This was, in many ways, a worthwhile pursuit. When it came time to move to Melbourne, I sadly left many back in Adelaide, taking only my five favourites (Slaughterhouse Five, The Little Prince, The Sorrows of Young Werther, On The Road, The Unbearable Lightness of Being). Somehow, though, I’ve begun accumulating books again. They just fricken’ stack up, I can’t believe it. As someone who wants to be mobile and have little baggage, I’m concerned.
Fear no more! I can now have an extensive book collection and take it with me wherever I go. Unfortunately it isn’t very easy to convert physical books to ebooks (or, more accurately, it is easy but expensive). However, I’ll struggle on.
Further, sourcing books is going to be so much easier! I deeply resent having to source a new book once I have finished reading, and this difficulty has often led me to read less-than-desirable books, or to accrue unpleasant library fines. This is no longer an issue! Via the Amazon store I can now get whatever my heart desires with narry a second thought. It’s now all about the reading – and no longer about having to navigate the awkward and cumbersome website of RMIT library.
I also love the ease of availability from an equity point of view. While an eReader is more expensive than any single book, they make thousands of books available for free or at no cost. I could read Great Expectations without having to fork out. I love to think about how this technology could help us to make knowledge and literature more widely available.
Disadvantages are few. The one thing that strikes me is that it is harder to just ‘pick and flick’ with a book. So if you are a person who likes picking up a new book and flipping randomly to a chapter, or revisiting an old book and doing the same, an ereader may interfere somewhat. It is possible to navigate by chapter, but not in the same happy-go-lucky chaotic fashion.
Overall though, I can safely say that I’ve been awed by the experience of using an eReader. If you’ve been thinking about taking this step, it’s probably a good one to take. You’ll be able to get books more easily, read books more easily, and read books more deeply. Try this shit out.
Thinking of purchasing an eReader? The cheapest place by far is ebay.