goldkin: i has book (goldkin bookly)
While not as revelatory as my last post, I've quietly been making changes to my reading habits to better suit my time and needs as I crawl back into the working world. One of these changes, re-adopting my hitherto forgotten Kindle 2, was one of the best decisions I've made in recent years.

Tersely, there are three reasons why I've returned to using my Kindle 2 as a main reading device: organization, ease of accessing syndicated reading like newspapers, and text-to-speech when my eyeballs are focused elsewhere.

My Kindle 2 saw no love for the past year and a half, as I tinkered with newer technologies to adjust to a kleptomaniacal pattern of picking up and reading new books. The evident problem, though, became finding and finishing what became a worryingly large backlog of books and media that I'd started on a whim, put down, and never quite got back to because it would rapidly get piled ten books deep in sales and promoted "free" books the next evening.

This isn't a problem for me with physical media. When I buy books printed from dead trees, I naturally organize them into book stacks by category, adding the newest thing to the top of each stack as space allows. Occasionally, I will dig into one of these stacks -- by popping all books off the top to reveal the target one, taking the desired book, and replacing the remainder -- but again, no big deal. Each category in my mind maxes out at one to two dozen books in my backlog, so forming these physical pylons to my luxury reading isn't that ominous a proposition.

Interestingly, my Kindle 2 supported this reading model well in digital form, which made me quite happy. Its display model has a setting that pushes elements accessed or purchased most recently to the top of each stack, recurring forward as new items are purchased and read. It also supports folders that ascribe to this model, allowing for multiple, distinct virtual book stacks. As a bonus, books could be added to multiple folders if there was ever indecision as to which stack they should live within.

This works extremely well for me. Foregoing the discussion on why stacks work better than queues in this scenario, the organizational control of folders with a naturally ordered pattern in time and virtual space made for easy flow and low-stress management of what I was reading at any given time.

In addition to proactive organization, any new reading material that I have serialized for me -- for example, newspapers, Calibre feeds, and items from Instapaper -- would naturally appear at the top of my home screen with a clear label defining it as new. This made reading in my mornings especially easy: turn on my Kindle, wait for its screen to (briefly) refresh, then proceed to read the Seattle Times and "The Daily Nibble", my custom selection of RSS sources rolled into a tidy little personal newspaper.

Bizarrely, this organizational layer did not repeat itself in the Kindle Fire or Kindle Apps for iOS or Android. Those applications use different organizational models (and in my opinion, not for the better), balanced with good features that support rapid browsing of books-at-a-glance. The Fire's Carousel is a cute model reminiscent of Apple's take on the same, with favorites and enqueued reading placed just below the One True Stack, but it just doesn't work for any sane reading plan threaded through multiple topics or subjects of interest. The Kindle Apps eschew folders and stacks entirely, instead assuming that the reader immediately knows what they wish to read and can select it from the contents of their device or their entire library, which is always a chore when I just want to resume reading where I left off. And both of these models live within devices that are inherently noisy ("Play this game! Read this email! Hey! Hey! Listen!"), such that uninterrupted reading and flitting between books is not elevated especially well.

And then there is Kindle text-to-speech, this wonderful invention that allows me to listen to books while I spend my time whittling away at household chores or driving around Seattle.* Research indicates this is actually provided by Nuance technologies, and hearsay indicates... only for e-ink devices. So, even though I have this wonderful Kindle Fire that should be able to dictate books to me, and despite the fact that the TTS service can be clearly seen living as a background task on the device... no reading function exists. Thus, another point in my Kindle 2's favor.

I admit frustration that Amazon, in a rush to make new features available and sell all of the ebooks (all of them), has forgone some of the fundaments that make reading so enjoyable for me. I believe there's lots of opportunity here for Amazon's competitors to catch up... and if they do, I will have no regrets switching allegiances.**

* Piped through my car stereo, such that I'm not inhibiting my ability to drive or breaking any state laws.

** Subject to DRM restrictions and license portability, which is still the elephant in the room for digital media.
goldkin: i has book (Default)
I had originally been saving this post for three ideas from now, once I'd had time to test a full week of Calibre. But with klitaka's post on the concept of e-readers and the trailing rebuttal, I couldn't resist letting this out early.

I too had been skeptical of dedicated reading hardware, happily confined to the small screen of my iPod Touch and Nokia N810. Then, Amazon decided to drop the price on the Kindle 2 to $189, with a sale in the $150 range (after acquiring Woot.com).

I bought in at the $189 mark. Despite missing the subsequent deal, it's been my best purchase in recent memory.


What surprised me was how easy the Kindle factored into my reading habits. It's very lightweight, easy for me to carry to and from work (and read over lunch), and has the nice benefit of looking quite bookish with the cover I purchased for it. I've also made liberal use of its WhisperNet functionality, which -- as someone who lacks a data plan more out of choice than need -- is a nice bonus.

It's more than that, though. Feedbooks and Calibre have been terrific boons to my reading schedule, happily converting information previously lost in the bowels of my Google Reader account to beautiful, serifed PMN Caecilia font -- serialized daily. The result has been a tenfold increase in reading speed and comprehension, due to my recognition time for serifed over non-serifed fonts.

It's also allowed me to reclaim my time while driving, simply by plugging the device into my car audio, flipping on audiobook text-to-speech functionality, and listening to passages from Mort while making my daily commute. Or, if I'm feeling especially tired that day, adding audio to my experience, thereby helping me remember what was written.

And as an added bonus, the Kindle 2's generic appearance has saved me from having to justify my reading habits to complete strangers. More and more, this is leading me to purchase and read books in public that I would not have otherwise -- including passages of Sythyry's Vacation and several books on fictionally-rooted draconity and spirituality that I'd skipped entirely. I overlooked these through college, for fear of assumptions made by my less literate peers.


All this, and I agree with most of klitaka's points. I particularly agree with those on DRM and the object nature of a book, including a comment made in a previous post:

[T]he fewer books that are made, the more important those physical things become and the more power these objects lend to the ideas inside them.


Basically, I don't take my success with the Kindle as a strike against the physical nature of books. Rather, I find the best use of this device as a sampling mechanism for new reading (via WhisperNet and the Kindle Store), and to add a sense of permanence to media that otherwise would have none.

And with my newfound ability to carry my daily book, feeds, and reference material from place to place -- including what was originally taboo -- the experience has been strikingly positive.

--
Outtakes for this post include studies on reading speeds between physical books and e-readers and my thoughts on the Kindle's newspaper delivery service. I'll have to talk about these at length sometime.

In brief, while the Kindle improves my reading speed over digital media, it *doesn't* improve my speed over reading a physical book (the speed of text refresh and pagination make it slightly slower). The fact my Kindle is more accessible to me improves my reading diet significantly, however.

Likewise, the Seattle Times is definitely worth the delivery fee of under $10 per month. This surprises me, as I'm effectively buying into a paywall, paying the cover price and associated bandwidth fees. The survival of print media would be a great topic for a future post.

Also, a hat tip goes out to [personal profile] kistaro, whose evangelizing on xir own Kindle helped clarify the benefits of purchasing my own.

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