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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Reading in a Digital Age

Today I thought I would rhapsodize about my delayed steps into the twenty-first century.

I now own a Kindle.

I decided to buy one because I had some extra money. I reasoned I could use one because I enjoy reading classics, and many of them are available digitally at little or no cost. I also liked the idea of not being stuck reading lengthy documents at my desktop computer.

I waited about four weeks, while I reread Dracula in paperback form. The time also allowed for any buyer's fever to break, and my reasoning to be confirmed. Then I finally took the plunge yesterday.

I purchased the basic version. It was simple to set up. Just plugged it in to my computer, and after about an hour it was fully charged. Part of that time I spent reading the instructions on the device itself. Then, by simply dragging and dropping the files, I moved over the digital books I had already stored on my computer to my Kindle.

I like the size, small and lightweight, easy to hold and read in bed. The text display is smooth and easy to read at all angles, and didn't strain my eyes. Navigation between and within books is simple, and the page buttons on both edges of the device are convenient.

I started out by reading from a classic Victorian novel. After a while I realized I could change the font size. Though the larger font renders smaller any visual similarities to a real paperback, it makes easier reading for the classic reader, and so far, aside from the portability, that is my favorite feature. When I switched to poetry, however, the common look of the poetic stanzas is almost completely lost.

The ability to highlight, bookmark, or notate text is nice for research, and eliminates the need to keep handy paper and pencil or sticky flags. Also the device automatically remembers where one stopped reading, and will return to the point. When not in use for a certain period of time, the device will save power by going to sleep, as it did after I fell asleep reading--which, by the way, is one of life's greatest pleasures.

There are numerous other features available with registration and wi-fi, which I have not yet tried. Some seem convenient, like an automatic backup of one's digital library. Some seem pointless, like being able to see what other readers have highlighted in a particular book. What I don't think I realized was possible, and seems like a good idea, is the availability of feed content, and the rendering of other document files such as TXT and PDF.

The real question seems to be: how does it compare to a book? One thing I noted right away was the little progress bar at the bottom of the screen wasn't nearly as satisfying as seeing in actual pages how far along I was in a particular book. I will miss my bookdart peeking up from the top edge of the book, showing me where I am in the story. The device is easier to handle and manipulate, both in bed and at the table, than a print book. Images from the book I sampled were lackluster, but my wants and needs are primarily textual. There also is a search feature, which for this reader is the biggest advantage of a digital text over a print text.

This morning I saw a new book release for sale on a store shelf. I know that I will always have a particular fondness for the object itself, beyond just the text. Even a mass-market paperback has a certain clean tactile appeal. Especially in a more lavishly produced book, one can feel the paper and even the words themselves, smell the materials, and hear the crack of the boards opening. And that was when I realized the main difference for me between the digital book and the print book: reading a print book for the first time, turning to the first page, there is a unique feeling of anticipation and expectation I didn't have with the Kindle, of opening the cover to gain access and insight to another new world.