Monday, 26 September 2011


 Living as I do in a place where most books have to come a long way in an aeroplane, reading is an expensive addiction, and of course there is always the problem of shelf space. I have about 50 metres of shelving in my new study, but it is already full and there is not a lot of wall space left; and although it is great insulation, what is eventually going to happen to all that paper? I doubt my kids will want to fill their homes with old theological works, so most of my library is eventually going to end up as egg cartons. Ebooks are one solution to book cost and storage issues so I have been  using them for a while now, but their big problem has been finding suitable hardware to read them on.

 I first read them on the tiny screens of Ipaqs and they were quite satisfactory but the wretchedness of Microsoft Reader and its somewhat arbitrary copyright protection system killed the experience entirely. On Palm devices they were OK except the plethora of competing and incompatible formats was always a problem and, convenient though they were, the 3.5" screens were never ideal. When I got an iPad a year or so ago, I quickly downloaded the free Kindle app, and tried out a couple of books. It was great! The purchase and selection system at worked flawlessly, the software interface ditto, and there was that superb screen. But there were still issues. The iPad screen might be clear and bright enough for webpages or lengthy games of Angry Birds but an hour of reading close set text on it still left my eyes itching and watering; and while the iPad might be small and light when compared to a laptop, it is certainly not when compared to the average paperback book.

So a couple of weeks ago I got a Kindle, and so far, so good.

I ordered it online, $US139 for the wifi only version ( I couldn't see that the advantages of the 3G model were worth the extra $US50) I also got a nifty little cover with a built in reading light which means it landed, less than a week later, in my letterbox for a little over $NZ240 including postage. It was well packed and came with a USB cable for syncing and charging (There is an optional extra wall charger available on the Amazon site, but I can plug the Kindle's cable into my idevice charger, so it's not necessary). There was a small instruction booklet and a much more extensive guide included as an ebook on the Kindle itself.  The device is made of sturdy plastic with a nice non slip, non marking surface and fits nicely in the hand. After an initial charge it took me about 5 minutes to learn pretty much everything about its operations.

It is very light, and inside its nice red leather cover is about the same size, shape and weight as an average paperback. The monochrome screen with no electronic backlight has a clear white surface covered in some sort of non reflective coating and in use it looks for all the world like a page of printed paper. It is easily visible in bright light, although in dull light a reading lamp is necessary, a bit like a book I suppose. I found that after about a week of fairly heavy use the battery had used about half its charge - excellent compared to the iPad but not quite as frugal as Amazon had indicated, but then again, the reading light built into the cover draws its power from the Kindle, and that also had had a fair bit of use.

The user interface is simple and looks a bit like the ones you used to get on Palm devices from the late 90s, but it works and it is very easy to use. I find myself using the thing more and more, and wonder how many paper books I will buy from this point on.

The pluses of the Kindle are:
* Cost. On one of my last purchases of normal books from I paid $US39.59 for two books, and $US14.97 shipping, for a total of $US54.56. If I had bought them in Kindle format the cost would have been a total of $US19.98. Many books are available for very low cost or no cost at all. I should be able to halve my annual book bill (or, more likely,lets be frank about this, buy twice as many books).
* Convenience. The Kindle store is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and can be accessed wherever you have a wireless internet connection. With the 3G model it can be accessed wherever you have a cellphone connection. Order a book for the Kindle and less than a minute later you are reading it. Twice now I have followed a footnote to a reference that looked pretty darned interesting. I just needed to press a couple of buttons and the referenced book was sitting in my electronic library waiting its turn in the spotlight.
*Storage. The Kindle can store about 3,500 books. I can carry a whole library round with me.
*It's quite easy to highlight and make notes.
*No trees get chopped down to make ebooks, and no jet fuel is used up carting them about the place. 

