Is Kindle the One? being an account of 1983 Buicks and other heresies
I know I’m putting myself perilously close to being burned as a heretic, but I have to say that I think the Kindle is pretty good. There. I said it.
But, before you cast me into the lake to see if I float, at least give me a chance to prepare my defense. We bought a Kindle a couple months ago. Its been passed around the office, with most everyone taking a turn reading something on it. My turn finally came up. So, wrinkling my nose in disgust and squinting my eyes, I poked at the thing: “Go download something. Whatever. I don’t care. Just get it over with.” And, so, it dutifully fetched up The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst (yes, lately reviewed by Jim on this same blog).
So, for the first few chapters, the story reads like this:
In the dying light of an autumn day in 1937, a certain Herr Edvard Uhl, a secret agent, descended from a first-class railway carriage in the city of Warsaw. I can’t believe I’m lying in bed curled up with a plastic and silicon device. Above the city, the sky was at war; the last of the sun struck blood-red embers off massed black cloud, while the clear horizon to the west was the color of blue ice. Its so freakin’ ugly and clumsy. Herr Uhl suppressed a shiver; the sharp air of the evening, he told himself. Its kind of like driving a mid-eighties Buick or something. This is my last chapter. But this was Poland, the border of the Russian steppe, and what had reached him was well beyond the chill of an October twilight. OK, fine. Just one more paragraph. Just to be sure I give this thing a fair, unbiased shake.
And, then something miraculous happened. I mostly forgot that I was reading an e-book. And, I read all the way through to the end. Maybe it was Furst’s simple, engaging style and story that kept me occupied. I don’t know what would have happened if I were reading something like Marcel Proust.
In any case, it wasn’t that bad. In fact, it was a pretty good experience.
But, the Kindle is not the One. At least not yet.
Its not that far off, though. The main drawbacks as I see them are:
- The screen (at a readable font) only holds about 1/3 of the same amount of text in a paperback. Combined with the fact that you only have one “page” versus the usual two (front and back), this means you have to “turn” the page 6 times as often… every 20-30 seconds or so. That gets irritating. I’m sure even more so for those power readers out there.
- The buttons are too big and twitchy. The slightest accidental bump while you prop up your pillow leaves you accidentally zooming ahead or backwards some indeterminate amount of pages.
- The UI itself is not at all intuitive or comfortable. Its kind of at the same stage as Windows 3.11 was some 15 years ago.
- It simply clunky, physically. I’m not kidding when I compare it to a 1983 Buick (pronounced “Byook” in Furst’s Spies of Warsaw, incidentally). Check out the resemblance yourself.
- White is a really bad color. I mean, come on, we should all know this by now. We know what happens to white plastic after 1 year. At least paper bears dirt up with a little dignity, if not elegance.
- OK, so I finished the book. I enjoyed it. I want to loan it to a friend. How do I do that? Hand over the entire $400 Kindle to them for a month (or five years: the average time it takes to have a book returned to you)?
- Or, I didn’t enjoy it. I’d like to get rid of it, and recoup a bit of my money to buy another book. Normally, I’d swing by my local bookstore and trade it in. You mean I’m stuck with this thing?
- Finally, and, most importantly, it is an entirely closed platform. There is only one delivery mechanism and source: Amazon. As a consumer, I want choice. To me, that’s like getting a new laptop and having it locked down so that it can only shop and browse a small handful of sites. Sorry, Amazon, but there really is more to e-commerce than Amazon.com, and people know it. Lighten up. Don’t be afraid of co-opetition.
So, while you tie the knots around my wrists and “kindle” the fire under my feet, at least understand this: the Kindle is a good start. Its pleasant on the eyes – once you get into a story. The delivery speed is unparalleled. Its lightweight. Its convenient. But, a book, its not…. yet. The Kindle isn’t the One, but keep your eyes on yonder horizon, because the One is coming from somewhere… someday.
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