This past weekend I finally had the chance to fire up my new Kindle 2. I had gotten the latest iteration of Amazon’s digital reader for my birthday, but I hadn’t really had the time to use it. Now suddenly, my husband and I found ourselves traveling on a coach bus for three days as chaperones for our son’s school Drama Club trip to New York to see some shows. Plenty of spare time to break out the Kindle. And, I have to tell you, it was such a pleasure to be able to read a new novel, the Sunday New York Times, and the Huffington Post, all without having to lug around a heavy book, a huge newspaper and my laptop. And if I didn't like what I was reading, I could simply download something else – and all from our noisy bus as we sped down the expressway towards Manhattan.
So what was the reading experience like? Well, I have to say that there's a bit of an adjustment for the eyes. I am told that we read differently on a digital screen than we do on a paper page, and that certainly was my experience. I found that reading on a Kindle was a bit laborious, at least until I settled in. I think that as I read along in a paper book or print newspaper I tend to scan ahead a bit, but with a digital page the size of the Kindle's, and having to wait for the "next page" button to respond, you really can't scan ahead all that easily. So it feels as if you aren't “dashing ahead” with your reading the way you usually do. However, that being said, once I got used to the Kindle I began quickly to adjust to its quirks – the way you adjust to, say, a new car. Okay, it's not exactly like your old car, but it works fine once you're accustomed to it.
I found navigating the Sunday Times a snap, to my surprise. There was a nice "sections" menu, and then a list of articles, so it was very easy to move around. I'd never have previously said that I'd ever read a Sunday paper online. Another very happy surprise came in reading the novel. I was starting Junot Díaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and the opening of the book was a bit hard to get into because it was full of Dominican history and references that were only partially explained by Díaz's footnotes.
No matter. Enter the Kindle's browsing capacity. You want to know everything about Dominican history, or look up that obscure reference? Just start typing and the Kindle opens a search window at the bottom of your screen. By moving the cursor to the right you can select whether to search the text you are reading, search Wikipedia, or do a Google search – which gives you access to most of the text resources online. The effect was to hyperlink Díaz's novel to nearly everything on the Internet. Wow, I thought, as I kept looking things up from our bus, This is really going to change things. (A note: The loading of information from the web is a bit slow, probably a tradeoff for Kindle's excellent battery life. By the way, Díaz's novel picks up, and is well worth the early slog.)
My biggest disappointment was that a couple of the books I searched for apparently were not yet available on the Kindle. At this point, I’m a bit concerned that there is going to be a war over digital devices and formats, and that both readers and writers are going to suffer — in terms of making all books available digitally for a reasonable fee — while the big players like Amazon, Google, Apple, and the major publishing houses all struggle for position.
Still, I think Amazon has done a pretty good job of pointing the way forward for digital books. It isn't hard to imagine a none too distant future when every book, newspaper and blog will be instantly available, with full linking and browsing capacity, and for not too much money. And what a pleasure to read from a handheld screen much softer on the eyes than your average computer monitor. The Kindle is, in short, an electronic device you can curl up in bed with for a good read. And what more could a person ask for?