Everyone seems to be writing about their Kindle but I’m going to jot down a few thoughts anyway.
The Kindle was a Christmas gift from my wife but I’d known it was coming so I had preloaded it with a couple of books and when I turned it on on Christmas morning, they appeared on the screen along with the Kindle Guide and the dictionaries.
I read a book of short stories on it first and found that I enjoyed the way I could add notes to the text, look words up in the dictionary and forget about where I had got up to in the book (knowing that when I turned it on again it would go straight to the place I had left it). More importantly, the experience of “flow” was pretty much the same as with a printed book.
I then read Philip Kerr’s A Quiet Flame, a much longer book and sped through it, enjoying the sheer convenience of the Kindle experience. There are various situations (like lying in bed) when the device is easier to hold than a book and I particularly like the Duragadget stand which lets you prop the Kindle up on so you can read while eating.
All this is pretty mundane stuff so I’ll now focus on some of the ways of using the Kindle which I’ve found most useful.
Its not just Amazon
Most reports of the Kindle say you’re locked into Amazon’s store and that you don’t “own” the books as such. Looking at my Kindle today, I have more books on it from non-Amazon sources than from Amazon. I particularly like Project Gutenburg and its derivatives like ManyBooks.net. These sites let you download in Kindle format so all you have to do is to connect the Kindle to the computer and drag the downloaded books across. Similarly, you can drag your Kindle books across to your computer and back them up.
Its been great to be able to locate e-versions of some old favourites and to put them on the Kindle. Some are pretty obscure tomes which would be difficult to locate in physical form and also expensive, but the Gutenburg project has gone so far now that many classics and out of copyright books are freely available.
I also use the free Calibre e-book management program on my PC and what’s really great about this is that you can convert books to and from Kindle format, which really gets around the problem of not being able to lend Kindle books to owners of other e-readers. This program also has a “news” feature that lets you download the whole free content from newspaper sites like The Guardian and then transfer them to your Kindle. This makes a mockery of newspaper subscription schemes – if the papers offer their content free on their website then inevitably someone is going to write a program that grabs the whole lot and formats it for the Kindle and other e-readers.
Making difficult-to-access documents accessible
I have found the Kindle very useful for letting me read lengthy pdf files. For example, my camera comes with a manual on disc which is far too long to print off on paper. By mailing it to my free Kindle email address the document gets converted to Kindle format and is readable and searchable on the Kindle. I’ve even had a publisher send me a book for review in pdf format and this is much preferable than getting yet another printed book to add to my huge stack of books to be read.
Most importantly I’ve found that the Kindle provides a reading experience which is equivalent to a printed book – I can get just as “lost” in a Kindle book as I can in a printed book. OK, I miss the physical features of a book - the whole look and feel of it, but I’ve traded that for incredible convenience, so much so, that since Christmas I’ve only read books on the Kindle and don’t really want to go back to a printed volume.
Availability of books
This says much about the way the publishing industry is going to have to go for I know I’m far from being alone in feeling like this. I was initially worried about the lack of the titles I wanted in the Kindle store but this Saturday I went through the Guardian review section and searched for the books which were covered in it. I found fourteen were available in Kindle format and only nine were not, so I can see that the problem of availability is going to eventually go away.
So, after initial reservations I’m now pretty happy with the Kindle and can’t see me going back to preferring printed books. Its a great device and I think I now actually read more because of it. I’ve read it while sitting sat on a bench in a shopping mall while waiting for my wife, I’ve read it while waiting in a queue at the Post Office and while sitting in the car. I could do all that with a book, but there’s something about the Kindle which makes me want to take it with me when I go out. Yet I’ve loved books all my life but can’t help feeling I’ve betrayed them somehow – as I look behind me and see hundreds of books on a book case (quite a few of which now exist in e-book format on my Kindle), I can’t help feeling rather sorry that I’m looking at a collection which, in a few years time, may seem as obsolete as a pile of typewriters.