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My Kindle Love/Hate

We are fortunate at our school to have 6 kindles in circulation for students to sign out (come September we will be adding a further 24 to our collection). Even more fortunate, for me, is that I was able to sign one out to use over the summer. Our teacher-librarian had stocked it with some popular titles and some professional development reading, so I was all set to go!

As a voracious reader, I was somewhat doubtful that I would be able to make the transition from my beloved books (or dead trees as some have referred to them as) to the electronic format that the kindle presents. One of the biggest challenges for me is the ‘page flash’. As you press the button to turn the page on the kindle, the page momentarily flashes from the grey to black as the new text appears on the screen. Besides being a voracious reader, I am a very fast reader, so I turn pages quite quickly. That meant I was experiencing the flash quite often. To minimize this problem, I minimized the font as small as was readable to me and I made the spacing as tight as possible. The advantage was that the flash came less frequently. I had hoped that after a summer of reading I would adjust to the inconvenience of the flash, but I have not found that to be the case. I have learned to tolerate it, but I find it still disrupts my pace more than simply turning a page in a book. I recently checked out the new touch-screen Kobo reader at Chapters and found that they had minimized the flash by electronically ‘stacking’ several pages on top of each other, thus reducing the need for the flash to once only five to ten pages. That leaves me hopeful that the next generation of kindles will come with this technology.

Another irritation is what occurs when you first ‘open’ an ebook on the kindle. The kindle begins the ebook at the beginning of the actual text. Essentially, it skips showing you the title, publication information or any dedication etc that one finds at the opening of a book. Personally, I like reading (or at least skimming) that information, so I find it annoying to always have to turn back to read it. It would be helpful if the kindle had a preference option to set where one actually wants the ebook to begin.

That relates to another kindle issue about endings. Normally at the end of books you find the references, any end notes, an index and sometimes things like charts etc. Sometimes (infrequently) the non-fiction ebooks have hot-linked references in the text that you can click on to be taken directly to the footnote or reference, but most often they do not. So, often I found myself flipping back and forth at the end of the ebook instead of during my reading, which meant half the time re-reading large sections to figure out what was being referenced. Hot-linking the references may be something that as more ebooks are published, the publishers recognize as important (it also may be more readily available as touch-screen readers become the norm).

Lastly, in the negative column, is that even after two months, my biggest struggle with the kindle (and I suppose ebooks in general) is that I can’t get an overall sense of the text. When I pick up a book, I know how long it is, where chapters end, what divisions are made within it, where any pictures are, if there are references etc. With a kindle, the sense of that is lost. Most ebooks have chapter markers via dots on a timeline at the bottom of the page, but not all, so I lost the sense of the layout of the text. It makes it challenging for books like “Frankenstein” for example, where the narrative line is buried three stories deep. Without the reminders at the top of a physical page in a book or the physicality of the chapter divisions, the ebook “Frankenstein” is very difficult to remember where you are in within those concentric narrative rings. Again, as ebooks gain popularity, readers will probably find it easier to gage a sense of this as we become used to the format.

In the end, it sounds like a very negative review. However, most of these issues are simply adjustment issues that those mired in the ‘dead tree’ era (like me) will come to learn to live with. Why? Because there is so much potential in that little lightweight device. My ability to take with me all the reading I could do in one trip. The built-in dictionary that defines any word I want as I read. The cost savings (and eventual environmental savings) of the ebook purchase over the hardcover. Immediate availability of almost any title I could name. Highlighting passages and making notes that can be stored for each time I pick it up. Battery length that goes on forever. It all adds to the positive column in my summer testing.

So come September, when I have to hand the kindle back, will I be sad? Oh yeah. I’ll be the one pressed up against the door of the school library wondering when I can get it back!

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