Where Logic Meets Love

The Good and the Bad of Using an E-Reader

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

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The Good and the Bad of Using an E-Reader | Faith Permeating Life

When Mike and I moved out to Whoville, we rewarded ourselves for taking the leap we'd been wanting to make for so long by each buying something we'd wanted. He got a tablet, and I got a Kindle Touch. It was somewhat of an impulse purchase for me, since I had said I didn't think I'd ever want an e-reader.

Then it sat on my nightstand for a very long time.

I did purchase A Year of Biblical Womanhood when the Kindle version went on sale, but as someone who rarely spends money on books, it was starting to look like I'd made a foolish purchase.

Then I joined our local library -- not the campus one, where I'd been getting books, but the local city one. And I discovered that the library was a member of the OverDrive system, meaning I could borrow ebooks for free and have them automatically download to my Kindle without leaving the house.

I went from reading no ebooks to reading a lot of ebooks.

So now that I've got a good six months of ebook reading under my belt, it seems like a good time to share my thoughts on the e-reader, so all of you readers out there who are on the fence can decide if it's right for you.

Things I Like About It:

Instant free books
I definitely did not read this much the last time I was unemployed. There are probably downsides to the fact that I've put off reading things that aren't in my library's digital catalog, but there are still so many books in there. I can put holds on six books at a time, and I try to aim for ones with different hold lengths, so just about the time I'm finishing a book I'll get an e-mail with another one to download. Then either it gets auto-returned on the due date or I can return it earlier if I reach my check-out limit. But seriously, I read a lot before, but nothing like the number of books I'm getting through now that I don't have to physically return or pick up books from anywhere.

The light weight
When I was commuting the past few years, it never seemed like a big deal to carry a book in my work bag (and I always carried a book with me). It didn't seem like lightening the load with an e-reader was necessary or would make that big of a difference. Then two weeks ago I went on vacation for the first time since I really started using my Kindle, and I remembered how two years earlier I had packed four or five books in my suitcase to last me the week. This time I took only a (stuffed to the brim) carry-on and a purse, so having a Kindle was fantastic. And because I had Internet access while on vacation, I could keep borrowing books from my library's site and having them magically pop up on my Kindle by connecting to the wi-fi. I got through four books in my week of vacation and packed nothing more than the slim little e-reader.

I got in the habit of highlighting and writing in my books in high school, when we were encouraged to "annotate" frequently, and got out of the habit in college, where my expensive textbooks could only be resold if they had clean pages. Now that I've started using my Kindle, though, I've turned back into a highlighter. I highlight quotes to share on Goodreads, interesting facts I want to share with Mike later, or clues in a mystery that I want to refer back to later. Because I have a Kindle Touch, it's easy to just drag my finger over the parts I want to save, and then they show up in a nice list in my "Notes & Marks" section for that book.

Word lookup
It's rare, if I come across an unfamiliar word in a paper book, that I'll take the time to stop reading and look up the word. I usually just get a vague idea from the context and move on. But with the Kindle, I can touch and hold a word, and it will give me a dictionary definition. (Most of the time, anyway. Not all words are in there.) Now I actually find myself wanting to press on unfamiliar words on paper! It's helpful both for better understanding what I'm reading and for expanding my vocabulary.

No accidental spoilers
Books on the Kindle start with the first chapter. This means, for fiction, that you don't have to risk seeing chapter titles or other information in the table of contents that could give away information. And I don't have to worry about that dreaded moment when my bookmark accidentally falls out and then have to try to figure out where I was in the book without unintentionally reading ahead. The e-book will always start up right where I left off.

Not being put off by long books
I've noticed that even though I will read thick books, I tend to constantly be aware of the huge number of pages still left to read, and how slowly my bookmark travels through the book. The Kindle provides a progress indicator as a percent of the total book, but because you can adjust the font size to fit your needs, it doesn't give you a number of pages. So long books don't feel that long. I finished one book a while back and was surprised to find out it was a 500+ page book. I've also found that if a book seems to be dragging, I can increase the font size and my reading speed picks up, I think because my brain is used to associating large type with short, quick reads.

