Cornwall ON – The Kindle 3 With Wi-Fi, launched in September is the latest generation, electronic book reader from Amazon. Advertised at $139 it arrives in Canada at $170. The e-book reader has arrived. It’s a prime time science fiction, far out Star Trek total sum of human knowledge kind of a thing. I can’t sleep.
It arrived via UPS in two days. It worked straight out of the box. The Kindle is about the size of a paperback. The provided USB cord easily connects to the computer. Amazon says there is room on the Kindle for three to four thousand books.
Three weeks and 989 books later, here’s my thoughts. The Kindle 3 itself, as an object, feels natural and normal with the weight of a small paperback. A lot of thought has gone into the ergonomics and texture of this model making it comfortable to hold with either or both hands. The corners are rounded, the body is slim. The forward and backward page turn buttons are quiet, on either side and change pages in a split second.
Glasses not handy, getting tired? Making the print bigger or smaller, serif or sans serif or changing the space between the lines takes a moment. There are eight letter sizes from about an eighth inch to an inch. You can just as easily adjust line spacing and words per line. Press the font button – select, and the screen does so while half the page is up so you can see the potential change as you set it. The text – that’s what everyone is raving about, is what makes it. It’s a pleasure to read. It’s not a back lit screen.
This e-ink technology is flat black against a pearl white background. The barest light provides enough to read by with no glare or eye strain. It’s not a technology I can duplicate in my workshop, so I assume it’s UFO back engineered.
I don’t have a cover for it and have been refusing to treat it as a piece of jewelry. I’m hoping it will be as durable as a five dollar coffee mug. I carry it in the outside pocket of my winter coat, so it’s been subject to both pocket debris and negative ten degree temperatures. Hopefully it will withstand the coming impact of a snowflake. I toss it on the couch. At negative ten the page turns begin to slow down.
Such is the drama of life, that my bookshelves became empty. I downloaded 989 books from mainly four sites. Amazon, Many Books, Project Gutenburg and American Libraries. They all provide books in the public domain at no charge. Librivox has another few million audio books for free too.
Reading Leonardo da Vinci’s Notebooks on an e-reader is surreal. My use and anticipation of the reader directly revolved around the classics. All of Darwin, Shakespeare, Plato, Anthony Trollope, Victor Hugo, Jane Austin, Dickens, Wodehouse, Upton Sinclair, W.E.B. Du Bois and Jonathan Swift were swept into my hands in a moment. For filth I included D.H. Lawrence and Emile Zola. I wanted all those and thousands more…Buddy Holly On Ganymede! A recent science fiction give away. I couldn’t resist. I took all three volumes of The History of Woman’s Suffrage plus a load of Tom Swift – you can’t beat the cost. Flip back and forth between Tom Swift and his Electric Runabout and Leonardo’s note book. It’s kicks.
E-readers will be welcomed by the country side and remove one more barrier for those wishing a rural location. For those who don’t live in large urban centers sometimes the choice of used and new bookstores can be slim. For contrast read about the barriers of life in 1881 in, A Lady’s Life On A Farm In Manitoba by Mrs. Cecil Hall
When done reading put it down. Ignore it. After five minutes it will go into sleep mode. Pressing the home button reveals your list of titles. It’s ten books a page. Flip index page, click down to a title. Open. Select that title again and it will automatically take you to the last page read. Book mark a page for whatever reason – go to menu, select book mark. It puts a tiny fold on the corner of the page. The cool thing is that bookmarks are saved at the end of the index in a file of other stuff bookmarked, this gives the option to select and go to that passage in the book. Searching by word is fun. Love comes up 106 times in Pride and Prejudice. There is a difference between doing a search with ten books on your Kindle as opposed to nearly a thousand. Now it takes a full minute to do a search. The tiny hard drive spins. It does work and is excellent, as you can flip through the pages of the search and choose to select any page where your word shows up.
It will download PDF files but they are clumsy to move around the screen.
