Me and e

Virginia Heffernan has a nice piece in the NYT Magazine about Amazon’s Kindle e-reader. The biggest complaints I hear about the Kindle from tech geeks is that it needs to have an color touchscreen with a high-powered browser, cellphone service and maybe a camera. Which is to say, they miss the point. It’s an e-reader, not an e-everything. I agree with them, of course, when they say it’s a butt-ugly piece of design.

Ms. Heffernan does a good job of explaining how the Kindle’s “limitations” are what define it as a great device for . . . reading books. Which I do a lot of.

In short, you get absorbed when reading on the Kindle. You lose hours to reading novels in one sitting. You sit up straighter, energized by new ideas and new universes. You nod off, periodically, infatuated or entranced or spent. And yet the slight connection to the Web still permits the (false, probably, but nonetheless reassuring) sense that if the apocalypse came while you were shut away somewhere reading, the machine would get the news from Amazon.com and find a way to let you know. Anything short of that, though, the Kindle leaves you alone.

And alone is where I want to be, for now. It’s bliss. Emerge from the subway or alight from a flight, and the Kindle has no news for you. No missed calls. It’s ready only to be read. It’s like a good exercise machine that mysteriously incentivizes the pursuit of muscle pain while still making you feel cared for. The Kindle makes you want to read, and read hard, and read prolifically. It eventually makes me aware that, compared with reading a lush, inky book, checking e-mail is boring, workaday and lame.

The only thing she doesn’t touch upon is what I consider the Kindle’s game-changing aspect: the ability to download free samples of e-books rather than having to buy the whole thing. There are a number of books that I’ve decided not to buy after checking out their first 30 or so pages on the Kindle. In some cases, I decided I simply didn’t like the book enough to buy it; in others, I’ve passed because the formatting of that particular book hasn’t looked good on the device, or because a translation isn’t the one I wanted (Amazon’s Kindle store is a little hinky when it comes to books in translation).

Give it a read.

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