The time-left indicator
The most recent Kindle update added a feature I love, which is that in addition to the progress indicator, you can have it calculate your reading speed and estimate how much time is left either in the chapter or the whole book. I don't use the whole-book timer for the same reason I don't like knowing how many pages the book is, but I love the chapter timer. With paper books, I tend to flip ahead a few pages, looking for the end of the chapter, in order to decide whether to finish a chapter before putting the book down. With the Kindle, I always felt kind of lost not knowing if I was nearing the end of a chapter or still had a ways to go. Now I have a fairly reliable indicator of how much longer it will take me to finish a chapter.

Lies flat
After I'd been reading e-books for a while, I got a hardcover book from the library and rediscovered one of the frustrations of this kind of book. I like to read while I'm eating lunch, but with a paper book I usually have to use one hand to hold it open while I eat with the other hand. With my Kindle, though, I prop it up a little bit with my vitamin holder and then can read without needing any hands except to touch for page turns, which I can do with a knuckle if my fingers are food-covered. It's also easier to lie down on my side and read because I don't have part of a book hanging over my head and don't have to constantly move it (or myself) depending on which page I'm reading.

Things I Dislike About It:

Turning pages
A few months ago I had to get fingerprinted for a volunteer organization, and then had to get them redone because my ridges apparently don't stand out enough without being coated in lotion first. So it may just be me, but if my fingers are too dry it takes forever for the Kindle Touch to realize I'm trying to turn a page, which gets very old very quickly. Although I like the Touch for ease of highlighting, I think I probably should have gotten one with the buttons so I could turn pages more easily. If I get really frustrated I'll go put lotion on my hands, which helps for a while but, unsurprisingly, smears lotion on my Kindle.

No easy flipping back
Sometimes I'll be reading and some character or place will be mentioned, and I won't remember who or what that is (especially if it's been a few days since I picked up the book). With a paper book, I'd flip back through past chapters and usually had some visual memory of about where it was in the book and where on the page it was. With the Kindle, I could go backwards, but it would then be hard to get back to where I was (unlike just sticking a finger in a paper book for a moment while you flip back). On the other hand, I recently discovered that the Kindle app on my iPad has a search option, which is much faster than trying to remember where I found something in a paper book. I don't like reading ebooks on my iPad, but the app is useful when I need to search a book to refresh my memory. Some books even have an "X-Ray" option in the app where it will scan the page for people and place names and remind you who/what they are. [Edit: I just realized that there are Search and X-Ray options on the Kindle itself, too! I just hadn't noticed them because they're hidden while reading.]

Accidental jumping around
To turn to the next page, you touch the right side, and to turn back a page, you touch the left side. I know this, and yet ever so often I have a brain fart where I try to swipe down or up to move between pages, or I accidentally brush the screen somehow, and suddenly I've jumped back or forward four chapters and have to try to figure out where I was. I guess it's about the equivalent of accidentally dropping the book you're reading so you have to flip through to find the page you were reading, but it's still quite annoying.

Dust and crumbs
I am overly sensitive about specks of things being on my Kindle screen, which happens a LOT. If you get dust on a paper book you probably won't even notice, and if you get a crumb of something you can brush it off. On the Kindle, though, it seems like there's always something getting on the screen, and I can't just brush it off because then I end up swiping and I get the massive jumping-around I just mentioned. So I have to actually hit the button to put the Kindle to sleep, wipe off the offending particle, and then turn it on again. It can get irritating after a while.

Not recognizing covers
On vacation my best friend and I were talking about our Kindles, and this was something she pointed out. When you read a paper book, you see the cover constantly because the book is sitting out or you're picking it up and putting it down multiple times. On the Kindle, you see the cover when you download it and that's about it. So it's possible you'll see a book cover down the road and not even remember that you've read that book because the cover doesn't look familiar to you. If you remember titles well, this isn't as big of a deal, but if you're more of a visual person you may find yourself picking up books you've already read without realizing it.

