Amazon released the Kindle in Europe back in 2009, but I didn’t rush out to buy one. I’m just so fond of “old-fashioned” books (especially second-hand paperbacks bought on the cheap), and plus, I wanted to see how it was received. A few months ago though, I decided e-books are here to stay, so I took the plunge and bought a Kindle. Here are some of my thoughts on these newfangled reading devices (written with the Kindle Keyboard in mind).
- The Screen. First of all, you needn’t worry about what reading on a screen will be like – it’s fantastic. Unlike LCD displays, the Kindle screen doesn’t constantly refresh, you can read it even under direct sunlight, and most importantly of all, it doesn’t hurt your eyes. Overall, the screen does an exceptional job of recreating the experience of reading on paper.
- Comfort. Do you ever find reading uncomfortable? Like when you’re reading a heavy book in bed and your arms become tired? Or when you want to rest a book on a surface, but can’t because the pages keep flopping over? Well the Kindle is light, you can use it with one hand, and you can put it down on the table in front of you while you eat your cornflakes. All this means the Kindle arguably offers a more comfortable reading experience than those unwieldy paper slabs we’ve become so accustomed to.
- Convenience. The Kindle is convenient. Firstly, it can store hundreds of books – useful if, like me, you end up carrying a suitcase full of books with you whenever you go on holiday. Secondly, you can purchase books and begin reading them almost immediately (and of course, e-books don’t sell out). And while you might be deprived of the fun of tearing the Sunday paper to shreds as you spread the various sections over the brunch table, it is nevertheless no small pleasure to be able to buy the paper from your bed. Also, if you live abroad, the Kindle is a great method of securing access to a plentiful supply of English-language reading material.
- The Extras. While they probably won’t swing your decision, the Kindle does have some handy additional features. It comes with a dictionary preinstalled, which makes investigating unfamiliar words a breeze. Making notes and saving extracts is similarly easy. Also, you can use the Kindle Apps for iPhone, iPad, and other devices to access your reading material even when your Kindle isn’t immediately to hand.
- The Selection. I once mistakenly believed that only the most obscure reading material wouldn’t be available through the Amazon Kindle store. In fact – in the UK store at least – once you move past commercial fiction and classics, the selection is not great, particularly with regard to good quality non-fiction, literary fiction, and modern poetry. Even big names such as Allen Ginsberg are conspicuously absent (from the UK store – his poetry is, however, available from the US store).
- The Quality. Perhaps I’m overreacting to a few typos and some errant punctuation, but it seems to me that – even for e-books released by major publishing houses – editorial standards are lower for e-books than for “old-fashioned” books. In most cases it’s little more than a distraction, but nevertheless, it is that – a distraction.
- Paper Books are Great. Books are just great aren’t they? Do you ever find yourself idly reading the titles of the books on your friend’s shelf – maybe even asking to borrow one? Well, that’s unlikely to happen with e-books. Plus, battered old books have a special charm of their own. You can read them in the bath, you can throw them around, and you don’t need to worry about them getting stolen. Hell, you can write all over them, if you’re into that sort of barbarism. But you’ll want to take care of your Kindle, which means the cliché about not using it at the beach is true.
Reading on the Kindle is for the most part, no more or less expensive than reading regular old paper books.
Books still subject to copyright generally cost the same as the paper equivalents – there are sometimes small discounts, but any such savings are more than compensated for by the fact that you can’t buy second-hand books on a Kindle. If you’re prepared to sacrifice some quality, there are a vast number of classic books out of copyright available for free from sites such as Project Gutenberg, but the initial cost of the device cancels out any savings made in this way.
I’ve been happy with my Kindle – which is saying something for someone who reads for several hours every day. But for me it’s been an addition to paper books, rather than a replacement. If you’re thinking of buying one and the cost isn’t a huge issue, then go for it – it’s a great little device and you won’t be disappointed. But don’t think it’ll provide your “total reading solution” (if such a thing exists). Publishing is an unpredictable industry, but I think it’s safe to say “old-fashioned books” won’t become obsolete any time soon.