Not Now. Daddy’s Reading.

I had a good Thanksgiving. One of the major pleasures of the long holiday weekend was the opportunity to read for several hours at one sitting on Saturday morning. That doesn’t happen too often. Between work, house and family, I usually read in short gasps these days. When I do read, I often find myself reaching for the kinds of things you read when your attention is frayed — blog posts, Twitter links, short articles. Nothing too taxing. The hard, long-form stuff gets pushed into my Instapaper account for later. Later never comes.

I am reading Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, a 900+ page wrist-bender of a book. This is the kind of book the Kindle was made for – light weight, easy page turning, no book mark to misplace.

Still, as I was reading, a part of my mind was busy wondering what my daughter thinks I am doing when I read the Kindle. I grew up loving books because my parents love reading. My dad read books and newspaper. My mom read magazines. I saw them reading. I saw the book in my dad”s hands. I watched him work his way through the pages. When he finished, the book changed. I could keep track of how fast he read, how quickly he moved through the pages.

My daughter can’t do that. She loves to read, but I wonder if, somehow, the experience of seeing me read on a Kindle or an iPad or an iPhone deprives her of some essential element that seals that love for reading. The outside of the book never changes.

Worse, when reading on the iPad, how does she know I am reading a book and not watching a video or playing a game or surfing the web?

It comes down to gestures and demeanor, I suppose. The act of reading is essentially a meditative act. The outward signs of the internal activity are steady, intent focus. I’m sure she can tell the difference from when I am reading and when I am doing something else. I wonder if seeing me read on a multipurpose device, like the iPad, diminishes for her that sacred sense I picked up watching my dad read. Or, if there is a sacred sense, if the positive feelings around that act will transfer to the device in general more than to the hidden object of my actual attention.

It is a bit maddening to consider.

I don’t worry so much about my daughter. She already loves books, both paper and virtual. I read in both formats often, so she knows books as objects are important to me. Still, I wonder in how many households will the love of reading become confused or conflated with the love of a specific device. In other words, will the tablet or eReader become fetishized in the same way that books are fetishized?

I had a terrific morning reading last Saturday. I read for a few hours, then played with my daughter, then read some more. Back and forth. Several times, she asked if I was ready to play.

“Not now. Daddy’s reading.” These aren’t words I say very often. Maybe I should say them more often. They are significant words which I think she will remember.

No worries. She didn’t feel neglected. “Okay,” she told me. “I’ll just grab a book and we can read together in our minds.” This was her way of saying we could each read our own books together in silence. I do believe this remains one of the main joys of human experience — the feeling that comes from sitting together in silence, enjoying one another’s company while swallowed up in the delicious isolation of your own books. It is a part of what makes libraries so comforting.

We spent the best part of our Saturday morning this way, she and I. I was reading my Kindle. She was reading a print book. We were reading together in our minds. I’m pretty sure everything is going to be okay.

 

Reading is fun again. Thanks, Kindle.

Just finished reading George Martin’s Game of Thrones. A truly great read. I enjoyed this book more than anything I have read in recent memory. Someday soon, I may write a fuller review. Not now.

For now, I’m just struck by how much fun it is to read. For the past year or so, I’ve been reading fairly serious stuff and thinking a lot about the mechanics of reading on an eReader. I have extolled the virtues of reading on the iPad and I stand by those comments. But reading on the dedicated Kindle reader is more fulfilling in some ways.

Reading on the iPad has a bit of artificiality to it. The iPad is great for my technical and professional reading. I can cover much more ground and gather news from a variety of sources. But the reading I do on the iPad is primarily for information, for learning, discovering and understanding. My iPad keeps me well-informed.

Somehow in all of this, I had forgotten how healthful it is for me to read for escape, to immerse myself in the details of a time/place that does not exist. I love print books because they are single-function devices. A good fiction book is an escape pod. You get in, pull the cord and go where it takes you. You don’t strictly get to decide where you are going. You are just going somewhere that isn’t here.

But, let’s be honest, print books are sometimes a bit of a drag. You’ve got to carry them around, keep up with them, remember to stick them in your work bag for lunch break, and you never seem to have them handy when you find yourself with an unexpected 15 minutes to read.

The Kindle, like a print book, is a totem. It is a magical object that does that same one thing. Except I can carry it everywhere because I can read on my eReader, my iPad app and my iPhone. Being able to pick up the story when and where I want is a liberating experience. It makes reading fun again.

Having written all this, I’m not sure if this post is about the Kindle making reading fun or simple my own rediscovery that fiction is fun and helpful to my overall well-being.

Either way, I love to read. Reading is fun again. I am grateful, at least in part, to Kindle for helping me rediscover that.

