Were books always this difficult to use?

I have used the Kindle for over three years now, and hardly ever use paper books anymore. I still buy them, but they have several disadvantages that get in the way of me actually getting though them:
  • They are heavy. I read 200-300K-word books most of the time, and they can get pretty big. It’s hard to hold them comfortably.
  • They don’t save your place.
  • You need to keep the physical object with you; you can’t put it down at home and then resume on your iPhone while waiting in line at school.
  • They are two-sided. You have to keep shifting how you hold it, and rolling over in bed, as you move from one page to the next.
  • They don’t have lights built into the cover. Since I do almost all my reading at night before I sleep, this is a serious problem.

This is why I still haven’t finished the latest Alcatraz book despite Brandon Sanderson being my favorite living author. It’s just so hard to read physical books! I wonder how I did it all these years. Recently I won a book from a Goodreads giveaway and after trying to read it, I gave up and bought a Kindle version. I still love paper books. They look nice lined up on my shelves. They smell good. They have pretty covers. I really like looking at them and collecting them. But if I actually want to read a book, I’ll go with the Kindle every time.


“What’s this?” you ask. “Another post about books? Isn’t he interested in anything else?” Well, I am interested in lots of things, just not all at the same time. Right now I like books. It’s important for bloggers to write about interesting stuff. Otherwise it’s no good at all. For example, I will now write a paragraph on American football.

American football (which I shall just call football for the rest of this paragraph) is a popular sport in the United States. People like to play it and watch it on television, presumably because they find it entertaining. There are two teams, and they compete against each other. They play on a field with grass, or sometimes turf. The grass has lines on it. The lines are parallel to each other and run across the field from one side to the other. They are spaced 10 yards apart. The teams line up when they decide that’s a good idea and then attempt to run into each other, unless they are holding the ball, in which case they try to not get run into. Sometimes they throw the ball, and sometimes they don’t. Just when it starts to get interesting, the referee blows his whistle to make everyone stop attacking each other. Eventually, the teams move the ball to the other end of the field and receive points. Sometimes they kick the ball too. The ball is pointy on the ends so that players can throw it with one hand. The game is apparently so tedious that the audience has difficulty cheering. To address this issue, the teams employ “cheer leaders”, who lead the cheering, like a conductor leads an orchestra, only their batons have exploded on one end and have streamers sticking out. The teams play the game until the timer says they can stop.

That is what happens when bloggers write about things they don’t care about. So no more imaginary, hypothetical complaints out of you.

In recent years, there has been a revolution in the format of books the like of which has not been seen since the printing press. E-readers are changing everything, the good and the bad things. E-reading makes buying and reading books way more convenient. However, this is not without cost. As people begin to move towards e-readers, they consequently buy fewer physical ones. This means that physical bookstores are going to start disappearing, which means you can’t go and peruse real books or have author book signings. Disneyland claims to be the happiest place on earth, but bookstores are even better. They are even better than libraries, which are the second happiest place on earth. Disneyland can come in third I guess. And since we are ranking happy places, the best bookstore I have ever seen is University Book Store next to the University of Washington in Seattle. But what can be done to save bookstores? I don’t know. Hopefully we won’t lose bookstores altogether. But I admit I am part of the problem, since I buy most of my books electronically now. There is an upside. E-readers are so convenient that people are more likely to buy a book rather than drive to the library, so authors and publishers should make more money, which is good.

