Friday, February 4, 2011

Something New

I just finished up at my office, after two years working there. The plan is to bum around Edinburgh for a couple months working on writing projects, then set off and see the world. Backpacking, doing volunteer work on farms, etc. So yay, probably more time for reading.

But! But! Check this out. Check out what they gave me for my leaving present!

This is not my actual Kindle, this is an image from the net. Can't find my digital camera cable.  Grumble grumble.

Aww. Yeah. The Kindle Mk III. This is coming at a good time, actually. Firstly because I'm travelling, so I was already stressing about how many books I could fit in my tramping pack. Secondly because, ever so gradually, I'd been coming round to the idea of e-readers.

I say “coming round to the idea” because initially I hated the thought of these things. The book is a classic, functional and friendly format. They're colourful & they feel good to hold. Don't fix something that isn't broken. & also there's a certain pleasure from having a plenitude of books around you, all the different sizes & covers & the design on their spines, sitting there on the bookshelf. I-Pods have already more or less ruined the experience of shopping for music, so now something has to ruin the experience of shopping for books!?

On the other hand, there is the mounting guilt I feel at being a person who collects too much stuff. There was a time when this was a cool & sexy way to be, but everyone's freaking out about the waste we're creating and the planet is going down the tubes so maybe converting things to data is a good idea, I don't know. Also I don't want to be a person who has to hire a fleet of vans every time he shifts house. I live a very transitory life at the moment, I shouldn't be loading myself down with tons of little objects.

I am still conflicted about the whole thing, & I don't think anything will ever take away my love for A5 glossy paperbacks from little indie publishers (hi Dover!), but I have to admit this device is handy. Through various means I have already loaded the Kindle with 182 books – all kinds of shit. Didn't cost me anything, & there is space for much more. Hurray.

For anyone who's interested I will now give you a quick run down of its functionality.

It has wi-fi, but only to access the “Kindle Store”, which is Amazon, where e-books are mostly a huge rip-off, although many classics are available for free since they're out of copyright. Books from Amazon come in some specialised format they've developed for the Kindle. However you can plug it into a computer's USB port, then drag & drop pretty much anything onto it. It reads RTF and PDF files for instance, although in the latter case it's hard to resize the document to fit the screen.

The screen is weird. When I first unpacked the Kindle from its box I thought it had a decal sticker on the screen telling me how to switch it on, since the thing was obviously off and uncharged, but it turned out the message was actually the factory pre-set. Duh. Because it's magnetically charged ink or something. So what you have is a black and grey display which has the same qualities as a page. It doesn't reflect glare, it isn't backlit, etc. It's quite easy on the eye while reading.

One interesting feature is that you can re-size the text. The default setting packs slightly less text on the screen than you'd get on one page of a paperback novel, but you can increase the font size to get less words on the page. This is weirdly soothing, like reading a large print book – you don't need to squint so much while you read (but you're shuttling through the “pages” like crazy). “Pages” turn one at a time, so it's annoying when you're flipping back 20 screens or more to re-check some detail or other, but most books have an interactive table of contents you can use to jump into other chapters.

Perhaps the most endearing feature of the thing is that when it goes to sleep, it comes up with a screensaver which is either a portrait of a “great author” (so far I've had Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Agatha Christie, Mark Twain, etc) or some old calligraphy illumination, or some weird, antiquated woodcut of people doing something book-related. It's kind of cool. Or gimmicky. Not sure.

I've already test driven the thing, reading a trashy novel (more on that later), & yeah it has the obvious “new toy” appeal. A strange experience. I guess I enjoyed it. Afterwards I switched back to reading a paperback, and felt mild relief at being back in my comfort zone.

I'll let you know how I get on with this thing.

Has anyone else used one of these, or a rival device?


  1. Good luck with your bumming/exploring/reading plan.

    I have not yet Kindled... But was looking over a fellow bus passengers' shoulder at one this week. I can imagine using them, but am a late adopter...

  2. Yeah, to be honest it would have taken me a couple years to get around to it, on my own initiative.

    So far I'm finding it a little bit distracting. Like, when I use it the "ooh I have a new toy" factor kind of overwhelms the involvement I have in what I'm reading.

    That might not be the Kindle's fault though. It might just be Brian Keene.

  3. Your review of Darkness on the Edge of Town does encourage me to read it, in a 'I'm going to skim through this book in an hour and feel smugly superior and kind of dirty' sort of way...