Tuesday, August 31, 2010


My first Kindle arrived yesterday. It's a birthday present. I wanted it primarily as a travel accessory, but also because my whole personal library is going to have to be shipped back to Blighty in a few years time, and with that in mind I've been operating a strict one-in-one-out policy for paper books. Now I can expand my library electronically without guilt.

The jury is still out on whether or not e-books are less environmentally damaging than paper books. Cleantech in Los Angeles claims that Kindle is environmentally friendlier, but the study assumes that a Kindle user would otherwise buy 3 new paper books a month, rather than borrow from a library or buy second-hand. Hmmm. Ian's library is so big that when we were buying a house here in Alberta I had to get advice from a structural engineer on whether the building could cope with the weight, but even Ian does not buy three brand-new books each month.

This is my first electronic book-reader. I wasn't able to try out the Kindle software on my computer first because I use Linux Ubuntu (that's an 0pen source operating system) and Kindle is very difficult to install on Linux. This is silly of Amazon, because they use open source software for the Kindle, and not making it compatible with Linux loses them friends who would otherwise be supporters.

I bought the 6" Kindle because it is the most practical for travelling and small enough to slip into a capacious pocket. Its design may not be up to Apple standards, but it is still good looking. With its leather cover on it looks like a smart travel journal or a filofax. You buy the cover separately. I chose a green leather Amazon cover with an integral light. The cover looks sturdy enough to last for years. The light is very useful but held on such a fragile stem that its life-span has to be limited.

It didn't take me long to learn how to operate my Kindle. It is much easier than a mobile phone. The point of Kindle, and what makes it different from reading book on a computer screen, is that it is not back-lit, making the experience less wearing on the eyes, and more like reading print on paper. Amazon's mantra is that the Kindle should "disappear", that is that you should forget that you are reading a machine. That works for me. You can customise the font, and font size as well as choose whether to view the text in portrait or landscape view. Navigating around a volume is very easy. There is a dictionary tool, which is useful, and you can bookmark pages, plus there is a search tool. You can also annotate what you are reading using the keyboard, but that is fiddly compared with using a pencil and for that reason, if I was studying I'd prefer a paper textbook.

Making my first purchase from Amazon and downloading to my Kindle was a doddle. I chose The Girl Who Played with Fire because I'm 74th in line for this book at my local library. I've read that Amazon e-books are cheaper than print in the UK, but they are not in Canada. I have to buy from the Kindle store in $ US. The book would have been $1.00 CAN cheaper in print from Amazon.ca, although it would have been more expensive with postage. For second-hand books the saving is even greater. For example, the Kindle Jane Grigson's English Food is $9.99 US ($10.62 CAN), but I've just bought a second-hand copy for $5.57 CAN which included postage.

E-book fans make much of the thousands of free volumes on the web, but reading these with Kindle is not problem-free. I transferred a Project Gutenburg PDF file: Adventures in the Rifle Brigade by Sir John Kincaid to my Kindle from my computer, but I could not read it. If I email it to my Kindle instead, Amazon will convert it to a Kindle file, but they will charge me for doing so, so it will no longer be a free volume, and since I can read it for free on my computer I probably won't bother.

The new Kindle also comes with some experimental features, including a web-browser. I tried this to see if I can read my gmail, which would be very useful while travelling. Yesterday I could do so, but I've been unable to make a connection today. If the web browser could be improved and Google maps made accessible the Kindle would become an ideal travel companion.

One more thing. Every time you open the Kindle it displays a screensaver, which is usually a portrait of an author. One of the portraits (I won't tell you which) bears a disturbing resemblance to my first husband. You can't change the screensaver and I'm going to find that very irritating very soon.


JulieSlater said...

Very curious Mrs. Leaper, how is the Kindle working out? I have been tempted for a long time now but haven't mustered up enough courage to depart from the all too familiar and tangible feel of a real book. Do they live up their fame and accolades?

Jane said...

The Kindle experience is working out well.

I've read 3 books and find it no more difficult to read than print. In my original post I said that it could not read pdf files well, but I've discovered a lot of free books on the internet are available in mobi format, which is readable on Kindle.

Kindle makes it a bit too easy to impulse purchase. I'd bought 3 books in a week before I realised how much I was spending.

One disadvantage of Kindle is that you can't lend your purchased book to someone else -- unless you lend them your Kindle too.

I've now got the experimental web-browser set to read my email, and that is going to be invaluable when travelling. I bought it as a travel accessory, and for that purpose it is going to be excellent, but I'm not sure that I'd want my whole home library on it.