How I learned to love the Kindle

Kindle is now so dominant and ubiquitous even Amazon have stopped headlining with it. Today it's all about echo. And listening to books.

Not long ago we (my wife and I) went to a David Sedaris reading and for him - as he recounted - listening to a book has become a more memorable experience than reading. I am nowhere near that; when listening to a text I tend to drift off and lose concentration. Need to experiment more but for me, for the time being, it's still all about reading, albeit now more often than not the digital page, on the Kindle. 

The following dates back to my first experiences reading on Kindle, and though shows its age - for example, my Kindle is now the paperwhite with touch screen, not the early version with little button keys (no doubt these are on their way to being vintage collectors' items) - I think there's a lot that still stands:

I was given a Kindle for my birthday and, after some initial resistance, can say that I really enjoy reading on the device. The screen provides a very clear, non-reflective background that is restful on the eyes, even over longer spells of reading - and even in bright sunshine (as advertised!).

Another immediate plus is the size of text! The size of type in some paperbacks, particularly literary fiction, has been getting uncomfortably small; the ability to adjust the size of type is a great bonus and makes reading, especially for extended periods, so much easier.

At present the variance in display size between different ebooks can be moderately irritating, and annoying when it happens within the same book. But this is something that will no doubt be ironed out over time as production standards improve and bugs are ironed out.

Samples and instant download
Almost instant access to books is brilliant - though potentially costly!! - and I enjoy being able to download samples, although in the case of classics you often don’t get beyond the introduction. So my plan to compare different translations of Proust didn’t quite work out!

Reading and Travelling
My Kindle survived my holiday; it certainly helped weight-wise on the flight, though I did take markedly more care of it than a paperback when we went to the beach.

In order not to miss out completely on the holiday paperback experience I took one thriller (Le Carre, ‘Our Kind of Traitor’) which duly returned gratifyingly dog-eared and redolent of sunscreen and the sea.

The e-reader is ideal if you are making a journey exploring the works of an author or authors, and for taking numerous books with you to read when you’re there – see our feature on Venice for example.

Covers

I have bought a cover for my device, and personally I think it’s essential if you’re going to use it outside the home. There’s quite a range to choose from, from leather covers with reading light to neoprene and gel sleeves.

I chose the eco-nique case made from natural hemp (groovy but maybe not so eco since it’s made in China). It has a touch of World War One Officer’s notebook about it, which is slightly incongruous for a tech item (it even has an internal flap and pen holder, doubly incongruous for this tech item), but it feels good in the hand when you’re reading and protects the device when in your bag. And it’s not the default leather option.

Making notes

A feature that’s really grown on me is the integral note-taker and highlighter. These are visible in the ‘book’, in the position you make them, but also collected in a file that you can view separately.

So when you connect to your computer, you can drag-and-drop your notes and highlights as a text file directly onto your desktop; no need to copy out favourite passages if you want to write about them or collect them in a personal compendium or digital commonplace book. You can also publish your highlights and notes to social networks like Facebook and Twitter (follow me @westrowc)

If you’re used to using a touch screen (eg iphone or ipad), using the 5-way controller and keyboard definitely feels clunky at first, but you get used to it.

Endnotes
For some time I didn’t think you could access endnotes in the text, but actually it's quite easy. Click and use the 5-way controller to navigate to the superscript number in the text; Click and this will take you to the linked text i.e. the endnote itself. Click the BACK button to return to the ‘page’ you are reading.

Book vs Kindle

My daughter had been home for the weekend and grabbed a book off the bookshelves for the train journey back to London. Opening the copy of Scoop on the train, she discovered there was an inscription, which prompted the following text: ‘I am 23 and just opened Scoop, and discover I am reading a book given to you for your 23rd birthday by someone called Steve.’

You can’t really hope for a better text, if you’re a booklover and a father. And if reading goes entirely digital, it’s not a text that is likely to be sent too often in the future.

Even if a bookshelf of books can fit on the device, it’s a great pleasure to scan or run your finger along bookshelves full of books at home, remembering when you read the book, maybe picking it off the shelf to dip in or read again, re-discovering the notes you made long ago, or the notes made by an unknown previous reader in a book you buy second-hand.

Publishers are also beginning to pay greater attention to the design of books, so that the object itself is something to cherish and enjoy – The Possessed by Elif Batuman is a good example (and a great read).

So I don’t think the Kindle, or any other e-reader, is going to replace the book entirely, at least not for a long time. But for convenience and ease of reading, for always having a selection of books with you, and for reading very long books (for example, Proust) the Kindle is great.

You can also read books discreetly that you may not wish to be seen reading – whether that’s The Story of O or the latest Dan Brown or …well, you tell me!

Love your Kindle (or other e-reader)? Wouldn’t touch one with a bargepole? Experienced Kindler with tips you’d like to share? Do get in touch and share your thoughts and experiences.

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