Friday, February 12, 2010

eReading

A few weeks before my last birthday, my husband said to me "There's something I want to get you for your birthday, but I think I need to ask you a question about it first" and I said "I'd like the global wireless version". And then I laughed because I could tell I'd guessed right.

So I have a Kindle now. I thought I would primarily use it when traveling so that I didn't have to carry around so many books and worry that I'd be stuck somewhere without a good book to read. I have had some traumatic experiences related to not having an adequate supply of (good) books on trips.

For example, there was the time when my daughter was a baby and, by coincidence, every book I brought with me on a trip somehow involved a young child either dying or being orphaned. There was an even earlier time when I ran out of books while backpacking alone through Europe and the only English book I could find was Shogun, which was so awful that I ripped out each page after I read it and threw the book away, piece by piece, as I made my way through the former Yugoslavia. And there was this harrowing experience (skip to last paragraph for relevant info). There have been other such experiences, despite fervent attempts to avoid them.

For trips that involve long flights, my personal formula is to bring 5-6 paperback books for each week of professional travel, and more if there will be leisure time. I also bring along an issue of The New York Review of Books because the interesting content/gram ratio is very high. If I really like a book, I will also bring it home, so some books make the entire trip with me. On multi-week trips, I can sometimes acquire books during the trip, but on some trips I just end hauling around a lot of books.

But not anymore. I still need 1-2 physical books for the times when electronic devices must be stowed during takeoff and landing and in case the Kindle needs recharging at an inconvenient time, but otherwise I have all the books I need in the Kindle.

I miss the beauty of real books and the the variety of fonts and book designs. And I miss having a physical sense for how long a book is. The Kindle method of reporting the % of each book read is deeply unsatisfying. However, I find the Kindle pages very easy to read and navigate, and clicking to turn the page can be extremely handy when you have a large cat pinning down one your arms.

I still read physical books because some of the books I like to read are not well represented on Kindle, especially in the obscure (to Americans) international fiction category. But I use the Kindle for non-travel reading far more than I expected.

Mostly I read Literary Fiction on my Kindle, but I am contemplating branching out into non-fiction; in fact, I just put the new book by Rebecca Skloot on my Kindle.

As I write, there are 41,454 books listed in the Science category of the Kindle webpage. This is more than are available in Arts & Entertainment (34,360), Business & Investing (35,468), and Sports (a paltry 5,841). In fact, Science is the biggest non-fiction category.

My excitement at this factoid was somewhat diminished when I realized that many of the Science books are actually "science" books; for example, Freakonomics, Omnivore's Dilemma, A Short History of Nearly Everything, and some of those books you are supposed to read when you are pregnant but that mostly just freak you out. If you search on these books by name, you never find out that they are classified as Science, but if you search on Science as a category, there they are.

I'm OK with including these "science" books as Science books. I'm not a purist about what constitutes Science and what doesn't. Science is everywhere, we can't live without it, and I think it's a good thing if many non-technical books are classified as Science in recognition (even if for mercenary reasons) that science is part of everything. As long as we don't take the broad definition of Science too far, I'm all for it.

17 comments:

mareserinitatis said...

I got my husband a Kindle for Christmas. While I hope he'll use it for recreational reading, he immediately set out to find a tool to convert scientific papers into a PDF that wasn't merely a micro version of the paper. After doing that, we played around with setting document sizes in word processors and LaTeX so that he could write out documents designed for the size of the Kindle screen. The result (I hope) is that he can do a reasonable amount of work when he's flying and not have to worry about hauling out his rather large laptop (which generally doesn't fit nicely on airplane tray tables). And, of course, he doesn't have to haul a bunch of books with him, too.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Did you fire the fucking sherpa?

Anonymous said...

They need to make an e-reader for academics. Full page size (8.5"x11"), preferably color, meant for displaying PDFs of journal articles. Ideally it would let you annotate/edit manuscripts with a stylus, zoom in on figures with multitouch, and download new papers using WiFi.

Psycgirl said...

I got my Kindle for the exact same reasons, and I LOVE it. I am deeply and passionately in love with it. I have to add other reasons I love it though: It's saving me money on books, thus making reading a lot more accessible as someone who never has time to go to a library AND it's saving me shelf space or figuring out what to do with "fluff" books that I want to read but don't want to take up space with.

Anonymous said...

I also enjoy bragging about my reading habits.

ME said...

Welcome to the Kindle club. I love mine! Got it for exactly that reason, I like to have more than one book when traveling but don't like to carry them. I think I'm going to get the Skloot book. It sounds fascinating.

aceon said...

5 days in a boat on the way to Timbuktu, featureless desert landscape, insufficient food, and nothing to read. Oh global wireless kindle, where were you then? If only it handled figures better I would do all my journal reading on it as well as my recreational reading.

Anonymous said...

Stone tablets last longer, and they don't require batteries. I will admit that color documents are a problem.

steph said...

I had a kindle and I liked it, but those screens are very sensitive. Always keep it in the cover and be careful with it. I broke the screen and, once it is broken, it is basically worthless. So now that I have an iphone I read books on that with the kindle app. It's not as nice, but lcd screens are more robust I think.

I really think the stupidly named ipad COULD have been awesome for academics and many others if it were done better. What we need is something to read and annote pdf's, something that could also double as a lab notebook, with some ability to encrypt it so that you can verify the date and time of entries in case that ever becomes an issue. These could be great to Dr.s offices too. Just like those pads in star trek. Why don't we have all the cool stuff from Star Trek yet? Stupid lazy scientists, not inventing warp drives and transporters yet.

John V said...

1 vote for Kindle on the iPhone, to buy time before the iPad comes out [who cares if the name is not its best selling point?].

Anonymous said...

I have a Sony eReader Touch and I actually prefer that over Kindle, though I have to admit the technology is not that good yet, for reading pdf files and journals, but e-Ink is most certainly better than LCD. At least I can read for at least several hours longer than I could on.

Thinkerbell said...

I have a Sony e-book. Still like paper better though. First, the e-readers fit very little text on the screen and I'm flipping pages like crazy. Highly annoying. Second, I have a harder time recalling books I've read on the e-reader. Just the other day I was looking for a novel that I was sure I owned, only to realize days later that I did: in e-format. Maybe I'm too old (30+): I recently saw a dad and son in a restaurant. Dad with a kindle. Son with a good old paper comic book (none of them saying anything to the other over dinner, btw).

Anonymous said...

I got a kindle for Christmas and thought - 'oh dear, this isn't what I want, I won't use this'. SO, SO wrong. I love it! It's great for commuting (not driving obviously but subway), traveling, and I find I'm using it all the time at home too. It's also nice not to be wasting so much paper on novels that get shelved and dusty or recycled. Haven't tried to get pdfs on it yet - what's the cost?

Joseph said...

I of a fan of the eBook if it weren't for the invasive DRM (remember Amazon's 1984 fun?)

David said...

What sorts of semi-obscure foreign literature?

Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde said...

Skloot's book is superb! Hope you enjoy it.

In addition to the NYRB, I also find the New Yorker to be a pretty good material/weight item. Also, the NYRB is sadly deficient in cartoons about cats.

Amy said...

I just got back from a family vacation with small children. I brought the requisite paper books, my husband had the brilliant idea to get Kindle for his iPhone. Imagine which worked better once the kiddies were asleep in the hotel room. Lesson learned!