Wednesday, August 7, 2013

On Kindles and reading in a straight line

In other news, I now have a Kindle!  I borrowed a friend's spare to try it out and consider buying it.  Unfortunately, it had some electrical problems and stopped working (in quite a spectacular way - all of the buttons did other things when you pressed them, and one button, if pressed twice, made the Kindle start narrating the menu screens at you).  By the time it died, of course, I was hooked.  I was halfway into The Swiss Family Robinson and had found the Kindle quite indispensable for my workouts.  No more did I have to hold a book open with one hand, trying to balance it while clutching only one arm of the elliptical!  And yes, Project Gutenberg is exactly treasure house that everyone says.  By that point, I had a good thirty books on my friend's now unusable Kindle.  Luckily, another friend had fairly immediate plans to upgrade his old Kindle to a Kobo in order to support our local independent bookstore, which receives a portion of the profits from any e-books you buy.  We both won - I was able to help him out by buying his old one, and now I have my very own e-book reader!

I avoided these things like the plague for many years.  There's really nothing like a real book, and I was actively protesting the increasing digitization of, well, everything.  But once I had one in my hands, I realized that a Kindle doesn't take the place of books; it supplements real books by allowing reading in situations where you might otherwise not be able to read.  Like in workouts or on vacation.  I flew out to Chicago last semester to sing a show with my barbershop quartet, and ran out of books halfway through the trip.  I had to make a late-night Barnes and Noble run just to have a book for the airport on the return trip.  And for my trip out to Oberlin this summer, I brought five books, all quite large and heavy, and came home with seven.  My shoulders ached from carrying all of them around the airport.  This Kindle will make my travel bags lighter and ensure that I never run out of books!

My goal is to never spend money on e-books.  If I'm to buy books, I'd much rather find treasures in used book stores.  This Kindle currently has 61 books on it, all from Project Gutenberg, and when these run out, I'm sure I'll find more good stuff there to read.  I've been neglecting real "classics," in the sense of "those famous old books that everyone's heard about and ought to read," so I've filled my Kindle with everything from Frankenstein, Dracula, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Three Men in a Boat, Leaves of Grass, What Katy Did, and Aesop's Fables to entire groups of books by Henry James, E.M. Forster, George MacDonald, Jean Webster, Mrs. Oliphant, and P.G. Wodehouse.  This ought to keep me busy for a while!

Thus far I've noticed a real difference in how I read on a Kindle versus a physical book.  I always thought I read in a fairly straightforward, linear fashion, but it turns out that I don't always.  I don't read in a straight line, and a Kindle tries to enforce this.  One of my odd little pleasures in reading is to read the final sentence of a novel when I'm still somewhere near the beginning of the book.  I'm not sure why I do this, and it occasionally is a major spoiler, but I seem to like knowing the overall trajectory of a book, and this allows me to actively anticipate how a book will get to its ending.  I can't really do that on a Kindle without a great deal of fussing with the "Go to...location" function.  If it's been a little while since I last picked a book up, I might go back and re-read the last few pages so I remember where I'm at.  That's not hard on a Kindle, but it gets harder when you have to recall a certain character or situation from many pages or chapters ago.  You can't skim through and find it easily.  For example, I'm still reading Les Miserables, ideally a few chapters each night before bed.  It's a long book that I'm reading slowly, and I'm liable to forget small details.  Just the other day, I had to flip back to remember who Fauchelevent was.  The other thing about reading a physical book versus a Kindle is that e-books don't have set page breaks.  If you do any sort of unusual moving around in a Kindle book, or change the size of the text, the page breaks change.  I have just a little bit of a photographic memory, so a lot of my book-reading experience has to do with where a phrase lies on the page.  This makes it a little easier to thumb back through a book looking for a certain passage - a nifty trick when working with large amounts of academic writing.  It really bothers me that if I search back for a passage on my Kindle, it falls on a different part of the page.  A small thing to be irritated by, but there you go.  It's the small things that govern one's enjoyment (or not) of a book - the size of the text, the font, the width of the margins, the feel of the paper, the flexibility of the spine, the height, width, and weight of the book.

Do you have a Kindle?  What do you think of it, where do you read it, and what do you tend to read on it?  Have you given any thought to your process of reading on a Kindle, and whether it differs much from reading a physical book?

7 comments:

  1. Samantha,

    I have to admit that as a self-abnegating neo-luddite (which is just a fancy way of saying I often hate technology, but use a lot of it and therefore hate myself), I own and occasionally use a Kindle. Like you, I've not purchased any books for it (I've paid under a dollar/pound for a few collected works, but thats it). I've read a few free classics and used to use it for reading PDFs of journal articles.

    What I've found, however, is that I skim more than read on a Kindle (same with a computer). The ability to actually hold the pages, flip back and forth, etc., causes me to pay more concentrated attention to what I'm reading. For that reason, and many others, I'll be sticking to primarily physical books and only resorting to the Kindle when I can't get something any other way.

    Yours,
    David Russell Mosley

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    1. Indeed, one of the reasons I got the Kindle was to explore the possibilities for reading and marking up journal articles for dissertation work. Has it worked well for you? And yes, I agree that it's easier to skim a Kindle screen as opposed to the more physical experience of reading with a book.

      Also, "self-abnegating neo-luddite" - love it!

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    2. Samantha,

      I've found it too difficult to use my Kindle for journal articles. Either the PDF text is too small or erratically highlightable, or else I make it a word document and lose all sense of page numbers.

      If I were going to do it digitally, I'd prefer an iPad or some other kind of tablet that allowed reading and highlighting PDFs. Otherwise I either read them on my computer or print them off.

      Yours,
      David

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    3. Hmm, good to know. I'll have to play with that. I almost always print articles; my eyes can't handle too much staring at computer screens. Hopefully you can get an iPad or tablet soon, if that would be helpful for your dissertating.

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  2. I've had a Sony e-reader for a couple of years, and I tend to like it best for simple, quick reads. If I'm going to want to flip around a lot, I'm better off with print, although I've gotten pretty good at using the search feature when I need to refresh my memory. The unexpected benefit of an e-reader is how easy hands free reading has become. I can fold laundry or eat a lunch that requires both hands and keep on reading. As nice as that is, I do still rely on paper.

    You might want to look into your library's e-book collection. I've been able to check out the e-book version of several popular books when the print version had a long waiting list. (The downside of that, though, is that you can't keep the book past the due date--the e-reader removes it if you don't renew.)

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    1. I hadn't even thought of library e-books. What a brilliant idea! The university doesn't tend to get much contemporary popular fiction, and I don't often get to the public library. But if I can stay get at public library e-books from home.... Thanks so much for the fantastic recommendation!

      And yes, I've found the hands-free perk of e-readers really useful too. Drying my hair can now feel vaguely productive! I had hoped to sew myself a book snake this summer but now I don't really need to.

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  3. A late comment, but I thought I'd mention that I, too, am occasionally driven to distraction by the inconsistent page breaks on my Kindle. With real books, I can find things fairly easily - I remember if it was on the right- or left-hand page, how far down the page, and roughly how far into the book - but my Kindle renders that previously-useful skill utterly useless.

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