The Good and the Bad of Using an E-Reader
Tuesday, June 25, 2013Tweet
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.
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.
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:
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