My kids gave me a Kindle for Christmas. (I might have mentioned a few hundred times that I wanted one.) As an aspiring novelist I obviously have an interest in books and publishing. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the future – and not the distant future. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO believes that there will be a market for a special purpose reading device – i.e. something that just reads books, not play games or videos or give you stock quotes. Apple has just unveiled their new tablet computer and it will read books and do all sorts of other stuff. Critics have suggested that it will have an advantage over a Kindle because of its multimedia capabilities.
I’m not convinced that’s true. Most of us, when we read a novel, don’t require pictures and sounds to put us into the writer’s “dream.” Many people who haven’t tried to use a Kindle say they like the experience of reading a paper-based book. Holding the book, the feel of the paper, the tactile experience. That’s how I felt, too. But after using the book for a month, I have found that for me the Kindle is in many respects a superior reading experience.
I took it with me on my two week vacation to Kauai. Before I left I downloaded, Joseph O’Neill’s “Netherlands: A Novel.” I'm not a slow reader, but I tend to develop “book fatigue.” I don’t read for long stretches. I get to the end of chapter and I put the book down.
But with the Kindle I read the whole novel on the flight from LAX to Lihue. It’s a five hour flight and I read most of the way. There’s about 150 words on every screen and I found that’s a real easy packet of words to absorb. I don’t find my eyes wandering to the next page, or farther down the page; I don’t lose my place; I read the screen and hit the page button and read the next screen. It’s almost like a long distance swim, you get into a rhythm and before you know it you’ve completed a mile-swim or read a whole book.
The Kindle’s lightweight, and the regular font-size is easy on the eyes. So neither my eyes nor my hands get tired. And once you get into the book, you forget about the word delivery system – paper or electrons – it’s irrelevant. It’s the story that matters.
While I was in Kauai, I took advantage of Amazon’s free two-week trial subscriptions for the newspapers and journals. Amazon offer hundreds of newspaper and magazine subscriptions. They’re not inexpensive, the Wall Street Journal cost $14.99 per month. But they offer a two-week free trial – which is perfect for a two week vacation. I tried out both The Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Tribune. Especially with the Journal, it worked really well. I could navigate to all the sections I’m interested in and I found I actually read more of the articles. Sometimes when I’m reading a real newspaper I don’t feel refolding the paper to page 22 to finish an article. Especially if I’m reading on a crowded train. That’s not a problem with the Kindle.
On the flight back, I read Patrick Somerville’s “The Cradle.” It was a great book, but unfortunately I finished it with four hour left on the flight (Honolulu to O’Hare) and I hadn’t downloaded another book. I did however, have chapters from my own novel-in-progress which I had emailed to the Kindle so I read those. They were great, too.
That leads me to my last point on the benefits of the Kindle. This Saturday I’m reading an excerpt from my bike story, “Riding Home,” to a Men’s breakfast group. I’ve downloaded the excerpt to the Kindle. It’s almost like a teleprompter. I’m much less likely to lose my place, and I won’t scare the audience fumbling around with my thirty page manuscript.