Lack of the whole "book experience"
I had to include this because this is one of the primary arguments I hear for why people don't get e-readers, and one of the reasons I initially gave for not wanting an e-reader. I like the feel of a book in my hand! I like the smell of books! I like the social aspect of people seeing what I'm reading! I like cool bookmarks! And yes, all of these things are true. But I still own plenty of paper books, and I can still go walk through bookstores and libraries, and having a Kindle has brought to my attention many of the more annoying aspects of reading paper books that I hadn't taken into consideration. So while I would count this a downside, it's not as big of one as I had anticipated.

Those are my thoughts on e-books and my Kindle Touch! What have been your experiences with e-readers?

Note: As always, I don't do promotional posts. I just sometimes write about things I like that I think are relevant to you all. This is one of those times


  1. Before my parents went on a six week trip to Spain and Morocco last year, we got my mum a Kindle Touch. And she loved it so much that they bought me a Kindle for Christmas. But an old school one, not a Touch. It took me FOREVER to get used to not swiping to turn pages!

    I love it for travelling, but I struggle to use it apart from that. Because while Australian libraries use OverDrive, Kindle books aren't available to libraries outside the US. Which means that every book I want to read, I have to buy. And with the Australian dollar dropping and me being unemployed (hopefully not for much longer...), it's pretty prohibitive unless I want to read really awful self-published erotica/religious books, which seem to be the only Kindle books available for free. And if you live outside the US, you're not eligible for the Kindle Daily Deals.

    So while I love its convenience and the fact that it weighs nothing, I use it to read maybe one book a month because I just can't afford to use it more than that. You know? Sigh. #Australianproblems

    1. Oh boo for regional restrictions! I didn't realize that you couldn't get the Kindle books on OverDrive. That sucks!

  2. I refuse to get an e-reader because I hate that they contribute to putting bookstores out of business. Browsing in brick-and-mortar bookstores is one of my greatest joys in life, and e-readers are ruining it. There's only one Barnes & Noble in the whole city of Boston now.

    I've held out on Netflix for a long time, too, because there's still one video store near me and because there was a little video store up the street from me growing up, there's sentimental value there. But I've accepted that video stores will eventually die out. I WILL NOT accept the same about bookstores, though. Long live bookstores!

    1. Mike pointed out, around the time that Borders stores were closing, that it wasn't too long ago people were angry with Borders and Barnes & Noble for putting independent bookstores out of business. Now when people say, "My local bookstore is closing" they mean one of these big chain stores, which I think is interesting. We live in an area that still has a lot of independent bookstores (and independent everything), and I think they might actually do better now that Amazon is driving the larger booksellers out of business. My feeling is that people go there (the small independent bookstores) for reasons other than wanting the latest bestseller as soon as possible, so they attract a different crowd than online, but I don't know for sure. I used to be a big bookstore browser, but then I stopped spending money on books and became a library browser instead. Thankfully I don't think libraries are going anywhere soon!

  3. It was the being able to check out books from the library on my iPad that got me to finally read ebooks too. And OMG I can't stop. I still like reading "real" books best, but I've really been enjoying my Kindle and Nook apps on my iPad. It's been great for when I travel because I don't have to carry so many books with me, and if I finish one book I don't have to wait until I get home to read the next one. It also has helped me to really look for the good book deals. I have a book buying problem, but I'm much smarter about it now. Sometimes a certain book is cheaper on Kindle or Nook, and then there are times when it's in the bargain bin and cheaper as an actual book. I've been able to explore the deals more and get more books than I normally would at the same price. Which is awesome!

    1. Sounds like you've discovered a lot of the same benefits I have! I definitely appreciated my Kindle most when I was traveling.

  4. I am sort of pedantic and even though Kindle books start with the first chapter, I ALWAYS click "Menu"-->"Go TO"-->"Cover." I just really like starting from the very beginning!

    1. Haha, I actually do this too! I don't want to miss any epigraphs or dedications, which usually get skipped over. But I try not to look at all when paging past the table of contents.

