Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Enkindling Kindle Fever

If you asked me three years ago, I would have told you that I would never trade my beloved books for a piece of plastic. Books were sacred. I loved looking at my collection, double-stacked on numerous shelves, much as it occasionally exasperated me that I had nothing new to read. E-readers were for the militant technophiles, people who loved technology for its own sake rather than what it could do for them. I love technology too, but a digital library could never replace my physical one.

Fast forward to late 2009. After studying German for seven years, I was going to spend six months in Berlin for my junior spring. Now, I read fairly quickly, so in six months I could probably go through 50-100 books, depending on how busy I am and not counting re-reads. There was obviously absolutely no way to include that many books along with everything else I needed, so to avoid the insanity that not reading for six months would spawn, I resigned myself to getting an e-reader.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I ended up being "surprised" with a Kindle for Christmas. I thought I would hate not having an actual book in my hands, but it turns out they're not that dissimilar - because the screen isn't backlit like a computer, it's basically the same as reading on actual paper. I was afraid that "page-turning" would be really obnoxious on an e-reader, but it's not any more distracting than flipping an actual page. And it was absolutely invaluable for my international trip, final year in college, and moving after graduation. It's a thousand times easier not to have to pick a very limited selection of books for travel and instead carry around hundreds of books in my purse. And when the Overdrive digital library started lending books for Kindle, it became even better - thousands more titles were available to me almost instantly, all without leaving home.

While the instant gratification aspect of the Kindle has been less than healthy for my wallet, e-books are often (though not always) slightly cheaper than their more traditional counterparts. Plus thanks to Calibre, it's possible to convert PDFs and other e-Book formats to a Kindle-friendly state (or vice versa, if you have a Nook or iPad).

It's not a perfect book replacement. You can't just rifle through the pages looking for a specific scene, though if you have some idea of the words you're looking for, you can search for them, which is very convenient. While you can take notes, you can't highlight, which is why I never used my Kindle for textbooks despite the fact that it would have been much easier to carry around.

So of course, I will always have a special place for real books in my heart - and on my bookshelf. I love actually being able to touch books just because they're books, so I spend plenty of time at my local library and bookstore, where I try to stick to the discount shelves. And my nearly two years with the Kindle haven't been without the kind of technical issues that you'll never get from books, though I will say that Amazon was very friendly and helpful in fixing these problems.

So basically the point of this post was: even if you think you're one of those people who will never sell out and get an e-reader, at least consider it. Borrow a friend's for a few chapters or stop by a Barnes and Noble to try the Nook.  It's an especially convenient option now that Amazon has significantly dropped the price of the Kindle. Particularly if you're someone who travels a lot or doesn't have room in your home for a ton of books, just think about it. I'm glad I did.

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