Recently, I have bought what might be the greatest invention of the past decade: an e-book. The particular type? A Kindle, made by the people at Amazon.
As usual, I get absolutely nothing for reviewing things, which means that I only review things I am excited about, which means that this will be an intensely positive review …
Really? The greatest?
As crazy as we went over our new Android phone a couple of weeks ago, it isn’t really a great invention. No matter how smart a phone may be, there is no purpose to a smart phone. That it has “phone” in it is little more than a reference to the use of mobile phone data networks.
A smart phone is simply a modern-day swiss army knife. It is a single compact device which serves as your phone, your MP3 player, your GPS mapping device, and so on. It does none of these things as well as a dedicated device would, but it saves one from having to carry around a dedicated device.
Great inventions, however, do things.
The printing press printed. The light bulb illuminated. The car moved a wheeled vehicle via a motor. The e-book allows people to read books.
Note that this is something that some “competing” devices, such as the iPad, cannot claim. The iPad has a target market, not a function. As such, it can hardly be termed an “invention”. What does it do?
The Kindle not only has a function, it also performs that function incredibly well. It remembers where you were when you put the book down. It looks up words for you, if you don’t know them. And it lets you carry as many books as you could possibly need around in a single device the size of a trade paperback.
It is, quite simply, brilliant.
The first thing I note about having a Kindle is how much more I read.
We have gone from thinking that we should pick up a book more often to actually doing said picking up. We believe there are several reasons for this:
Convenience. The book we want is always the book we have with us. If I feel like some light reading, there is no need to curse myself because that morning I felt like tackling some James Joyce. I just switch books. Later, when I want something challenging, I will switch back.
The Kindle is the size of a trade paperback, and while the title selection is still quite limited compared to the world of paper, it is still quite impressive.
The Bookmark. Regular readers of the Big Bad Blog will know I have a daughter. Her very existence means that days on which I read more than a page or two at a time are few and far between.
The book needs to be put down, and the baby needs to be picked up. Regular readers of paper books know that frequent picking-up and putting-down lead to frequent searching-for-the-damned-page-I-was-on-last.
The Kindle just remembers where you were.
The Binding. One of the biggest – and best – anti-ebook arguments is that there’s a quality to a paper book which is lost in the electronic version.
We believe this is true, and will touch on this below.
But the average book picked up by the average reader at the bookshop on the corner is not a work of art. The content might well be, of course, but the book itself — the several-hundred sheafs of paper with ink on them bound within covers — is most often made as cheaply as possible. This is not so with the Kindle. It is, itself, a sleek little device, but there is something quite satisfying about putting a Kindle into a nice case.
There are two Kindles — hence two cases — in the Topp family. One is a nice notebook-style case. One is a nice brown leather case. Wrapped in either case, the Kindle certainly feels better than your standard cheap paperback.
The Kindle makes it easy to read. No scouring the bookshelves. No placing bookmarks or dog-earing pages — or forgetting to. Everything is simple – pick the book you want to read. Put it down. Pick it up. Read some more.
It is more pleasant to read than the average book. It makes everything associated with reading easier without being the muddle of distractions that a swiss-army-knife style technology (such as a smartphone, iPad, or laptop) tends to be.
And reading begets reading. We are reading more than we have in years, and enjoying every minute of it.
The future of paper
Of course, paper books still exist — and they most likely always will.
There are still horses, despite the existence of cars.
There are still candles, no matter the ubiquity of electronic lighting.
There is something satisfying about a bookshelf filled with books. And there is a tactile comfort in holding a well-made book in your hands.
But these are not your average books.
And an ebook, of course, requires electricity. As long-lasting as a Kindle battery might be, it does run out eventually. Sufficiently long trips to places without electricity would require a solar recharger (which are, actually, pretty easy to find) or paper.
Once the paper book has become a “thing of the past”, it will still exist. There will still be a market for books that look beautiful, to serve time on bookshelves and coffee tables. There will still be a market for books where the publisher has taken care in the selection of the paper, bindings, font, and so on, where the purpose of the paper book is to give the reader an experience beyond the mere words, which can be delivered electronically.
Paper books will become collector’s items. Pieces of art. The vinyl record of the written word, complete with exquisite cover art.
And they will most certainly be worthwhile.
The pros and cons of a Kindle
With our reasoning complete — what of the Kindle itself? Why the Amazon device, and not a Nook, Sony e-Reader, or some other cheap e-Ink device?
Here at the Big Bad Blog, we lack extended time with these other devices. We can tell you that we played a bit with a Sony device (nice, but not as nice as the Kindle) and with some knock-offs (all of which were poorly made, and not worth your time).
But a central point to consider is this: The Kindle is like the iPod.
Amazon locks you in, much as Apple does in the music world — they have their own eBook format (though the reader can handle PDFs), it’s integrated with Amazon’s Kindle store.
Throw in the 3G version — which means that you automatically connect to 3G networks worldwide to buy and download books, not that you get to pay a monthly fee to a mobile operator — and a larger selection of books than available on other devices, and the user finds themselves in a seamless environment. Hot and cold running books, on tap.
You won’t regret it.