  5. I really like ebooks for a really DUMB reason. I use my ipad to read books and I can read books in the dark. So I can turn everything off and get ready for bed and read and then just go to bed. Yeah I could get a booklight but i'm lazy and can never get them to stay n if i'm out of town that doesn't really work. I don't care what people say I still think they are awesome.

    I also like that I can carry 100 books on one device. So if I go on a trip I don't have to pick and choose what I can carry. I also like all the free recipe books i can get on amazon.

    1. That is the tradeoff of reading ebooks on a tablet -- it's hard to read on a tablet in sunlight, but it's already backlit for reading in the dark. I got a case for my Kindle that has a built-in booklight, so like you say, I don't have to worry about carrying a separate booklight like with a paper book, which is nice on the rare occasions I want to read in the dark (like on a car ride home at night).

  6. I'm an ebook convert. Not to say that I don't still buy or read hard copies of books, but ebooks are just really convenient. One of the things I love about them is they're a lot easier to handle one handed... which to most people wouldn't be a big deal, but to me is huge because when you're standing up on a subway, you can hold a pole and not fall over and still read. I also really like being able to read in the dark...

    1. Oh yeah, another good point! I got good at holding regular books with one hand growing up because I was constantly reading and eating, but that can be unwieldy with large books and it's just easier to hold a Kindle generally.

  7. Thanks for this thorough assessment! I'm really happy with my choice of a Kindle keyboard 3g a couple years ago. I'm sold on e-readers, though I do love browsing bookstores and libraries too (I appreciate your reply to Katie above). I'm glad my e-reader's screen is neither touch nor backlit. It's easier on the eyes and feels less computer-like, so reading can still be a relaxing experience.

    I do occasionally use the Kindle app on my iPhone or laptop, and I like that my husband and I can register both his and my devices under my Amazon account, so we can share books. I've used Amazon's loan function to loan books to my dad, as well as their gift function to buy books for other people's Kindle accounts. Pretty handy technology, but not without concerning issues overall (privacy, corporate control, etc.) I think it helps to remember you can never really "own" a book on your Kindle - Amazon is still ultimately in charge.

    Of course there are other e-reader options not tied to Amazon or B&N, but I know very little about them.

    Oh, and I love the amount of FREE public-domain books available for e-reading! Including "complete works of" volumes (I've got George MacDonald, Emily Dickinson, Sherlock Holmes, to name a few).

    1. That's a good point about the "ownership" issue -- another reason I'm glad that almost all the reading I do nowadays is library books (e-books or otherwise). I was disappointed to find out that very few books can be shared between Kindle users; I had looked forward to sharing books (the few that I bought) with my best friend, who lives half a country away, since I couldn't lend her paper books, but so far that's not an option with most books, which is disappointing.

  8. Recognizing covers didn't occur to me, but that is a downside. I like the dictionary on my Kindle, but I also feel like the distance it puts between me and an actual dictionary makes me lazy.

    I have a love/hate relationship with my Kindle Fire. My entire family decided to get them, so I went along. Love it for traveling and my commute on the train. My city library has a fantastic ebook lending program. I will read books in whatever format I can get them from the library, and this week I'm probably being a little too aggressive about getting a seat since I'm reading a large physical book. I still enjoy books.

    Kindle Fire doesn't have page numbers (the first generation at least) which sucks for book group. As much as I try to stay with the library and not purchase from Amazon, when I DO have to buy a book, it really irks me that I can't support my local bookstores that use Google for electronic books. I hate being sucked into Amazon.

    And still on the other hand, I don't use a smartphone, so having a tablet has been really wonderful for those kinds of perks--apps, email when traveling, etc. If it dies someday, there should be an Ubuntu tablet by that time!

    1. I like the dictionary on my Kindle, but I also feel like the distance it puts between me and an actual dictionary makes me lazy.
      I think the question is, do you actually go look things up in the dictionary when not reading on your Kindle? This week I read a hardcover book and I kept thinking, "I should look that up..." and I never did. So at least in my case, it's a situation where I'd rather take the lazy way than not do it at all.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on your e-reader!


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