Sunday, 18 September 2011

Moby Dick Kindled

My sister-in-law never leaves home without a book, not ever. Family legend has it that she even had one stowed about her person when canoeing down the Zambezi, and found time for a few minutes reading respite when climbing Uluru. After all, you never know when the opportunity to read may occur. So I suppose after an interval of two years since I last saw her, I should not have been surprised to see her pulling a Kindle from her handbag instead of a dog-eared paperback. Nothing is more portable, and she had been travelling for the best part of a month before I saw her. What better way to carry a bibliophile's supply of reading matter rather than having to rely on whatever turns up along the way? Odd then, how I felt she'd sold out somehow.

I've only recently experimented with the Kindle myself. I thought I should attempt to embrace it, because obviously it's got plenty going for it: portability, price of books, less physical waste in terms of books you don't want to keep once you've read them once. So, I read Moby Dick, which had been on my 'to do' list for years. Perhaps it wasn't the best choice. It's fascinating and strange and rather wonderful, but also hard work, necessitating a bit of page-counting (see earlier blog for this phenomenon). Perhaps a thrill-a-minute page-turner (ha!) would have been a more satisfying first experience, allowing me to forget the medium.

One thing that had puzzled me was how you know how far on in the book you'd got without reference to the chunk of pages to the left of the page you are on versus the chunk of pages to the right. Here, the percentage read bar at the bottom of the Kindle page proved an equally good, or perhaps even better, visual indicator.

Turning the pages was a little frustrating. It seems logical to me to have a back button on the left of the page and a forward button of the right, but in fact both sides of the Kindle have both, so that I frequently pressed the wrong one and went back instead of forwards. On the other hand, the loading of each new page as you turned them was quicker and less intrusive than I'd feared, feeling much like the wordless moment you get in the turning of a physical page.

I was reading a free version of Moby Dick, and it is the only Kindle book I've ever read, so I don't know if others are more sophisticated in terms of layout. With this one, an asterisk next to a word denoted a footnote, and then the footnote appeared in the next paragraph, which started with an asterisk but was otherwise identical to the rest of the text. As this was not necessarily the bottom of the page, subsequent paragraphs reverted to main text, with no kind of separation between note and text, which I found rather confusing. The glossary too, was rather inadequate, containing few of the words I wanted to look up.

As to the physical object itself, I found it less easy to hold than I'd expected to. Of course, it is less cumbersome than a thick book, but I didn't find a way to hold it than was as easy as resting your thumb inside a paperback with the rest of your hand around the back. It was too flat to be really comfortable to hold, and I had to be careful not to press the forward and back buttons by mistake.

All these are niggles I suppose, things that would disappear with practice. I will try it again. I do see the point. If Camilla can fall for the Kindle, I expect I could get used to it. But you know, don't you, I don't even have to say it: it's not the same as a real book.