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Kindle the fire

February 2012

Even though I love my computer, I still have heaps of proper books all over the house and am reading several at any one time.  It has long been my habit to sneer at electronic books; rather I have banged on about the sanctity of the printed word, the beauty of a well printed book and the satisfaction of casting an eye over one’s own library and finding a book worth a re-read. 

So when Amazon offered to lend me their latest electronic book reader (the “Kindle”), I accepted with a curled lip and a mocking laugh, and warned them not to expect too much by way of praise. 

The chewing noise you can now hear coming from the East Anglian countryside is the sound of me eating my words.  Whilst I still stand by all my views on books, I can see that the Kindle, or one of its competitors, can be a good and useful addition to the library of anyone who enjoys reading.

If you don’t know what a Kindle is, think of something about the size of a DVD case, but a bit smaller and thinner.  Most of one side is screen.  It uses your internet connection to download books, and can hold the texts of thousands of books in one go.  It’s battery operated, of course, although one charge does seem to last for ages.

First, the good news.  The big recent development is the screen; in the past, screens were lit from behind, and reading for any period tired the eyes.  Nowadays, light is not involved, and the experience is as easy on the eyes as any book. 

In fact, for many of us, it’s better, because you can increase the type size and line spacing to suit your own eyes.  This, I gather, is proving to be an astonishingly popular feature for readers of the Oldie generation; many of our eyes are beginning to show their age. 

There are more books available than you can count.  In the case of the Kindle the simplest way to load books onto it is via the Amazon website; you simply pick the book you want, buy it, and by magic it pops up on your Kindle.  What’s more, if it’s out of copyright, it’s free;  one chap I know in his late 80’s has re-read all of Trollope this way, at no cost to himself, and in a much more readable typeface than that in his printed versions.

For me, however, the revelation has been subscribing to magazines.  Take The Spectator, for example.  I cancelled my subscription years ago; partly because much of the magazine irritated me, but also because I can get the bits I do want on their website.  But I can’t read that in bed or at breakfast.  A Kindle subscription, however, is £2.99pm; this compares to £8.66pm for the printed version, and it arrives on my Kindle a day earlier than by post.  For some reason the Chess and Bridge columns are left out, but otherwise it’s all there, with no advertising. 

It’s no good for a magazine that’s heavy on pictures, as the Kindle can only manage small black and white images, but if it’s words you are after, it’s the business. What’s more, subscribing to foreign magazines means no higher overseas rates, and no waiting for the post.

There is some bad news.  I don’t like the onscreen keyboard; it’s not a touch screen, so it is slow and laborious to use, but one seldom needs to use it in any event.

Also, you can’t lend your books or magazines to anyone else (they are tied to your Kindle) but you can have more than one Kindle using the same Amazon account, so everyone in the house can have the same stuff on theirs, and the words need only be paid for once.

All in all, I’m sold.  There may be better machines than the Kindle, but I am now a convert to the principal of reading books, and especially magazines, on one.  What’s more, I might well give up buying printed magazines altogether, or at least those that offer an electronic edition.

Post Script

Several readers have reminded me that there are thousands of free books also available for reading on a Kindle from Project Gutenberg, a long established resource of out of print and copyright literature.

Amazon themselves have a useful page of advice on this as well:  click here for that.