Speaking of e-readers, there has been some confusion about what they are for. As more and more devices become integrated (e.g. phones, cameras, PDAs), people expect electronics to do everything. However, the Kindle, Nook, and other dedicated reading devices are really lousy at doing anything else. In fact, they are not even good at some kinds of reading. They are excellent for black and white, sequentially-read books. But any book you want to flip around pages in quickly (like a text book) is awkward since you can’t just flip anywhere instantly like with a real book. And for color magazine articles, the screen is too small and not color. The Kindle DX fixes the size issue, but is still black and white. When the iPad was announced, Steve Jobs decided to try to break into the e-books market (he sort of broke in, but mostly he just broke it. See my first post). He touted the tablet as an e-reader, even though it does not have the e-ink screen that is the main feature of e-reading devices. LCD screens like the iPad has are good for lots of things, and are better for magazines and comics which need color. However, they are still backlit, which means that they are not as comfortable on the eyes as paper or e-ink. So the iPad is a tablet device that can display books, but is not really designed for reading novels. Remember, e-readers didn’t even bother existing until e-ink came out just for this reason. But Steve Jobs said it was an e-reader and confused everyone into thinking it was a Kindle competitor, despite the very different goals of the devices. People even thought the Kindle 3 might “upgrade” to LCD (a much older and less appropriate technology), and Jeff Bezos had to come out and explain why the Kindle 3 continued to use e-ink screens (basically, so the Kindle would be a great e-reader, rather than a lousy iPad clone). It’s kind of like the head of Honda explaining why the new Accords are still using engines. It should be obvious, yet enough technical writers questioned it that he felt he needed to offer a response (mini-rant: tech writers can be awfully dense at times, like the ones who jumped on the Vista-hating bandwagon and doomed the world to XP for 3 more years). Anyway, this is my attempt to clear up the confusion, for the 3 or so people who actually read this blog. Kindles are good for reading books page-by-page, and not much else. The screen really looks like paper with ink, so it is as easy on the eyes as a real book. iPads are good for everything except comfortable reading because they have the jack-of-all-trades but not-as-easy-to-look-at LCD screen. So if you plan on reading books electronically, get a Kindle. If you want to read mostly magazines and web articles or need a multipurpose device, then the iPad is a better choice because it has color and is faster at navigation. Basically, you are choosing between a book-like experience with the Kindle and a computer-like experience with the iPad.

So perhaps the one problem will help solve the other. People will buy iPads, try an e-book or two, get tired of reading novels on the screen, and go buy books at their local bookstore and keep it in business. Yay!

A post of deliberately unspecified ordinal status

Most blogs probably have a first post talking about it being the first post in the blog. But I shall entirely avoid mentioning that this is the first post, so as not to bore all the people who come to read this blog with such an inane observation. They can already see that this is the first post, and don’t need a discussion about it. However, I will warn you not to devote large amounts of time to searching for the previous post, because there isn’t one. But that is all I need say on the topic.

I have wanted to have a blog for a while now, but could not think of a good name. As you can see at the top of the page, this is no longer an issue. Now I just face the formidable task of writing a blog that lives up to the name (which, by the way, is inspired by nedroid.com, ducks, and John Bellairs).

I will discuss awesome things such as speculative fiction, technology, and European history. Occasionally, I might post things I have written (things that aren’t blog entries, I mean. Obviously, I must post a blog entry in every blog entry). These will be short stories or maybe even poems if I think of any funny ones.

The new Kindle will be out this month! I am excited. It is just in time for the release of Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, although Macmillan has priced the e-book at $14.99, which is almost as much as the hardcover is on Amazon. This removes the book from the “impulse buy” price range for many people. The publisher’s idea is that now people will run out and buy the hardcover instead. Now that the Kindle is becoming much more affordable and widespread, the increase in sales from the convenience of the Kindle platform could easily offset the loss in hardcover sales. The really ironic thing is that publishers raised prices because Apple told them they could. Apple’s influence here is ironic because Apple’s e-reader, the iPad, is suitable for magazines and maybe textbooks with diagrams, but not for serious reading. For a novel, a computer screen like the iPad’s LCD just doesn’t cut it for most people. The Kindle is so successful because its screen looks like paper and is thus easy on the eyes, like a real book.

Revenons à nos moutons. The new Kindle’s screen is even better than before, and fixes my biggest gripe with earlier models: the color of the plastic body. My old Kindle’s screen looked great outdoors, but the white borders would reflect a lot of light and blind me while I was trying to read. The new graphite color will fix that.

I’d like to conclude by encouraging everyone to watch Inception while it is theaters. It is transcendently awesome. It’s my favorite movie ever by quite a large margin.