A non-reader reviews the Amazon Kindle 3

And just in time for you last-minute Christmas shoppers!

A package arrived for my birthday last September. It was a box from my sister. Or, more specifically, a box from Amazon.com via my sister. She’s an amazonaholic. By this I mean that she finds every gift on Amazon, not just the books for which the vast site is best known. She loves the convenience and reliability of internet shopping. That “add to cart” button is like catnip to her, beckoning with its soft butterscotch glow. More often than not, when an Amazon box arrives on my doorstep, it’s a gift from my sister.

So I opened my box, a bit curious to see what clever gift lay inside. (She’s a great gift giver, by the way, always finding unexpected things that happen to be perfect.) And I beheld a slim little eReader, the Amazon Kindle.

She blew it. She done gone stupid on me, I thought. Had she forgotten? I don’t read.

Let me be clear. I do read. But I don’t… you know… read. Yes, I was an English major. With honors. But the honors bestowing people never bothered asking me if I like to read. And actually, I do like to read. Lots and lots. I just don’t read books. Much. I read periodicals and websites and emails.

But I like gizmos and bright shiny objects, so I learned how to sync it to my Amazon account and downloaded a few of the free books you can get. Seemed pretty cool. Wirelessly, books zipped through the air and arrived in the menu of my Kindle, ready to read. The screen is sharp, and indeed very book-like. It doesn’t glow like a normal lit up laptop screen, but instead uses real ink, carefully placed on the screen by magic, highly literate elves. You can read the thing in broad daylight. Buttons on the side turn the pages. (One oddity: You’d think all you need is a button on the right to go forwards, and one on the left to go backwards. But no. Each side of the book has two page turning buttons, for a total of four. It’s the bigger bottom buttons on either side that go forward, and the smaller top buttons that go back. For a while, I kept finding myself hitting the big left button to go backwards. It took some getting used to.)

Then I bought Suzanne Collin’s book, The Hunger Games. It’s a great first book for someone getting acclimated to an eReader, simply because it’s impossible to put down. I had to explain to my wife that it was okay that my every waking thought was consumed by a 16-year-old girl named Katniss Everdeen. Books 2 and 3 of the trilogy soon followed. And here’s what I learned about my Kindle in the process.

Kindles always lay flat. Duh. But it’s seriously convenient. I could brush my teeth, eat a meal, play the banjo, whatever, and lay the book down without fear of it flopping closed. A paperback is just a little harder to juggle. It’s a subtle difference, but when reading a book, the subtle differences count.

The Kindle actually fits in the back pocket of my jeans (though it sticks out, obviously). It holds about 3500 books. The battery lasts for 3 or 4 weeks. It’s super lightweight. Turning it on returns you to the exact place you left off. And you can instantly get the next book in a trilogy without running out to the bookstore.

One bonus any person with any eReader should know about: Calibre.com. This site lets you pre-select from hundreds of news and magazine websites. In the morning, I fire up this program, click “Get today’s news”, and wait. It runs to those sites and converts them to the Kindle book format, then emails it to my Kindle, all for free. Within a few minutes, I have The New York Times, The Kansas City Star, Sports Illustrated, and Smithsonian Magazine. And it can do any eReader. This is perfect for doctor’s waiting rooms or reading today’s news with a morning cup o’ joe.

So what’s lost? Though there’s a way to type digital notes, it’s just not the same as writing notes in the margins of a book. And you can highlight passages, too, but still… it just ain’t the same. (What’s neat, though, is a faint gray underline followed by a number, indicating how many others have also underlined the same passage. You can turn this off.)

With a normal book, you can tell easily how much you have left to read. The book has a thickness that indicates this. But the Kindle has a progress bar at the bottom. It’s fine, but a progress bar on chapter 1 of a 100 page book looks about the same as chapter 1 on a 1500 page book.

The Kindle’s pagination is different than the print versions. (My small group at church is studying David Platt’s Radical. When the cute redheaded leader would say, “Let’s read at the bottom of page 96,” it was hard for me to get to the same place. And when looking, I could hit a button to advance one chapter at a time, and then turn one page at a time. Not exactly thumbing through the pages.)

And finally, every word is on the same one page. With a book, you have two pages flopped open. This is a subtlety, to be sure, but remembering where words are on a page helps with recall and memorization. This is why I’d never suggest the Kindle for serious Bible study. In my analogue Bible, if I’m trying to look up a familiar passage from Philippians but I can’t remember exactly where it is, I may remember it was in the upper left, underlined in blue, with a note in the margin from 1998. That doesn’t work with an eReader.

Despite the Kindle’s few shortcomings (all of which are more shortcomings of any eReader), I heart my Kindle. After a day of getting used to it, I now prefer the Kindle to reading a regular book. It’s superior, hands down, and would make an incredible and treasured Christmas present. But even as I write this, I know that something is still lost. A musty used book store can never hold old pixels.

4 Comments

  1. Rob, I had not even heard of a Kindle until about a year ago when the gal I was dating started talking about hers. She was (well…is) an obsessive reader. It really bothered me that there existed a cool electronic gadget that I didn’t know about. I take alot of pride in keeping up to date on techno toys.

    I have still not broken down and bought one, because while I like to read, it doesn’t drift to the top of my priority list as often as it should. But your very thorough review is definitely making me think about that decision again. Especially since I’m reading it about two hours after struggling with holding a book open while drinking coffee at Starbucks. Yep, it could help. And it’s a cool toy.

  2. Calibre is definitely a must-get. It’s pretty useful for converting .epub to .mobi as well.

  3. Hey Rob,

    Thanks for your post – I have had my eye on a Kindle for a while and hope to get one before too long (maybe even Christmas if I’m lucky!). Calibre looks awesome – feel free to share more cool resources you come across!

  4. I enjoyed your article very much! I, like you, am not a “reader”. My wife loves books. We bought a Kindle 3 for me thinking it would encourage me to read with her (she thought she preferred real books). I didn’t have it 24 hrs before we went back to Best Buy to get one for her. I downloaded the Bible and the Hobbit first. I’m already 30% through the Hobbit in 2 days! It has made reading fun.