Sunday, 16 January 2011

The Medium and the Word

Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...Cover via AmazonI decided to follow up re-reading John Le Carré's Little Drummer Girl (I wonder if he regrets it in hindsight) with a re-read of John Fowles' stunning The Magus, which I started yesterday. Fowles has updated the book, tidying up some of what he perceives to be its biggest flaws; the book was actually his first, although it was The Collector that brought him into print.

No bookshop in the UAE sells The Little Drummer Girl, which details a complex Mossad operation against a Palestinian bomber - and I looked for it in bookshops in the UK without success. I read it, of course, on the Kindle. My decision to re-read The Magus was taken ten minutes before I bought the book, which was delivered to me in seconds flat over Amazon's Whispernet.

Amazon has done a couple of things to help the Kindle seem a tad more analogue - the optional leather case is a tactile experience, although it packs a very handy LED reading light. And when the Kindle's switched off, the screen displays sketches of famous authors or woodcuts from frontispieces. It's incredibly readable, the text display is very stable indeed - although everyone, myself included, picks it up and initially tries to swipe the screen to turn a page. No touch screen on offer, though.

Many people I have spoken to have said how they couldn't stand reading on a tablet, how nothing beats the experience of curling up with a good book. I had some mild misgivings along these lines myself. But the argument actually misses the most fundamental point of all - reading fiction is all about the words, not the medium. It's not paper that transports you to other worlds or into other people's lives, it's the words that the author has written. Those words still have the same power to astonish, amaze, inspire, shock, delight and disgust they ever had on paper. Once you've started a book, the Kindle is secondary - it's just the medium.

The Kindle is good enough not to get in the way of the experience - its battery life is incredible and it has options for archiving your books and so on. Those little 'analogue' touches actually make a difference. I may never buy another 'book'... I'd certainly think twice before buying one rather than downloading it. I honestly had my doubts about the whole thing before I took the plunge - and now I'd recommend it to anyone.

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jonmight said...

So does this mean the Amazon web browser and Whispernet network work fine in the UAE? I'm very interested, but assumed it would be hamstrung here.

Sarah Walton said...

have passed on a blog award that I dutifully must to another great blogger. enjoy it. (although it's not good for much, except maybe for making a bigger head...) You deserve it

James O'Hearn said...

I'm loving the iPod Touch for all my e-reading needs. You can read inside and outside, during the day and at night. It's so light that you barely notice it as it rests in the palm of your hand, and turning the page requires no more then the gentlest swipe of your thumb.

Considering the fact that the new 4g iPod touch has front and back cameras (great for video Skype calls), and is just a beautiful little machine for going online, checking Facebook, or your e-mail, or just for watching movies or listening to music (while reading!), even a bargain basement priced Kindle has little to offer in comparison.

Dubai Jazz said...

Couple of days ago I'd read something along the lines of: eyes scan words off paper ten times faster than they scan them off a tablet screen... or something to that effect.

I'm not sure about the scientific veracity of that statement, but I can risk a corroborative guess: none of my friends who got ipads finished reading a single book on it.

dbs said...

Right now, I'm reading I Shall not Hate (the old-fashioned way). Like me, you seem like a serious reader. Great blog.

alexander... said...

Jazz - I find myself reading the Kindle at around the same speed as paper. I'm on my sixth Kindle book or so since Xmas - I can see why an iPad wouldn't go down so well, but I think they're way better for magazine type content. The Kindle screen is so stable, it's actually a pleasure to read.

Having said that, if it DID make you read more slowly, that's no bad thing, either. A considered reader is always better than a fly by! :)

Alwaysozmatt said...

I got my Kindle the week before Xmas and as a single use device nothing beats it. It is light, so early to read with the e-ink (vs tablets/phones/laptops), travels beautifully and using the Amazon store is great too. But I use the Amazon store and my home wireless connection instead of shopping through whispernet.

The one thing I'll continue to buy in hard copy are my travel guides (I prefer the DK ones). They're a photo album in themselves and you can't replace that with a kindle or tablet.

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