Andrea and Jacob got me a new Kindle for my birthday this past week. I went looking for some specific info on one aspect, and I found it amusing to see people debating online whether it is “better” to read ebooks vs. paperback vs. hard covers. Pretty sure that “debate” was done years ago, but whatever. It doesn’t matter to me. They could print stories on the back of cereal boxes, and I’d still read them. Even the side of the box. Ticker tape. In spirals on a piece of art. I’ll read good stories anyway, anyhow, anywhere.
My history with e-books
I’ve been trying to reconstruct a bit of my experience with ebooks. If I recall correctly, the first one I ever read was back in about 2002 on a Palm Pilot device. It was free, some sort of classic text that I downloaded in PRC format. I’m not 100% positive, but I think it was a Sherlock Holmes collection. It wasn’t super easy to access, kind of slow to peruse, but I read it and didn’t care about the format. I lost myself in the text, and the format disappeared. I hadn’t expected that, to be honest. I love books, paperbacks over hardcover if pressed, but generally, as I said, it turns out that I’ll read in any format.
In 2003, the Da Vinci Code was super popular, and I wanted to know what the hullabaloo was about. So I downloaded a copy, opened it on my desktop, and read all of it in a single go while looking at my computer monitor. Of course, it was not the most comfortable of positions, but it got the job done.
Over the next 7-8 years, I read occasional stuff on screens, but not many full books. Sometimes I would try it out on the screen, see if I liked it enough, and then I would buy it in paperback. I wasn’t reading tons during that period, in part because I didn’t want to add more books to my house. I’d already moved a large library three times and was not excited about making it any bigger. I liked the idea of digital storage, but I wasn’t sure what “ecosystem” I would commit to at the time. I used the apps here and there, but I was not “into” ebooks. For a while, it wasn’t clear that Amazon would dominate so heavily. And the last thing I wanted to do was get into a Beta/VHS world with thousands of dollars tied up in a format that I couldn’t use.
But by 2010 or so, it was clear that there were enough tools to convert between formats, so whether the future was Epub or MOBI, I’d be able to keep up. The question was which system was the most seamless to access. Amazon and Kindle beat just about everything else on the market. The biggest library, wireless downloads, it all seemed great. Kobo had just debuted but was still in its infancy, and book availability was a bit low. I had concerns that Amazon was the US site; there was no Canadian site yet, but beggars can’t be choosers.
I got a Kindle. The version I got was called the Kindle Keyboard, and I activated it in January 2011. I liked the idea of having a keyboard, and it had a basic browser that was still in Beta mode. Potential growth, but I just wanted a reading device with e-Ink and a really long battery life. I bought a case that came with a small light that ran off the Kindle, and I was set.
More or less, anyway.
It didn’t take me long to realize that I was likely always going to be a hybrid reader. Sometimes on phones, or on tablets, sometimes on the Kindle itself. I loved going on vacations and taking lots of books with me, as I rarely have ANY idea what I’m going to read next if I’m not binging a series. I’ll finish a book and then I have to see what kind of mood I’m in. Do I want a palate cleanser? Am I ready for some non-fiction? What’s on my menu for that day? I regularly carry over 300 books on the Kindle from my active To Be Read (TBR) list, and I could theoretically put another 500 on there without even blinking. Far better than the many times I went to cottages or even home to Peterborough lugging 6 or 7 novels, not knowing what I would be in the mood to read.
From time to time, I even dipped into Project Gutenberg resources. If you don’t know PG, it’s named after the printer Gutenberg, of course, but the idea is to resurrect texts that went out of print and copyright 50 or 70 years ago, convert them to an e-format, have people read them and clean up the scans into a real text, have proofers go through to make sure it makes sense, and voila, a restored text, free for anyone to read. All the old Conan Doyle texts are there, for example. Dickens out the wazoo. Plus, literally thousands of other books that would be “lost” as the paper deteriorated are now available in eternal digital format. There are PG organizations around the world, with the biggest being in the US and probably the second largest in Australia, from what I can tell. Canada has one too. I love the premise; I’ve done some editing and proofing from time to time. But the person who runs the Canadian site is, well, let’s say they don’t exactly separate their personal political views from the operation of the site, and while it has the name Gutenberg Canada, it isn’t affiliated with the PG international group. Often the first page reads more like some radicalized domestic militia manifesto than anything to do with preserving books. I’ve often thought that when I retire, I’ll devote several hours a week to helping with texts, but I’ll work with Distributed Proofreaders Canada, a rival group doing the same thing with better results.
