Some Thoughts on the Kindle

I'm making my way through two books that will take me forever to finish. One is Ulysses by James Joyce and the other is China Mieville on The City & The City. I'm enjoying them both but they're a slow read. Ulysses doesn't seem to have a plot and works best if I pretend it's the world's longest poem and read it out loud, which makes my dog leave the room.

The City and the City is also lyrical but in a completely different way. It's about a murder investigation in a European city that exists in the same physical space as another city. Residents have to go through elaborate training that starts when they are children which teaches them to effectively ignore the other city and its denizens. Unfortunately I can't seem to read either one of these books longer than ten minutes at a time so I have no idea when I'll finish them.

I'm reading Ulysses on my Kindle, which I've had for a couple of weeks now. I got it via a special deal on woot.com for about ninety dollars. It's the 3G version so I got a pretty good deal on it. The day I got it in the mail I was pretty unhappy. Instead of loving my shiny new piece of tech I loathed it.

I reckon this is my own fault for buying something sight unseen. My youngest son got a Nook for graduation and I liked it okay so I thought the Kindle would be similar. I have some damage to my optic nerves (from a swollen brain – not recommended) and have some trouble with dim displays. For instance I have trouble reading my laptop if it's running just from the battery. The Kindle makes a big deal of being easy to read in bright sunlight but what they don't say is it's really hard to read in artificial light. It's actually significantly easier to read in bright sunlight but you know bright sunlight isn't available all the time.

It also tricks me all the time when I wake up in the middle of the night and think I'll read the Kindle for a little bit until I fall back asleep. I can't actually do this because the reader isn't backlit. I wake it up from its sleep (done by sliding and releasing the power switch) then wait for the light to come on, until I realize I'm totally wasting my time. Again. Will I never learn? Maybe not.

I also find the lack of page numbers annoying. On their help page Kindle says they want you to get lost in the reading experience and that page numbers pull you out. But I feel lost when I'm reading a long piece of text with no page numbers. This is especially true when I'm reading something like Ulysses, which is a slog, albeit a kinda fascinating slog. I want to read maybe five pages a day but that's not possible without page numbers.

I was also surprised by how heavy the device is and how hard it is to push the page forward and backward buttons. They aren’t that hard but when I first saw a picture of the thing I thought it would have been perfect for someone very dear to me who had muscular dystrophy. Holding books was either difficult or impossible for him, depending on the size and format of the book, and I thought the Kindle would be great for people who lacked muscle strength. This was a disappointment. If you have a disability or a chronic illness that saps your strength be sure to see a Kindle in the flesh before you pay for one.

So I was pretty unhappy with my purchase and wishing I'd saved my money. And then it started to grow on me. It's awfully handy having it with me when I'm running errands. I used a word my youngest hadn't heard before (finagled) and he was able to look it up in the onboard dictionary. I also like being able to shop the Kindle store when I'm sitting at the doctor's office or otherwise waiting around for something. That's how I ended up with Ulysses. I was talking about it and was able to grab the free version and get started reading it in just a couple of minutes.

I also appreciate the ability to drag a bunch of books around with me with no more trouble than one book. But best of all is my ability to find older books by favorite authors and not have to pay a thing for them. It's no secret that I adore PG Wodehouse, creator of Bertie and Jeeves and Lord Emsworth and his pig, to name a few of my favorite characters. His early paper books can be kind of pricey but there are loads of free Kindle versions available. I think I snagged sixteen of them at one sitting. A bit of a hog, I know but I haven't been able to lay my hands on these particular novels in quite some time. I figured I'd better get them while they're hot.

Now that I've had the reader for a couple of weeks I've gotten over most of my objections. I give it a B+. It would be nice if it were color so I could read graphic novels the way they should be read and I would love a backlight. But I'm not going to kick it out for not being perfect.

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is from Ryan A., a comic artist I follow on twitter. He did a beautiful story called Our Blood Stained Roof that is quite moving. It starts with a flock of geese. http://www.ryan-a.com/comics/roof.htm