Kindle 2: What's The Verdict?

My new Kindle arrived last week. I let it sit on my dining room table overnight. I’ll admit that I was a little intimidated. Is this device going to live up to its reputation? What does it mean for the future of books if this thing catches on.

In the morning I had plenty of time to focus on the task of setting it up. It was easier than I expected. I pulled the tab of the elegant black box it came in and began. The Kindle 2 is about the size of a thin notepad. It weighs less than my cell phone. Everything I’d read so far said that while the Kindle was reasonably robust, it should still be handled with care. I’d already ordered a case from JavoEdge. I slipped the Kindle in. Now it really looked like a notepad. I started it up, read the welcome invitation and user’s guide. Meanwhile, it downloaded some books I’d previously ordered online.

One of those books was going to be the acid test. I’ve been working my way through the new Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I was eager to see how reading a book of that caliber would work on an e-reader. First of all, it isn’t light reading. Secondly, there are extensive notes arranged in a separate section at the back of the book. I wanted to see how easy it would be to maneuver back and forth. Third, this new translation recognizes that the characters in Tolstoy’s original work often speak French. French, not Russian, was the language of Russia’s upper classes up to the time of the Revolution. Tolstoy depicts several wry scenes where patriotic St. Petersburg aristocrats, incensed by Napoleon’s invasion of their country, hire Russian teachers to teach them how to speak their own language properly. Many key conversations and letters are in French, with translations in another separate section at the back. I was surprised at how well my old college French held up. However, I did want to check the accuracy of my readings.

Consequently, I was not only reading the text. I was going back and forth between two separate sections of notes. How did the Kindle do?

Superbly! It took a while to get used to it. There’s a little square joystick that moves the cursor around the screen. Creating my own bookmarks allowed me to move back and forth between the notes and the text. I must admit that I did lose my place several times. That’s a serious matter in a book that’s 1200 pages long. I panicked the first time it happened. I couldn’t think of what to do other than keep hitting the “Next Page” button. Fortunately, I had just read the section where Nikolai Rostov faces down the peasants who are giving Princess Marya a hard time. One of the peasants, I remembered, was Dron. I called up the “Search” function, typed in “Dron,” pressed the joystick—and there I was, only a few pages behind where I needed to be.

The Kindle automatically opens to the last page you’ve read. If you move around a lot between different sections, it’s probably a good idea to set some bookmarks. It works. I’m not getting lost or losing my place anymore.

How easy is the screen to read? I find it’s just like a book. The background is gray, not white. However, it gets lighter if you have more lighting. What I like best is being able to change the size of the fonts. My poor old eyes can’t handle small type anymore. I tried the different sizes and discovered that the third largest suits me best. My eyes didn’t get tired. I didn’t get headaches. I didn’t suffer from eyestrain. Reading on a Kindle is not at all like reading on a computer. It’s like reading from a book.

You turn pages by pressing two bars called Next Page and Prev Page. This requires no more effort than turning the pages of a book. The screen turns black for a moment, then there’s your next page.

I took my Kindle to the coast for a weekend at the beach. I read on the beach. I read for hours in the evening. I can’t say how many pages I covered. The Kindle doesn’t work that way. A bar at the bottom shows you what percent of the book you’ve read and how much more you have to read. Figure I got through about 30% of War and Peace in two days. I enjoyed the experience and didn’t notice any difference between reading a Kindle and reading a book, except that the Kindle was far more compact and easier to hold. Speaking of compact, I have The Count of Monte Cristo and David Copperfield awaiting their turn. Try lugging those two around with War and Peace! I guess that’s why they call it “heavy reading.” But not anymore.

E-books are not for everyone. I’ll be the first to admit that. However, before saying that they will never replace the book, you need to try one out for several days. My guess is that you’ll be impressed if you keep your mind open. Remember, too, that we’re just seeing the beginning of this technology. E-book readers will get cheaper and better. Just like cell phones.

So, what’s the verdict? Will the Kindle and/or other e-book readers replace the book as we know it?

If you want my opinion, I think they already have.

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