Amazon recently released the Amazon Kindle 2, the second-generation of its ebook reader, the Kindle, first launched in November of 2007. The Kindle 2 is sleeker than its predecessor with a better battery life, but with the same hefty price tag - $359 for the device and $9.99 per book for most new releases and best sellers.
In the same way I am turned off by audiobooks, I am equally disenchanted by ebook readers. It's just not the same. I've always loved reading, but it's only recently that I realized how big of a bookophile I actually am, when suddenly faced with the opportunity to listen to/read non-books. Judging by my three generous bookshelves and my reluctance to borrow from the library because of a need to own, display, and wistfully peruse my own collection, I really shouldn't be surprised.
Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower, or a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell musty and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer is - it has no texture, no context. It's there, and then it's gone. If it's to last, then the getting of knowledge should be tangible. It should be, um, smelly.While I might not be as smell-centric as the lovable librarian Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I genuinely love books in their old-fashioned and paper-filled form, from their glossy covers and bindings to their genuine heft and myriad designs.- Rupert Giles
I wasn't willing to invest in a Kindle for the sake of writing a blog about it, but I did invest in an affordable alternative - the Classics app for the iPhone.
For a very reasonable $2.99, the Classics app gives me access to a growing list of classic novels to read on my iPhone, a list of 18 novels (and novellas) so far, including Pride and Prejudice, Alice in Wonderland, Paradise Lost, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Bram Stoker's Dracula.
Pride and Prejudice is on my 2009 booklist, and as I had already dragged an old copy out of the attic, I figured why not give it a go on the iPhone, and if it's too unpleasant to make it all the way through, then I'll pick up where I left off with the book, patiently waiting for me from the third row of bookshelf #1.
The Classics app is attractively designed, loads quickly, and easily "bookmarks" the last page read whenever exiting the app. I am particularly partial to the virtual bookshelf that loads before the book selection is made, complete with (color!) book covers that can be arranged in any order. Some of the classics, including Alice in Wonderland and A Christmas Carol are illustrated editions, which helps retain much of the originals' charm.
The screen of the iPhone is significantly smaller than the Kindle and other ereaders. With fewer than 100 words per "page" in the Classics edition, the 300 page Pride and Prejudice morphs into a 1500+ page ebook. The app features "realistic 3-D page flips", but I found the page-turning animation to be too distracting and was glad to be able to turn the feature off.
With my initial struggle to get used to the ebook format and the many extra "page" flips, I had some difficulty following the dialogue in the first few chapters of Pride and Prejudice, although part of the blame can be laid on Austen, who didn't feel it was necessary to always identify the speaker, even in conversations involving more than two people. Although I have no problem curling up with a book for hours at a time, I found it hard to focus on the iPhone screen for extended periods, unable to concentrate for longer than 40 minute subway rides.
I am happy to say that I did make it all the way through Pride and Prejudice and with only $2.99 + tax invested in this experience, I definitely feel like I got my money's worth. I'm thinking about trying out Paradise Lost next, with the hope of getting my hands on a hardback illustrated edition in the near future.
Assuming ereaders, like all new technology, will eventually drop in price as demand goes up and production costs go down, I could see myself investing in a fourth or fifth generation Kindle. I'd be particularly interested in having magazines and newspapers in a portable, digital format, rather than constantly having to recycle back issues, when it's be easier to spare the trees in the first place. I could also see myself using an ereader while commuting or while on vacation, without having to lug around as many physical books.
I just can't imagine ever replacing my bookshelves and the hundreds of books with their dog-eared pages and shelf-worn spines. As portable as bookshelves might be in the future, it'll never be the same.