Wednesday, March 23, 2016

In Praise of the Kindle

Back in the early 2000s, I considering buying my first digital camera. I was leery of doing so, as all the photos I would take would end up on my computer, and how would I get prints? All of my family photos were in photos albums where I could feel nostalgic occasionally paging through them, provided I could get over the slightly musty smell. To be honest, only the oldest photos were in the albums--the more recent ones were more likely to be still in the envelopes from the local drugstore photo-developers.

I was already scanning some of the pictures I took after having them developed, and I could see doing more of that going forward, so I bit the bullet and bought a digital camera.

I never looked back.

The convenience of a digital camera was beyond compare. I found less and less reason to ever want a film camera. No longer did I have to worry about buying film, taking bad pictures that I would just throw away, getting the pictures developed, going to pick up those pictures, and then not knowing what to do with all the prints...except toss them in a box with all the others. These days, I have boxes and boxes filled with old photographs, and it fills me with dread when I consider the effort it will require to digitize them.

Digital books was a different animal. I was proud of my collection of hardcover and paperback books. I had multiple bookshelves packed with them--many of the shelves two books deep, with other books stuffed on top because there was no more room.  I read many of those books over and over again until the bindings broke and they fell apart. (I replaced those, but in some cases I couldn't bear to get rid of the old copy). Some of them were so old they had a musty smell that I put up with when I read them again. I kept a dictionary by my bedside at night so I could look up any words I didn't know as I read. I usually carried a book wherever I went so I could read in waiting rooms, on the bus or on the train, any time there was the possibility of there being time to read.

When I heard about the Kindle, I wasn't really interested. It was a new technology; there didn't seem to be many titles available yet for it (at the time I didn't bother looking), and I didn't see the need for it. I was happy with all the books I had, and I did not relish the idea of having to spend the money to replace my library with ebooks when I had physical copies (similar to replacing cassettes with CD/DVDs, and then digital copies of music/movies).

But something happened in the early 2010s. With the rise of Kindle Direct Publishing, there came the opportunity for me to publish some of my writing. If I was to write ebooks, I would have to buy a Kindle to ensure proper formatting of my work. The price of a Kindle wasn't that expensive, so I went ahead and bought one. (I briefly considered purchasing a Nook instead, but ultimately decided on a Kindle. Boy, was that ever a good decision!)

I purchased a novel on it to read, and was hooked. It was also easy to find lots of free books (e.g., the classics) on the internet, so it was extremely easy to load up my Kindle with hundreds of books. It did not take long for my e-library outnumber my p-library. The Kindle was lighter than all but the smallest paperbacks, and about the size of a very thin trade paperback. I could adjust the font size, make notes, highlights, all sorts of neat tricks. There was no need for dictionary at my beside table anymore--I could just highlight the word on my Kindle and it would provide the definition.

When it came time for me to move again, I looked at my huge library of pbooks and sighed.  I always had to box them up, ship them to my new home, and unbox them again. Due to lack of space, some of them had to stay in the boxes until I needed one...which resulted in a curse-filled digging in the depths of a closet through heavy unlabeled boxes until I found (or not) what I was looking for.

However, by this time I had bought several ebooks of pbooks I already owned. When I wanted to read a particular book again, I just bought the ebook because reading on my Kindle (or increasingly, the Kindle App on my smartphone) was just so much more convenient. I realized that there was no longer a need for me to lug my p-library wherever I went. Indeed, there were lots of books that I greatly enjoyed when I first read them, and I held onto them for sentimental value, but I knew that it was unlikely that I would never read them again. After I realized this, the vast majority of those books were boxed up and donated.

My wife was more of a casual reader in that she might read a book or two a year on the recommendation of friends. She bought me a Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas one year (I was interested in the backlight feature). Soon after I showed her how to use it, she claimed it as her own. She especially loves the dictionary feature. I didn't mind, as by this time I had mostly switched to the Kindle App on my smartphone. I have every book I want to read, whenever I want it. No more lugging large, cumbersome books around with me. I still have my original Kindle, with its fantastic battery life, as a backup.

Not the least benefit from all this is what the Kindle has done for my writing. My writing is a story for another post, but ebooks, and in particular the Kindle and Kindle Direct Publishing, has allowed me to put my work out there and earn some money. It's easy to like something that helps pay the bills.

But why am I suddenly praising the Kindle now, years after I've started using it? Because I found a book I wanted to read that did not have a Kindle edition. That's rare these days, and normally if I do find a book I'd like to read that doesn't have a Kindle edition, I shrug and move on--because I know there's thousands of books I want to read that do have Kindle editions. But this book was an exception--I needed to read the book as research for my next writing project. So I bought it, started reading it...and felt like I was back in the Stone Age. The hardcover book was heavy and cumbersome. If I forget to lug it with me, I can't read it when I want to (unlike my smartphone, which I have with me essentially continuously). Last night I wanted to look up a word, and out of habit I touched the page to highlight it, and of course nothing happened. So I cursed, put the book down, broke out my phone and looked it up there. Rather than getting my answer in literally a second, it took about a minute to get back to reading, breaking my flow of thought. Almost immediately after that, I wanted to highlight a section and take some notes (I'm reading this for research after all). Again, I had to put the book down and hunt around for a sticky note to mark the page so I could take down my notes at some later time. What a pain in the butt. And to top it off, while I was reading, one of my rambunctious kids plowed into me, spilling juice all over the book. If I was reading a Kindle, the result would have been a little cursing and a few paper towels and problem solved.  For a pbook? It's permanently damaged.

In short, I've been spoiled by my Kindle experience, and having to go back to a pbook has made me appreciate ebooks all the more.

Get a Kindle (or download the free app to your phone or tablet). You'll never look back.

P.S. I may address pbook loyalist luddites in a future post.

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