Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I can’t say enough about the new Kindle ebook reader. I just received mine last week, and have already loaded about 30 books, though I’ve only had to pay for four of them.

I debated quite a bit about buying the Kindle. I wasn’t sure about a first generation product, and the screen size seemed very small for a book reader. What decided me was finding so many of books from my now long gone library available for the Kindle, and all cheaper than buying the book in hard copy. I also like the idea of having my library fit in my pocket.

The Kindle is based on electronic paper, which uses a specialized ink with particles that react to an electric field to form the letters. Once the letters are formed, you can turn the device off, and the letters will remain. The Kindle has a long-lasting battery because it doesn’t need to use power to maintain a page.

The electronic paper reflects like regular paper, which means you can read the device in sunlight, and need some form of reading light to see the print. I thought the Kindle was a little dingy at first, with its light gray background, and dark gray text. However, under a stronger reading light, I found that it really does match the paper found in a typical paperback.

The page turning generates a flash that’s a little disconcerting until you get used to it. The small screen also takes some time to get used to, but once you do, doesn’t impact on the reading experience. If there was one thing I’d change about the Kindle, it’s the long “Next page” button on the right side. I keep hitting this when I shift in the chair or the bed, even when I’m using the cover in the proper format to hold the device. I think that someone at Amazon got a little carried away with the buttons.

I tried out the experimental services, including music and basic web services. The Kindle has a tiny little speaker, as well as a headphones plug-in. You can listen to music or audio books, though the iPod does a better job.

The web browser is decent, considering the fact that the Kindle is grayscale with a small screen. I was pleased to see that both of my sites loaded nicely in the device, thanks to my mobile stylesheets.

When you read a book, you can add a bookmark, and you can also place the cursor on the line and look up words in a built-in dictionary. There’s a way to capture clippings from books, which you can then download to your computer. No more having to hand type out a longish quote that you want to include in a weblog post.

The power of Kindle, though, is that quick access to the Internet for books, and not just to the Amazon store, either. I’ve found at least two sites that provide free, Kindle formatted books, drawing on the vast pile of books available at Project Gutenberg. My favorite site is Feedbooks, with its associated Feedbooks Kindle Downloading Guide. This book is full of links to formatted classics. All you have to do is position the cursor at any link, click the item, and the book is downloaded to the reader.

The Guide doesn’t just have older classics, it also has newer books that have been contributed to the public domain or released with Creative Commons license. Books such as the recent Firefly fanflic novel, and several short and long stories from Cory Doctorow and other writers. Currently, among the publications I have loaded are:

  • Allan Quatermain by Henry Rider Haggard
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Sun Tzu on The Art of War
  • A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf
  • Walden: On the Duty of Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau
  • My Own Kind of Freedom based on Firefly, by Steven Brust
  • Emma by Jane Austin
  • Acts of God: the Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America by Ted Steinberg

Another book currently loaded is Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn, a modern fantasy book recommended by someone who knows I’m fond of Mercedes Lackey. I found Vaughn’s first book for only 3.99 for the Kindle version. That was cheap enough to give the book a try, which demonstrates Kindle’s impact not only on how we read, but what we read.

When we have to check a book out of the library, pick it up at the store, or order it on Amazon, we may not be as willing to try an unfamiliar author or go with that first impulse of interest in a book. With Kindle, it’s five minutes from hearing about a new book to having it downloaded and ready to read. If I had to order the Vaughn book, pay the higher price, and wait for delivery, I’m not sure I would have purchased it. With the Kindle, I figured if I don’t like her writing, no real harm done; I’m out the cost of an AppleTV movie rental. If I do like her novel, though, I’ll have another author whose work I like.

More importantly, Ms. Vaughn, who is not as established an author as Lackey, has a chance to extend her audience. In fact, any author can reach a new audience, and you don’t have to have a publishing company behind you.

Kindle is based on a proprietary e-book format, which gives one pause–especially when considering that it’s going up against a Sony proprietary ebook format. Unfortunately, it’s also only available for the US at this time. However, rumor has it that the Sony ebook reader is going to be sold in Europe soon, so I imagine that Amazon is also pursuing this option. Where and when is hard to say. The Kindle is also not the cheapest toy around, though it is less pricey than an iPhone. However, my Kindle has paid for itself this week, as the weather swiveled from blizzard to thunderstorm and back to Blizzard, and I expect it will continue to pay for itself way into the future.

Besides, how can a person who writes under the name “Burningbird” pass on a device called Kindle?

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