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Scattered Impressions Of A Skeptical Kindle Owner (I)

Posted on 04.05.2016 at 10:10
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I’ve owned a Kindle for a little over a year and I’m still undecided how I feel about it. A friend bought one before I did to save space and money—the academic books we tend to use in the PhD are so expensive, he’d quickly make up the cost of an e-reader by switching to e-books. So I went ahead with a similar mindset—plus the hope that I could have all those journal articles in one convenient location. But the Kindle I have, it’s not that great for reading PDFs. (Maybe no e-reader is. Yet.) I figured I may as well hold onto it, try to get what use out of it I could.

I remember when e-readers first came out I saw far more people reading on the bus and subway than I ever had before. I wondered if I’d be similarly engrossed if I ever got an e-reader. At this point, I can say I’ve pretty well resisted the lure of the screen. I’ll go for weeks without using the Kindle. Not that it’s a bad device. It just has some quirks I dislike—and some I really dig. So here are some thoughts about e-readers and e-books that have been brewing for a while:

+ Portability and durability: Whenever I go on a trip, I spend an hour or more deciding on what I’ll bring to read. Whether I’m on planes or buses or waiting for someone, it’s good to have an escape hatch. I make sure to allot room in my luggage for reading material. The Kindle’s footprint is a bit larger than a mass market paperback and slimmer by far. It fits into the pockets of my coat. Taking it along, whether out of town or out of the apartment, is almost automatic. Why not? And the ten-dollar case I have does a fine job of protecting the device, something I worry about with my physical books. The rain doesn’t seem to bother it, either. I doubt it looks much different from the day I bought it, and though I try to treat my other books well, it’s hard to totally avoid leaving signs of use.

– Rebuilding the library: I imagine it’s always been frustrating when the culture shifts to a new medium. Records to cassettes to CDs. VHS to DVD to Blu-ray. At least when iPods hit you could digitize all your music—sure, it took ages—without having to spend more money. But with e-readers, you start from scratch. You want something accessible, you either buy it or wait for a freebie. There’s no used e-books at Goodwill or online. I believe in paying authors and publishers, of course. And libraries remain an option. But I wish my personal library transferred to my digital one. I get that they’re different media, but I still don’t like paying for something twice.

+ E-books = cheap: I’m not particularly diligent about searching them out, but I’ve easily amassed a collection of over a hundred free e-books, all through publishers, website promotions, and/or specialty sites (Project Gutenberg is terrific). I regularly see e-book offers for less than the price of a new paperback. Of course, not everything that’s free is worth the time and not everything is available in electronic format, but you have plenty of good reading for almost nothing. (This isn’t even mentioning Overdrive.)

– The physical experience: Just counting the ones I’ve bought because I wanted to read them, I own over six hundred books. I love browsing friends’ shelves, to see what they’ve read, if they have any titles I want to borrow. I love bookstores, libraries. So while e-books have their upsides, something’s missing. I can’t loan them out. I can’t get them signed. The excitement of downloading a new file can’t ever compare with the feel of a new book, arranging a place for it in the bookcase. There’s something sterile about e-reading. I find that I don’t remember the e-books I’ve read as well as the physical books. Maybe some of that’s due to my tendency to invest objects with memory, but to me, reading an e-book is filtered, like my body isn’t involved in the experience. It’s an odd sensation, one I don’t especially like. Maybe I’m just being resistant to the medium.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say at a later time, but this is enough for now. I didn’t want to leave [sic] derelict for too much longer.

Comments:


Linda K Sienkiewicz at 2016-04-05 14:54 (UTC) ()

I agree

It's interesting that you say you don't remember the ebooks you've read as well as physical books- from what I've heard, the brain can't map out an ebook the same way. I'm not sure it can at all. I think the brain retains the physical memory of a page (left page, right page, center page).

SaveTheGreyhounds
stgreyhounds at 2016-04-06 16:16 (UTC) ()
Question: Which Kindle do you have? I ask because I find the Paperwhite to be a lot easier to read, while Chris vastly prefers his Fire. So the screen itself may be a factor for you.
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