The Kindle can’t be registered via the USB cord. Registration reguires a Wi-Fi connection. Doing so updates it and actives the collections applications which is like a file for book titles. I don’t have Wi-Fi at home. Guess what? Cornwall Square – it’s hot. It’s free.
Sit down anywhere and turn on. My Kindle lit up as I passed through the doors. Once doing so, Amazon had twenty four, free recommendations for me. I may as well pick up groceries. Moments later I downloaded a copy of Alcestis by Euripides with my pound of radishes. I picked up a copy of An Account of Egypt by Herodotus while choosing some eggnog. There was an updated list of best sellers, some free romance books and a list of newspapers. I surfed google for a minute and checked the news while at checkout. It has a web browser and you can check and send e-mail via wireless although again those are tiny buttons.
Remember a science fiction story called, Friends Come In Boxes? Get this. Select, ‘text to voice’ and a computer generated voice, a la Steven Hawking, will read to you. Adjust the volume, slip it under your pillow and absorb Shakespeare, perchance to dream. No kidding. It will speak out your table of contents page, speak out your functions and dictate any of your books from beginning to end.
Start The Complete Shakespeare and you will have company for days. You are free to download audio books as well which will provide a professional voice or an MP3 for background music while you read. There are no treble or bass controls.
There’s a discussion page on Amazon which includes problems like cracked screens, frayed USB cords and machines that continually re-boot. They don’t sound like common problems. The impression I get is that where there is an issue, it’s rectified right away.
Amazon has designed their reader to be Amazon specific so it doesn’t automatically download the other popular format known as E-Pub. Most free book sites provide for Kindle downloads. E-Pub may be had by downloading a program called Calibre. All kinds of little applications are coming out for all the book readers including some word games.
The machine uses power when you prompt it to perform a function like turning a page, search or downloading, otherwise it’s not using much. It’s advertised as needing a recharge once a month. In three weeks of busy use I’ve been prompted twice that the battery was running low. If it runs low, you can still read but not search. It charges via a provided plug adapter. They bragged a little on the battery. The electronic reader lies flat on the table. You don’t have to use a salt shaker to hold the page open. The buttons appear to be honey and garlic sauce resistant.
Using the qwerty style keypad and thumb size five function controller, becomes as familiar as braille. The letter keys are small and clearly not meant for writing a book but fine for entering small amounts of text. The books can be arranged by title, author or how recently downloaded. It comes with two dictionaries (American & English). Checking a word definition is a matter of clicking beside the word. A two line definition appears at the bottom of the page or you can click again and search the dictionary.
If I had any old world doubts about this thing, they were erased after five minutes. The e-reader is so obviously and clearly going to stay. It’s a fabulous medium. I remember paying a hundred bucks for a four function calculator in the seventies, today they are priced in pennies. The book reader will probably show up someday for a dollar with a million books on it changing how knowledge is passed on.
The rotary press came into widespread commercial use by the 1890’s and a river of books were produced for the mass market. Leather bound volumes, produced a sheet at a time with a single arm press were out of the price reach of most people. Libraries were restricted and few. The rotary press brought in more publishers and allowed a greater field for more authors as the risk of publishing costs were lowered. A hundred and some odd years later, it’s happened again. Authors, publishers, book sellers – everyone involved has to examine this new technology. The current Gutenberg challenge is to have one trillion free books on line, all free, all languages, all the time. Is this another slice of post-modernity?
Book delivery in most cases was a split second to a few seconds. The bible took three minutes. I wasn’t likely to find Sir Richard Burton’s 1001 Tales of the Arabian Nights elsewhere for free so I downloaded all 16 volumes of that. Audio books can take ten to twenty minutes to down load. The best literature in the world is in your pocket. Read Babbitt one minute and shift over to The Voyage of The Beagle the next. They should drop these things from the bellies of planes. And when they do, perhaps punks will talk like Plato.
