Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holidaze and Gifts and Review

No essay this time. No rambling about some arcane topic. Just rambling about common topics.

Once again, I return to e-books. In particular, the Kindle. I spotted a commercial for the Kindle on television last night. Very stylish, and creative. Very little mention of reading. But after you see the ad, you feel like you need to own a Kindle. As luck would have it, I do own a Kindle 2. It came to mean through a promotional means related to the publishing industry. The ad didn't sell me - mainly because I hadn't seen it at that time. (That is the shadow of my paws over the Kindle)

I confess, I was torn between the Nook and the Kindle, and any Sony device. I went with the discount. And then I started running into people who had purchased Kindles for gifts, or were receiving them as gifts for the holidays. Everyone was excited - you can read books anywhere (I could before). You can bring all of your books with you (couldn't do that, and still can't with the Kindle, but I see the point, although I'm not sure of the need). The Kindle is small (so is a book). It is light-weight (most books are). It looks just like a book (so does a book).

And yes, I own a Kindle. It is a delightful gadget. I can read books anywhere, even though I can with my iPhone and a Kindle application. It is light...looks like a book. Okay, enough said.

What I've been wondering about with all of this excitement is this: How many people are purchasing e-readers because they are nifty technology? The Kindle commercial certainly pushes heavy on "coolness" and "style." At a metaphoric level it hints at reading by becoming different characters. But at no point does it show someone sitting in a chair, gazing at a Kindle. That approach probably wouldn't work. But my guess is that is how it is used most often. I've not tried dancing with my Kindle yet.

In the end, if you're interested in a Kindle, I'd say you'd probably enjoy it (particularly if you like to read). You can make notes on it. Look up words. Listen to Audible.com books or MP3 anythings. You can store your own documents on it, and it has free Internet access. Yes, you can browse the web, read blogs, use web-based email. None of those things work as well as a computer. But they do work. Of course, you can get books very quickly, and there are many free books to be had (out of copyright). And I'd suggest quizzing Jeff Edwards about e-readers. He puts them to very good use, and is quite knowledgeable on the subject.

The drawback in all cases is the price of these things. Sometimes they range the price of a netbook (which can do all of the above). But you don't get a free screensaver with one of your favorite authors. All in all, they make great gifts because the person being gifted does not have to pay the high price. So maybe gift yourself.

So what am I reading on my Kindle? Everything I was reading on my Kindle application for my iPhone/iTouch. But I did go back in time and read Tobias S. Buckell's novel Ragamuffin (2008).

Yes, I know this isn't his most recent book. I've read the recent ones, but for some reason I didn't read Ragamuffin. So, it seemed like a good test of the Kindle. And a way to catch-up on books.

For those who don't know, this novel is a SF novel, set in the future, with a rough and tough protagonist. A female protagonist. And the novel has strong social undercurrents as humanity is far below being second-class citizens. Oh, before anyone says, you're reading too much into it, I'll respond: I'm not. :) Even if Tobias says otherwise, I will disagree. Why? Because it's there to be found, regardless of the author's intent. Although, I suspect there was intent.

In many ways, the novel reproduces the themes of the Harlem Renaissance literature (don't moan; I'm not going into a history lesson).Social stratification, species-ism, and biological discrimination are a part of this work. So is action, combat, witty dialogue, and an interesting universe. Certainly, there is science in this work of fiction, but it is not hard science fiction, which means those of you who dislike long explanations of how technology works or why there is gravity on a spaceship don't have to worry.

The novel starts with a bang and ends with a boom. You'd have to read it to get the joke. I'd certainly recommend reading it, either in print or on an e-reader. And as for the e-book edition on the Kindle, the format was smooth, with the exception of what I suspect are "drop caps" for the first letter of every chapter. The first character of each chapter stood above the body of the text - it was clearly not intentional.

Ah, but someone is bound to say: It is too late to get any of these gifts. It's not! If you go with a Kindle, you can get it delivered before Xmas. And if you include a gift certificate, the books can be downloaded in minutes. This means that every following year you can do last minute gift buying as the gifts can be downloaded.


Rick said...

I'm up for trying one of them, and I'm particulary curious about the free internet connection thing. Does this mean I have complete internet access through Kindle with no charge? And can I write on one of these with a wireless keyboard attachment (using online Google docs of course).

And I like the fact that a big corporation can monitor what we read and where we go. I was beginning to fear that I would have some privacy left and would be therefore excluded from the electronic Borg.

Steve Buchheit said...

Toby does the boom and bang very well.

I like the Kindle (don't have one myself) because of the e-ink tech it's built around. Also, Amazon seems to have gotten the "it better be able to connect every damn where" thing correct. Still don't want to read books on it (except maybe tech stuff). I know some people like to say how "old tech" books are. I've been trying to come up with snappy rejoiners to that. My latest attempt, "Oh really, so why do we have advanced technology attempting to simulate them?"

And sure, holodeck sex may get you through the cold dark winter of the big black, but it's still second cousin to the real thing. (must write that down somewhere).

Anonymous said...

Ha! I was typing my response before I'd finished reading your post. Imagine my surprise at being mentioned in a blog post that I was reading...

I bought a Sony Reader in March 2009. I chose the PRS-505 because it was older (and therefore less expensive) than newer models, and it seemed to have all the features I'd really *need* in an eReader. I've read 10 free books on it and listened to podcasts on it. If I pretend that the 10 eBooks I read would have cost as much new hardcovers, then I can argue that the Sony device has "paid for itself." (I'm not even convincing myself.)

Honestly, though, I still continue to read paperbacks and hardcovers more often than I pick up the Sony. However, I have a new plan: To read all of the books in my house and then donate them to charities. Maybe at that point I will switch over to the Sony Reader exclusively. Of course, at that moment I will be wandering out of the bank vault only to discover that I have broken my glasses...

William Jones said...

Rick - The device is great as a e-reader, and it is not bad as an audio book device. But as for using the Internet, it is very limited. While connecting to download books is fast and the display is sharp. Direct access to websites and blogs presents format issues. In fact, the Kindle lists "Basic Web" features as "Experimental." Now this might change in the future, but so will the "free" access to anything but books.

Steve - Actually, I've been on a few panels with Toby, although I suspect he has no memory of me. Mike Resnick was on one as well. I suspect all of us remember him, and no one else.

And you're right, the e-book readers do seem to be a simulation of books (see Jean Baudrillard, or my other posts about this topic -;> ). With that said, I've found being able to sync notes between my devices is useful, and I can carry complete libraries of philosophers and writers.

Jeff - Thanks for your input on this topic. You're right, the cost is tough to justify by speaking of savings. And actually, the paperbacks are not reduced that much in price. Hardcovers are discounted, but they seem steep for an electronic book.

As for the price of the ebooks, the accepted notion is electronic books are cheaper than printed. In a way, this is true. There is no repeat, long term printing cost associated with ebooks. Nor are there shipping costs. However, the retailers and distributors take a sizable percentage of ebooks, sometimes making them less profitable than a printed book. In the end, the return cost to the author and publisher are usually less than traditional books - or matching. The exception is with hardovers.

Back on the subject. Jeff, I still read printed books. I always will, and I think they'll always be around. I know why I enjoy the Kindle. What confuses is me is why do so many other people? :) Is everyone doing literary analysis and enjoys the note making features? What a great world that would be!