Managing the new Kindle
The new Kindle is great; it’s called the Paperwhite model. I already like 6 things about the new model.
First and foremost, it has a touch screen. Before, I had to activate the menu key, cursor down in steps to what I wanted, choose the item, press enter, etc. Now, I can just touch my finger on the screen. That also comes with a small negative — because it is on-screen, there is no need for page-turning buttons. My old model had them on both sides; you could easily advance with your right or left hand. Now it’s more of a swipe. I am right-handed, but I usually hold my book in my left. If I press on that side of the screen? It’ll go BACK a page, not forward. It’s a small price to pay to get a touch screen, but it’ll take an adjustment to swipe with my thumb.
Secondly, it has backlighting. My previous one had a light from the corner, and it didn’t do a great job of lighting the whole screen evenly. Plus it drained the battery pretty fast. I’m sure backlighting does too, but at least it’s adjustable AND even across the page. I’m really enjoying that, as I’m hoping to get in the habit of reading for 30-45 minutes every night before I crash. All without normal blue light.
Thirdly, the new model has 16GB of space, compared to the 4GB that I used to have. If the average book is about 300 pages, 75K words, and thus the e-book has a file size of about 2.6MB, that would put the number of possible books somewhere in the 6000+ range. Or about how many I could read in 100 years. I think that I’ve got enough space. 🙂
Fourthly, it has better file management of collections. If all of my books came from Amazon, and all were downloaded from the Kindle space, it would work REALLY well. I could create collections online and group related books in various sub-groups. However, I have lots of public domain books, tons of books I got from Amazon way back when they used to have TONS free every day as promotions, and of late, I am getting many books from the public library. I download the book from one of the libraries in the consortium that our local library is part of, often making it relatively easy to find a good title, almost as easy as looking on Amazon itself, as I have a good plugin that runs in Chrome that looks in all the libraries automatically for me. The challenge is that I have to get it ON the Kindle once-borrowed.
There are a few ways to do that, but the most practical way is to sideload it onto the Kindle using Calibre, the software I use to manage all my ebooks on my desktop. But Calibre and Kindle are not best friends, and some of the collections stuff is more challenging to manage. In an ideal world, I could use Calibre to create collections and assign them all before I synch. For example, I could perhaps put all the books about astronomy together. Or by a specific author for a specific character, maybe separating Agatha Christie’s Poirot books from her Miss Marple books. Instead, it sort of works and mostly doesn’t. I like the new interface better, on the new Kindle, mostly because of the touch-screen that makes it easier to move things, but it’s not perfect. I saw a post dating back a few years when the PaperWhite was first released; an active Kindle blogger had just got one and went on this long rant about how they didn’t fix the file management system within the dang Kindle! Note that this is partly by design — they’ve modified their security over the years, and part of that is not having a simple file structure for their books. But I digress. It’s better, I can make it work. Another app called Kindlian, which runs on Windows, seems to be designed to help with file management, but it wasn’t easy to test it against my current model. It’s only $10 to try it in full, but I’d rather know it works before paying for it.
Fifthly, highlighting is much easier now. I like to review my books when I’m done, and the Kindle device and app like to save highlights and notes separately from the file. It’s not automatic to link them across any book that wasn’t directly downloaded from Amazon. On the old Kindle, I often found it a bit painful to access, and since it was hard to do the highlighting in the first place, I mostly skipped it. With the new touch-screen, highlighting is REALLY easy, which means for non-fiction titles in particular, I can highlight and then access the highlights later when I’m doing my review. I’d prefer they synched in Calibre, but Amazon has changed how the info is saved, and the old plugin that would pull the info doesn’t work that well. Soooo, I’m doing it manually. But I noticed that it is REALLY easy to just read the file from my desktop when the file is connected. I started a book about Pluto on the old Kindle and ignored most of the notes/highlights I wanted to make; with the new Kindle, I finished the last 10% of it while making about six separate notes.
Finally, it connects better wirelessly than the old model. The old model used Whispernet and was 3G. It was okay, but not awesome. Free was good, and anywhere I could get a wireless signal was good. But the new one? I used Calibre to email 10 books to my Kindle as just a test. All of them showed up on my Kindle with no effort on my part, no waiting, no wondering, and no errors, it just worked. Admittedly, most of the time, I’m doing my work through my desktop, and I can plug the Kindle in. But having the option to just EMAIL it to my Kindle, and it will reliably show up the next time I turn it on in the house? That’s pretty sweet.
I like anything that lets me get past the technology and into reading. This one makes it easier and gives me more functionality at the same time. What’s not to love? Now I just have to figure out what to do with the old one that still works.