The Kindle was essentially a blind date.
A friend of mine dared me to, basically. During month-long bout of reliably late ferries and thus painfully extended commutes, and after some trepidation as I looked over little pictures of a very un-iPod-cool device, I bought one.
Even so, it seemed stupid at the time. An eBook reader can never replace a real book—a real book can be read anywhere, and the feel of turning real pages could never be aped by any eBook reader, much less something as homely and clumsy-looking as the Kindle.
At least I could return it if I didn’t like it.
The Kindle made a bizarre first entrance.
Oh, so that’s how it is, I thought when I unpacked the Amazon box to reveal this “book” box. It was large enough to hold almost all of a deluxe hardcover version of George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords. Obviously an attempt to say “I am just like a real book, but I can be more than that.”
I was beguiled anyways, as I opened the mammoth thing and revealed the little Kindle inside (with its USB cable, cute power adapter, and little manual). Introductions were thankfully brief; just plug the Kindle in and go. There was a little tutorial manual in it as well. If only all our life partners came with little manuals on them.
The e-ink was surprisingly readable. There was no backlighting, nor did I expect it from the Kindle (I know other eBook readers have it), but the page was easy on my eyes, which I need badly. I was downing extra Advil while reading the Hugo novels on my laptop, let me tell you.
After downloading a sample and then buying a book online (The Omnivore’s Dilemma), uploading some of the free Tor e-books, and even emailing word documents to it (I was a 2008 Hugo voter, so I got in on the electronic versions of the Hugo novel nominees), I was satisfied with our first date. I put my Kindle to sleep.
The e-ink shifted into a picture from the classic huge coffee table art book, Audubon’s Birds of America.
Oh, hell no, I thought, but another part of me thought, Oh, hey cool. That’s some smart thinking on their part.
At first, I wanted my Kindle to dress in snazzier clothes, something other than the dour, default cover it came with. Something slinky, like the ones from M-Edge. Really expensive, though, and they had problems (black markings on my pure white Kindle? Perish the thought!). Fortunately, I found out just how valuable the original cover was.
But once I understood the physical side of my Kindle a bit more, at least that part of our relationship went smoothly. I never read my Kindle without its prim little black/gray-lined cover. I didn’t know if our relationship would move past this casual stage.
I’m not quite sure when I started seeing my Kindle as more than something to read. Certainly real books can be read, and also used as stacking material, paperweights, and (especially with tomes from J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin, and of course the great J.R.R. Tolkien himself) defensive weaponry. A Kindle would be hard-pressed to fulfill those extra functions.
But my Kindle could save notes and bookmarks. My Kindle indexed my books front and back so I could search them (handy when I started reading anthologies and collections). My Kindle let me buy more content for it, with as many free samples (which are much longer than what they let you have on almost any website) as the Kindle could fit. And after adding an 8GB Transcend SD card, no more worries about fitting more content on my Kindle.
My Kindle didn’t stop there, though. I could email PDF, HTML, Word docs to my Kindle’s email address and have them converted for free, then either download them and upload to the Kindle via USB, or whispernet them directly to the Kindle for 10 cents. My Kindle could read non-DRM MobiPocket files, so I could take advantage of random free eBooks.
But it was the FeedBooks Download Guide that showed me there were interesting things you could do with Mobipocket (and other e-book-specific formats like ePub, as opposed to plain HTML, PDF, or RTF). The Guide, itself an eBook, was hyperlinked like all get-out, including links to the web where the Kindle could download Mobipocket files to itself for free.
If you’d asked me how alluring an iPod for books could be, the week before I met my Kindle, I would have shrugged and told you that books are not anywhere near as ephemeral as music.
But it’s not about replicating the physical book experience. It never was, any more than digital music is about replicating the physical CD/tapes/vinyl experience.
It’s about enhancing interaction with the content.
And so I fell to learning how to make eBooks myself for my Kindle. I should have realized that I’d fallen at this point.
I knew I loved my Kindle when, one fine Saturday morning, I woke up and it lay beside me, displaying a picture of Jane Austen, and still charged enough to spend a quiet, absorbed weekend on the island, reading in quaint coffee shops and restaurants.
I knew I loved my Kindle when I spent a night writing perl scripts to massage 325 short stories from the SciFiction archives and blast them through the Amazon converter and into my Kindle (complete with a primitive table of contents).
I knew I loved my Kindle when I went through lengths to translate a long, hyperlinked work just for my Kindle.
I even learned a few extra functions for my Kindle. For instance, it finds restaurants and gas stations via GPS. And it tells the time. These are very important functions that a real book doesn’t give you. Although I find that I miss the spider-killing function. Perhaps the Kindle 2.0 can come with a small laser beam cutter.
The Kindle isn’t perfect. I can’t really think of many devices that are, even the iPhone. And perhaps it’s less perfect than it should realistically be.
But damn it. I love my Kindle. I use it for books and, well, to feed a bit of a geek scripting fetish when I figure out how to massage gobs of content into Kindle-readable form. I don’t use it as a PDA.
In light of what it’s done for my reading, the Kindle is very lovely indeed.