Endangered Species

A friend of mine is a devoted and serious reader. She has been so since childhood. I fear she is a member of an endangered species. She is also a reader of all things literary: the classics, the contemporary, the romantic, and fiction, non-fiction, periodicals and newspapers. You name it: she reads it.

She began reading long before the days of e-books, digital editions, or any of the new Readers such as the Google Reader or the Stanza App. So I was quite honestly astonished when she told me that she had purchased the Kindle1 and started to read Kindle editions of some of the work she would normally buy at the bookstore. I was even more amazed when she reported she loved reading with the thing.

However, I was not surprised to learn she had ordered the new Kindle2 long before it was ready to be shipped, nor that she loves the thing even more. To find out what has happened to her, I arranged to interview her briefly the other day:

R: Now that you have a Kindle, do read all of your books electronically or do you still purchase and read printed books?

L: I still purchase and read printed books

R: Do you enjoy reading books on the Kindle as much as you do in their print version?

L: Sometimes more, sometimes less. I don’t like reading 50 pound hard covers, for instance!

R: What are the biggest selling points of the Kindle for you?

L: Portability. Ability to download passages.

R: I know you used to keep a commonplace book where you copied by hand memorable passages that you read. Do you still do that with the Kindle? I am aware it can be done, but do you maintain your commonplace book practice with books that you read on the Kindle?

L: Yes, I’ve tried to download them and put them in a program that is searchable. I’m behind on it though.

R: Tell me what you read with your Kindle? For example, do you read the New York Times on the Kindle or the printed newspaper? What magazines do you read in the Kindle version? And is there a class of books that you are more likely to read on the Kindle than in the printed version?

L: I get newspapers and magazines though I find I’m just as likely not to read them as in print! But at least I don’t build up piles of newsprint anymore. I get Fortune, Forbes, The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal. I’m more likely to read hard covers in Kindle versions and anything that I think I’m likely to mark up.

R: Can you describe the major differences between reading a book electronically on the Kindle from reading it as a printed book? Has the Kindle changed the quality of the reading experience for you?

L: Being able to easily refer back to marked passages is good. Being able to search for something if you lose it is good. Being able to read one-handed (gloves, eating, hanging onto subway pole) is good. But I don’t think it is a dramatic change. More convenience.

So that, in a nutshell, describes what the experience of reading literature in electronic form is like for her. If you can believe her, it isn’t that much different. She still reads as much, maybe more actually. She reads on the subway, no doubt on the street, and just about anywhere she happens to be.

From the beginning the feature of the Kindle that concerned me most is the business of saving those memorable passages that you want to record and collect in your commonplace book. You cannot mark passages as you can do in a printed book, but it seems you can highlight them on the Kindle, moved to a saved file, and then download them in a flash to a Word document on your computer.

In contrast, when I wish to add them to my commonplace book, I must retype each one. In a lengthy book with a great many memorable passages that does take a while. I’ve always justified the time it takes because it gives me a chance to review and think about them anew. But there are other ways to do that too.

Am I going to buy the Kindle 2? Yes, I am tempted. But first I’ll ask the President for some Bailout Funds. Given the likes of other such requests, this seems like a fairly worthy one, don’t you think?