Wednesday, February 24, 2010

More Thoughts on Reading on a Kindle from a Technophile

So I've had my Kindle (1st gen) for over a year now.  It's clearly a first generation device and has some awkward design features and some out and out flaws, but I do find it useful.  I have no regrets on the purchase.

In terms of buying books, it's probably a 20%/80% split ebooks to physical books, though that seems to shift when I'm getting ready to travel.  It is simply a joy to have a suitcase full of books without the physical demands of a suitcase full of books.

But. . .

As much of a techno-geek-early-adopter as I am, I still vastly prefer the physical experience of reading a physical book.  And not only that, I find that some books are so unpleasant to read on the kindle, that I just don't.  And in one case, ended up blaming the book rather than the delivery system.

No matter what I might have once thought, there is a difference between content and its delivery system.  This may be less of a case for music, though there are audiophiles who insist (and who am I to gainsay them) that they can tell the difference between different codexes of compression, and certainly between analogue and digital.

Here is my example.  I downloaded a free sample of the first several chapters of Stieg Larsson's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."  I read about 20 pages and deleted the file.  I *hated* this story.  And I was so disappointed--I really expected to love it.  After all, one of my favorite books is "Smilla's Sense of Snow."  A difficult read, but compelling.  So why did I dislike Dragon Tattoo?  At the time I wasn't sure, but my husband purchased a copy at a bookstore when we were on vacation.  When he picked it up, I made a face, but he bought it anyway.

Well, I cracked it open and began to read.  The passages that I though were ponderous and boring somehow changed into quirky and mysterious.  I'm really enjoying this story.

But only in hard copy.  The book in my hands.

And I can't really tell you why.  Other than book production has been going on for a whole lot of years.  Professionals work hard to choose a font and a layout for maximum readability.  Also, reading is such a long mastered skill for most of us.  It is simple to flip to an earlier page to check something, even without knowing exactly where that passage is.  We just have a learned sense of how far back to flip the pages.

You can't do that with a Kindle.  You can't see the book as the type designer meant it to be seen.  You can't easily leaf back through pages to re-read or check something a chapter back.

In short, it is a *different* experience.

Some books are seamless on the Kindle, others quite difficult to slog through in electronic form.

If I had never held "Dragon Tattoo' in my hands, I would still be talking about how much I disliked this story. What a difference from what I had expected.


  1. Me too. When reading on the Kindle or my iPhone, I miss the easy and quick ability to flip forward or backward in the story.

  2. I really appreciate your take on a Kindle and will not hurry out to buy one (not that I would have, anyhow.) I did hate traveling with "world without end" because it was such a heavy and long book. But, I was wrapped up in it and hated to travel without it. But, it was a 1000 page, hard bound book. I lusted for a Kindle then!