The minuses are:
*It manages to mimic the experience of reading a paper book fairly well, but it is still not the same thing. It's hard to glance ahead and see how many pages are left in the chapter or flick through to find that really interesting sentence you remembered from somewhere about a quarter of the way through.
*That wonderful black and white screen is...well... black and white. Books with colour photos don't do so well. (though of course they look great if you have the Kindle app on your iPad)
*The editing of some ebooks leaves a little to be desired. A book of poems by Walt Whitman for example was formatted in paragraphs like a novel, rather than in the lines Whitman intended. Mind you, it was a free book.
*For reasons of international copyright some books are not available in New Zealand - about 800,000 titles as opposed to over a million in the States.
*I will own and have access to the books for as long as I've got a Kindle reader, which, given the way technology changes is not likely to be forever. Mind you, given fading, worms and the indifference of my descendants, the same is true of my paper books as well, but with more cost to the environment. 


Anonymous said...

I think the screen contrast on the Kindle is good, but I opted for the Sony e-book reader. This costs more and doesn't have wi-fi, but you can connect it to your PC for this, and you can upload pdf files onto it - very useful for masses of essays etc freely available on the internet, and thousands of books in Project Gutenberg. The Sony also comes pre-loaded with numerous foreign language and English dictionaries for immediate translation, and you can make notes on an touchscreen keyboard. I carry different Bible versions on it, incl. my Greek NT and Hebrew OT and it automatically returns to the last page you visited. You can also enlarge the text - a great boon for aging eyes. I imagine Kindle has this as well?
Happy reading!

VenDr said...

Yes pretty much. You can enlarge text easily. PDFs can be read. Kindle gives you your own email address- email PDF or .doc or .txt files to yourself and they are translated and sent directly to your Kindle. I haven't tried it with project Gutenberg stuff but I will. It comes with two English dictionaries but no foreign language ones. There are various bible translations available but I haven't bought any- I still use the utterly superb Olivetree Bible Reader on my iPad

Eric Kyte said...

Of course the convenience Can also be a disadvantage if, like me you read sideways, not through a book but from book to book via references - all of a sudden the $50 you might have spent on one book including shipping becomes somewhat inflated :)

For a great hymn to the Kindle - indeed reading this Real book led me to drop my guard regarding this 'gadget' - read Alan Jacobs "The pleasures of reading in an age of distraction". Jacobs is Professor of English at Wheaton and claims the Kindle re . . .awoke (obvious pun avoided) his love of reading.

Anonymous said...

Good - I didn't know you could get pdf's on Kindle, the email explains how.
Project Gutenberg is a great resource, esp. for old books and classics. I've obtained free a number of classics that way.
Other websites provide books free as well - I got the C S Lewis science fiction trilogy that way. My inner Scotsman rejoices.

VenDr said...

So where did you get the free CS Lewis? He asked, innocently.

Anonymous said...

try - does pdf downloads of the science fiction trilogy very quickly. There are other sites I've used but I can't remember where.


Daniel said...

May I suggest if/when you do require more paper books in the future you try The Book Depository, I find they are generally a little cheaper than Amazon and have free worldwide shipping which includes NZ. How on earth they make any money I don't know.

Eric Kyte said...

Three cheers for the Book Depository - a real lifeline. Although it has been suggested that Amazon thought me too profligate customer to lose as as soon as I arrived there was a two month promotional with free shipping from the UK to NZ :)

Patricia said...

Technology is moving very fast with Kindles. I was given one by my son and the other son paid for the Amazon gift voucher (sons and daughters take note). So I went to the UK on retreat with a Kindle full of books plus a pre-order of N T Wright's Simply Jesus. The battery lasted the four weeks with the wi-fi and 3G turned off. You can't lend books, which may be a good thing. It would help if our education institutions made sure that any mandatory reading was available for the Kindle. You can email to your Kindle account Word .doc files which will download for free. What a wonderful invention! said...

My wife and I both have Kindles and love them, especially with an added cover from OberonDesign. Books cost less, and they take up no room on a shelf. I like being able to make the font larger too... makes it easier to read with aging eyes.