I met Anne on Montreal Road She’s an avid book reader and collector. She was quick to give me her views.
“How long is that technology going to last? I’m forty one. I would never use it. There’s no feel of paper. It’s not tactile. It’s not a book. A professor isn’t going to accept a foot note from that. Maybe the enlarge print feature would be useful to some. Maybe in places that can’t afford books. But if they can’t afford books, can they even recharge the battery? Is there a wind up model in Canada? We’ll have to see if it catches on. It’s Big Brother technology. Bibliophiles won’t use it. I love books.” She gave it back like a dead rat. “That won’t be around two hundred years from now but a book will. It’s not permanent. It’s not real. It reinforces a particular technology and what if that crashes? What if something happens? Something like the Quebec Ice Storm or a magnetic storm. What then? “
After that conversation I felt unclean and wanted my money refunded. What have I done? What technological vanity have I become party to?
John McFetridge is published by both ECW Press, Harcourt and is vice president of The Canadian Crime Writer’s Association After the success of Dirty Sweet, Tumbling Dice, Swap and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Toronto crime writer, John McFetridge has just released another book. Terminal Damage is a collection of short stories. He wanted me to buy it on Amazon for 99 cents and tell him about the experience.
“It took two seconds to spend a buck, John.”
Now the collective authors are free to split up the royalties. Which they may very well do, selling one to three books a day for the rest of their lives. What’s a writer to think about that? The writer doesn’t have to contact the publisher’s accountant firm in Florida to remind them that the royalty cheque is six months past due either.
McFetridge said. “You get paid right away. it’s a little trickier to get paid in Canada – you have to get an IRS number or else they withhold 30% of your money and register that. But the payments happen right away. I think we’ve each made about six bucks off Terminal Damage so far, but I’m giving my share to the guy who set it up on Kindle, opened the account and formatted the book.”
“In Canada you can get an ISBN number for the book for free. Most of the-book sales still come from Amazon and you have to set it up separately at Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon.co.uk and the rest of the international sites, but once the file is formatted that’s easy. Smashwords is another company that covers most of the rest of the e-book world from their own site, Barnes and Noble, iBooks and many other e-book sites, including Kobo in Canada.” He said.
Perhaps, you don’t want to spend a few years shopping your manuscript around to three or four publishers in the hopes that one editor might peer over his glasses and toss you five percent of the sales. Perhaps, you feel like seventy percent of the sales and want to upload it for your adoring fans right now.
Let them accept you with the click of a credit card and publicize it yourself on Amazon, blogs and Smashwords. That’s big. Self actualized big. Now you can publish your own errors with no delay, just like the big boys. Will there be more crappy books? Will people with massive investments in Heidelberg presses get nervous? Will small artsy book publishers come into their own? Is the Gestetner machine truly absolutely dead? Does anyone use the phrase ‘vanity press’ anymore?
Pirates, yes – shameful out of reach book pirates have already shown up with their sordid ripped off wares, providing recent novels on subterranean sites. They buy the book once, crack the code, violate the copyright and upload it to nefarious sites. That will last until the breath of Norman Mailer, Mickey Spillane or Alice Munro picks up a hot baseball bat and whacks a keyboardist, some off shore midnight dreary.
There’s no downside to it. It’s not a book. It’s a book. It doesn’t replace the book. It’s black and white and read all over. If you don’t have books or want more there are a few million to choose from for free. How about that one hundred year wait for Mark Twain’s biography? Volume One just came out at $39.99 for the hardcover plus delivery or $9.79 on a Kindle in ten seconds. That perennial Yankee just found a new court. Even if I had spent three grand to buy 989 used books at a couple bucks each, I still couldn’t bring them all on the bus with me. The few hundred feet of shelving might be a problem too. Merry Christmas, Ravendove.
Roy Berger lives in the legendary artists colony of Cornwall Ontario where the palm trees bloom in the winter and a cool breeze blows in the summer. Photos courtesy Frank Malenfant