Monday, June 09, 2008

Go with Kindle or stick with Guttenberg?

In my profession, one must read a lot of books. And one must not only read them; you pretty much must like the whole process -- that of acquiring them, reading them, recommending them to others, and even displaying them like trophies after a great hunt. Yes, there have been many people who wax eloquently about books; so, it is with some difficulty that I'll resist the temptation to do so myself.

I suppose I should count myself an exception to the otherwise standard American adult: "A 2004 National Endowment for the Arts study reported that only 57 percent of adults read a book—any book—in a year. That was down from 61 percent a decade ago."[1] I was alive and reading a decade ago, and I assure you I read more now. (I have more time now.)

One implication of reading a lot of books is that one must maintain quite a bit of real-estate for a those books. I have an academic office with quite a bit of bookshelf space, but it's always pressed for space, and I am forced to hire a trustful, even persnickety undergraduate about every three to four years to rearrange everything back into a useable library. Sadly, in my study at home, family and friends are at risk of an avalanche, since I dutifly place books not only onto my floor, but into two, floor-to-ceiling shelves. But then, running out of space, I double stack them front and back on each self; and, finally, I start tucking them on onto the lip of the bottom shelf stacking horizontally, and eventually just sticking them whereever all mishmash. I've done this for two years. People are starting to remark that they fear looking at some book of interest, because to remove it is equivalent to risking an injurous jenga-like avalanch of books. (Anyone else want to fess-up to a similar problem?)

My continual acquisition of books also contributes to the overall badness of global warming and energy consumption:
Microsoft's Bill Hill has a riff where he runs through the energy-wasting, resource-draining process of how we make books now. We chop down trees, transport them to plants, mash them into pulp, move the pulp to another factory to press into sheets, ship the sheets to a plant to put dirty marks on them, then cut the sheets and bind them and ship the thing around the world. "Do you really believe that we'll be doing that in 50 years?" he asks. The answer is probably not, and that's why the Kindle matters.

And there it is -- the issue: The Kindle. What the heck is a Kindle? Well, here's the full synopsis, duly stolen from Wikipedia:
Amazon Kindle is an electronic book (e-book) device launched in the United States by in November 2007. It uses an electronic paper display, reads the proprietary Kindle (AZW) format, and downloads content over Amazon Whispernet, which uses the Sprint EVDO network. The Kindle can be used stand alone without a computer. Whispernet is accessible through Kindle without any fee.[1] On the release day, the Kindle Store had more than 88,000 digital titles available for download. Amazon's first offering of the Kindle sold out in five and a half hours and the device remained out of stock until late April 2008.[...] The Kindle features a 6" diagonal, 4-level grayscale electrophoretic display (E Ink material) with a resolution of 600×800 pixels (167 ppi), although the largest graphic image that can be displayed without being resized in a publication is 450x550 pixels. It measures 5.3 inches × 7.5 inches × 0.7 inches and weighs 10.3 ounces. The Kindle has 256 MB of internal storage, of which 180 MB is available on a new device. An SD memory card expansion slot is present, officially supporting cards up to 4 GB in size. It has 64 MB of RAM. The battery lasts roughly two days with wireless on, and one week with wireless off. The battery charges in about two hours. A USB 2.0 port (mini-B connector) is available for connecting to a computer (where it acts as a USB flash drive). [And] the Kindle features a headphone jack...."[2]

As Wikipedia articles on gadgets will, the description goes on and on. It recognizes all the text formats you ever heard of and, while a bit plain jane in looks, apparently works quite well.

Actually, I now know it works quite well. As I was writting this post, a collegue of mine called me into his office to see his new toy. Yep, it was a Kindle. My expectations of the Kindle and my experience of it matched. It is a nice device, feels just like you'd expect, and the on-screen text is superbly easy to read. It so happens my collegue is going for an overseas jaunt, and could not very well carry 20 books with him -- "It would be like packing another suitcase for the plane, and an overweight one at that!" 'Gotta give him that practical observation.

I might end up getting one of these, but at $350+, the cost is just a bit higher than I can see justification for at this time. I think the Kindle is the future of reading, though I wonder how long it will take all of these little carry-along devices -- phones, PDAs, bookreaders, laptops, etc. -- to integrate into a single universal information device. It's obvious that's where things are heading, but what's not so obvious is how a thrifty person is to make the transition in the mean time.



[1] Steven Levy, "The Future of Reading" Newsweek Nov 26, 2007 (Accessed June 2, 2008)

[2] "Amazon Kindle" Wikipedia (Accessed June 2, 2008)

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At 9:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Great post. I like the idea of not carrying around a bunch of books--I have hauled nearly a half a ton of books over to South Korea with me and I plan to haul a few more--the Kindle sounds pretty good along these lines but....what about marking, underlining and writing in books? I do this and it helps me to remember. Do you mark in books? Any thoughts or ideas?


At 12:32 PM, Blogger brinticus said...

The kindle does have a feature for making notes on what you read. I was not able to spend enough time with it to report on how well or how easy it is to use. I'm sure a bit of searching on google would be informative on the matter.

At 11:34 AM, Blogger Padraic said...

I just ordered one due to the decrease in price. It once was over $400, now at $350 it is a bargain.


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