Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New & Improved!! (But is better actually any good?)

As is so often the case in my world, I started with one article (about a portrait of Shakespeare), moved on to another (the one about the author who sold the manuscript for her second novel for five million dollars referenced below), and another (about a "divisive" French novel), until I happened upon an article which interested me enough to read all the way through:http://tinyurl.com/djkbkv

Ever since I first heard of the Sony eReader, I have contemplated the possibility of adding such a gizmo to my household.  There were two primary inhibitors -- the price tag and the availability only by mail order.  I wasn't about to pay that much money for something I couldn't try out and play with first.  Even my most outrageously expensive pair of fabulous shoes didn't cost that much (although I do have my eye on the three-thousand dollar Chanel boots, but my fashionista aspirations are best left to a whole other blog post).  The only things I have come close to spending that much money on are tickets to a Springsteen concert and a signed, limited edition of a biography of Stuart Sutcliffe.

Then Neil Gaiman started writing about this mysterious device he had been given to play with, and eventually he revealed that it was a Kindle, so I would occasionally look at it on the amazon.com web site.  I would read some reviews and ponder the possibilities.

The real attraction has always been the possibility of carrying all sorts of books at once so that I wouldn't have to worry about not being in the mood to read whatever it was I had with me, especially when traveling.

That attraction is still there, but I think I would need at least a week with the device to determine whether the attraction is deep enough to sustain a long term relationship or just a mere infatuation.

I have seen one live Kindle.  It was in the hands of a fellow airplane passenger on the return trip from the National Book Festival in Washington D.C. last year, but she was reading, and I couldn't bring myself to disturb her.  I find it an almost unforgiveable intrusion when someone interrupts my reading as if the book I am holding is an invitation rather than a ticket to my own private world.

The key sentences in the article are (my commentary follows each sentence in italics):

"Unlike a laptop or an iPhone, the screen is not illuminated, so there's no glare, no eyestrain — and no battery consumption. You use power only when you actually turn the page, causing millions of black particles to realign."

(I have visions of a Kindle being possessed by a gremlin of some sort who insists or realigning the millions of particles into random pages in random books, or even with secret messages, rather than the next page in sequence.  Or perhaps it is the particles themselves who rebel and refuse to realign as proscribed.)

"It's all a thousand times more convenient and more exciting than loading books from a PC with a cable, as you must with Sony's Reader, the Kindle's archrival."

(More exciting than loading books from a PC with a cable?  What is less exciting?  The convenient part I will agree with, however.)

"But as traditionalists always point out, an e-book reader is a delicate piece of electronics. It can be lost, dropped or fried in the tub."

(As someone who carries at least one book pretty much everywhere she goes -- sometimes stuffed in a bag and sometimes completely unprotected -- I find the sturdiness of a real book tough to beat.  Even if pages get torn, stained or wet, they are still legible.  I have had more than one book take a bath, and even the ones which weren't the waterproof erotica anthologies survived to be read another day.  I have insurance on my cell phone because the salesman who sold me my first phone about three years ago told me that it meant replacement of my phone in case it was lost, stolen ... or dropped in a puddle.  I was sold.)

"The point everyone is missing is that in Technoland, nothing ever replaces anything."

(And marketing departments everywhere cheer!!  You can't just replace one thing with another.  You have to buy more.  Seriously, though, and somewhat less cynically, it's almost impossible to replace the original.  Pens, pencils and paper are still around because the personal computer hasn't been able to vanquish them either.  You will always need a backup and a contingency for something which requires some kind of power.)

"The reading experience is immersive, natural and pleasant; the book catalog, while not yet complete, is growing and delivered instantaneously; and apart from the clicky keyboard (an unnecessary appendage 99.9 percent of the time), the design feels right."

(That word "immersive" is highly seductive because I consider books my means of escape from reality.  If you say reality is for people who can't handle drugs, I say reality is for people who don't have the courage to fall in love with an imaginary man or woman.  If this little electronic gadget can truly take me to Redwall or Pern or Hogwarts or Maycomb, Alabama, then I might just be willing to hand over that much money for a literary toy.)

The NYT article is the first discussion of the Kindle which has addressed the issues which are important to me, and I have a better understanding of the device than I had previously.  I maintain, however, that until the Kindle and I are properly introduced (or some admirer presents me with one in homage), I shall continue consuming my reading material in a more conventional format.


  1. A Cory Doctorow comment on "gremlin" that Kindle touts as a feature: When it comes to the Kindle, authors are focused on the wrong risk, tinyurl.com/d954ek

  2. Now the Electronic Frontier Foundations (EFF) enters the fray with Stand Up for Your Right To Read, saying "The publishing industry shouldn't have veto power over new technology." EFF's call to action is here.

  3. Cory Doctorow talks about the Kindle in his DRM and ebooks talk at O'Reilly's Tools of Change for Publishing conference. The talk is the source of "Doctorow's Law," which is: "Any time someone puts a lock on something you own, against your wishes, and doesn't give you the key, it's not being done to your benefit." See the video here.