Ahoy, dear readers! I’m awfully busy at the BIO show in San Diego. But rather than leave you without your daily dose of my ramblings, I thought I’d post this e-mail I wrote a pal in response to his query of, “How do you like your Kindle?” I have more in-depth/conceptual points to make about the e-reader and its place in the market, but I figure this is a good starting point for that conversation. Enjoy:
I like the Kindle, but I’m a strange person. The screen is just fine for reading, and battery life hasn’t been an issue. Some people may have issues with the fact that all books are in the same typeface, or that they can’t tell how long a book is (there’s a row of dots on the bottom of the screen that show your progress in the book/article). I experienced that with Lord Jim, which I thought was a brief novel (Heart of Darkness length), but which I eventually realized was around 300 pages long.
The great advance is the Kindle store, which lets you buy books on the fly. On Sunday, at 5:30am, waiting at the gate in the Louis Armstrong Airport in Louisiana, I decided I’d like to read Netherland, the new novel by Joseph O’Neill. I looked it up on the store, bought it, and had it on the device within a minute. The store selection isn’t good enough for my oddball tastes (they have very few of the Pevear & Volokhonsky Russian translations, for example, sticking instead to the old Garnett or Maude ones), but for new(ish) books, it’s perfect.
Even better is the “try a sample” function, which sends the first chapter (approx.) of any book in the store to your Kindle. You can access the store either from the Kindle itself (kinda clunky, but fine when you’re not around your computer) or through your computer, since the Kindle is synched to your Amazon account. I can’t say enough about this sampling function. It’s similar to the 30-second samples you’d find on iTunes, but 30 pages is so much more worthwhile in figuring out whether a particular book is up your alley. Plus, the sample remains on your device; that is, it’s not a streaming, time-limited sample.
Pricing for new books is generally $9.99, with older ones much cheaper. There’s also a huge selection of public domain books at manybooks.net, formatted for Kindle. You can download those to your computer free (they accept donations), and then put them on the Kindle via USB. I picked up a bunch of classics that way, so I’ll never get trapped in a foreign country with nothing to read (you can’t access the Kindle store outside the U.S.). Last year in Milan, I got caught bookless after finishing books by William Gibson and Tom Stoppard, and the only bookstore I had time to get to had a minuscule English-language section, mainly of Penguin Classics. The upshot was that I finally read Middlemarch. Now, I’ll have a ton of choices waiting on the Kindle.
I don’t have to travel as much this year as I have in recent ones, but I’m still quite happy that I won’t have to lug multiple books in my carry-on anymore.