The Kindle is magic (too)

I got a Kindle for Christmas. Not the Kindle Fire. The other one. The one that people get when they actually want to read on it.

For those keeping score, yes, you are correct. I got an iPad last Christmas. There are certainly more important things to honor and celebrate at Christmas than the acquisition of new technologies. This blog isn’t about those things. Still with me? Read on.

For the past year, I have been loving the iPad as an eReader. I have mostly used the BlueFire app and only occasionally the Kindle app. The Blue Fire app is quite versatile and allows easy import of ePub and PDF titles. BlueFire works brilliantly with our library’s eBrary eBook collection allowing the reader to leapfrog over the need to download Adobe Content Server to the personal computer. All that’s needed is a college issued account to access the eBrary database, a personal eBrary account to register your checkouts and an Adobe account to manager the DRM. Headache, right? Much easier than it sounds once you’ve done it a time or two.

My major complaint with Blue Fire is the inability to organize your library. Books all land in one tank and stay that way until you delete them. Also, you can’t easily rename files dropped into your Blue Fire tank. So if the PDF article comes over with a crazy title like ASDAFASDFLKWJERJWERFSADFSDF124244545.PDF, you are pretty much stuck with having to remember what that is. Not cool. Still, I have enjoyed the iPad eReading experience very much.

Reading on the iPad is very easy and enjoyable. I like the size and shape of the “book” in my hand. My major problem has been that I can’t seem to find time to read because every time I pull the tablet out during the day, my daughter wants to grab it from me to play games. Every parent knows, the only time you get to read during the day is when your child is sufficiently distracted doing something else.

Enter Kindle.

Several of my friends have been Kindle readers as long as I’ve been an iPad reader. Setting aside the whole iOS vs. Android thing, most of my Kindle pals say that the iPad is a fine and magical thing but that reading on a tablet isn’t really the same thing as a reading on a dedicated eReading device. General impressions hold that reading on a tablet is more distracting, nerve-racking or just somehow more awkward. I didn’t get it. I thought this was a silly distinction. That reading was reading and it didn’t really matter if it was on a color, touch screen tablet, a gray scale e-ink device or paper.

I was wrong. The iPad still has heavy magic, but the Kindle has a simple, totemic kind of magic that gets closer to what I really love about books. The basic Kindle does one thing and does it really, really well — it gets you reading. There aren’t many whistles or bells. That’s wrong actually. There are millions of whistles and bells. They are just all hidden under the hood. They are built into the framework where you don’t have to see them if you don’t want to. The magic:

  • I register my Kindle to my Amazon account and every eBook I have ever purchased is immediately available.
  • My books follow my progress across every device. I can read on my Kindle, my iPhone and iPad without every losing my place.
  • Not only can I highlight passages and make notes. I can share my notes and quotes through Facebook and Twitter. This is the kind of social reading I keep expecting to find from GoodReads.
  • I haven’t tried the public notes yet, but the idea of crowdsourced text glossing is pretty interesting, yes?
  • The Kindle fits in my jacket pocket.
  • My daughter doesn’t want to grab the Kindle away from me because it is just words on a screen. Nothing special to see here. This device doesn’t play Angry Birds.

I’ve been reading with the Kindle for less than 12 hours now, so there will be more to say on this. For now, I just want to tell my Kindle loving friends: “You were right and I was (a little bit) wrong.”

Amazon’s eBook lending library is not the library apocalypse

A few days ago, Amazon announced its free eBook lending service to Amazon Prime members. I read this program summary from AppAdvice and thought, “Uh oh. Here it is. The library apocalypse.”

I didn’t rush to blog about this, which actually worked out in my favor. Cooler heads prevail. Bobbi Newman of Librarian By Day has this very succinct, reasonable assessment.

In short, there isn’t enough content freely available at Amazon’s lending library to compete with the sheer volume of free content available in public libraries. The one free eBook per month (with restrictions) cannot compete with the free access to multiple books (ie. “all you can read”) available through public libraries.

Also noteworthy: this service only works for actual Kindle users. This service is intentionally built not to work with iOS Kindle apps. This is mostly about an incentive to give people one more reason to buy a very moderately priced Kindle eReader or the new Kindle Fire. Great PR move.

Amazon Prime is a good deal and this free lending service looks pretty interesting. I see a few titles in the list that I want to read myself. A bit tempting to try. Amazon is trying to lure heavy readers into buying their eBooks from Amazon. That’s fine, but most serious readers I know use both the public library and Amazon.

What do you think? Can Amazon lure you away from your local public library for the price of one free borrowed eBook every month? Or, might the reading tent be big enough to accommodate more than one option for getting free stuff to read when you want to read it?