Active Reading with the Amazon Kindle

Posted on 28th May 2009 by Ryan Somma in Mediaphilism

Emily Dickinson Kindle Screensaver
Credit: Cheneworth Gap

I have hundreds of megabytes worth of free books that I’ve downloaded from Project Gutenberg and various other sources online, which presents me with the dilemma of finding a way to read all of them. Reading them at my desktop is uncomfortable, although I have done this, sitting at a computer monitor for hours to read a novel. I’ve gotten through a couple of books on my cell phone, but the small screen is also headache-inducing. My OLPC would make a great reading device, but it takes a long time to boot and crashes when I try to access large text files.

That’s why I decided to try out Amazon’s second-generation Kindle, an iPod for books. I was drawn to the fact that the screen is not backlit, which is easier on the eyes, and the device uses very little energy to render text, making it portable on long trips. Plus, as text-files are extremely small, I knew the device’s several gigs worth of storage space was something I would never exhaust. Could you imagine telling someone they’d be able to store thousands of books and hundreds of hours of music on devices smaller than a dimestore novella twenty years ago? Technology is magic.

Since this is a positive review, I’ll start with the bad and get that out of the way. At $360, the Kindle is very over-priced. I would value this device around $200 max, and there are cheaper e-readers out there with more features, such as the Sony PRS-700BC. Additionally, the Kindle should really be priced at $390 as you should absolutely buy a $30-$50 cover for it. I made the mistake of buying just the Kindle, and got a scratch on my screen within two weeks of owning it, just from carrying it around in my messenger bag with pens and a clipboard.

With the capacity to store thousands of books on the device, it’s an incredible oversight that Amazon provides no way to organize books on the Kindle. Despite organizing my library into folders by category on the device itself, all of my books are displayed in a single list sortable by title, author, and last accessed. This is fine now, while I only have four pages of books to flip through, but will become unacceptable years down the road, after I’ve downloaded dozens of public domain texts from Gutenberg and need to find that one passage in The Age of Reason to quote in a post.

One final gripe is that the Kindle offers an incredibly useless feature, the capability to subscribe to blogs. For a small monthly fee, you can subscribe to a wide selection of well-known blogs. Whoopdee-doo. What use is it to subscribe to a link-blog like Boing Boing on my Kindle, if I can’t navigate to anything the site links to? That would be as worthless as looking at ideonexus on the device.

Edgar Allan Poe Kindle Screensaver

Edgar Allan Poe Kindle Screensaver
Credit: Stillframe

Which brings me to the cool stuff. I am enthralled with the idea of being able to download newspapers onto the kindle for a small monthly fee, even if I have no intention of using the feature. Unfortunately for me personally, I read the news with an open text editor to take notes and links for later reference on ideonexus. Had this device come out ten years ago, newspapers might have found a viable way to survive the Information Age. Reading a newspaper on the back porch or at the breakfast table is a very relaxing and enlightening habit, and the Kindle enables this, making it a great gift for the Baby Boomers in your life.

Another feature Boomers will appreciate is the thriftiness of the device. I easily blow through a couple-hundred dollars a month in (mostly used) books from Amazon. Two inconveniences of this practice is having to wait a week for books to arrive in the mail and having to pay delivery fees. The Kindle 2 comes with a free, built-in cellular connection, which allows for buying books from Amazon right from the device. The e-versions of books are usually about half the price, if you factor in the shipping, and the book downloads directly to the Kindle, restoring the all-important “instant gratification” factor that is missing from online shopping.

One bit of advice though, keep the connection turned off except to synch the device, as it drains the battery. Thanks to the Kindle’s E-Ink display, the device uses very little energy. After a week of heavy reading on it, my Kindle’s battery hadn’t even lost a quarter of its charge.

My favorite characteristic of the Kindle is how it enables active reading. I read paper-based books with my cell-phone on hand to take notes on everything I read, diligently copying passages down into word files (I hate to deface a paper book by highlighting pages) and summarizing important passages. The Kindle interweaves this practice into the e-book. With the keyboard built into the device, I can take notes directly in the book I’m reading and highlight passages on screen. It’s like I’m adventuring through realms of knowledge and taking photos of things I see along the way. : )

The Kindle is not for everyone, but my fellow bookworms out there should definately consider an e-reader to support their addiction.


  1. No backlight? Carolyn reads all her books on her PDA under the covers at night :)

    Does it support CBR/CBZ (comicbook-rar, comicbook-zip)? That would be very handy. I mean, if it was in color…

    Comment by ClintJCL — May 29, 2009 @ 3:08 pm

  2. Thanks for this. Some different thoughts from me on a few things though:

    1. The Kindle is not quite overpriced when you factor in that the wireless and basic web browser can take you to the rest of the web 24/7.
    I saw that you don’t seem to take advantage of that. Wireless pricing for this cellular always-on service averages $30 to $60 per month alone, which means it starts at $360 per year. Interesting figure?

    The Sony PRS-700 doesn’t have wireless at all and reviews of its touchscreen say almost uniformly that the added layers needed have hurt the readability of the screen.

    The cover is only one of many that you can get on the Web, so if you WANT it you can spend $30 for it or you can instead get a far greater range of covers at M-Edge (very popular) or from many other cover-makes for the Kindle. I did like the Amazon cover’s hinge feature but I also wanted one that lets me stand it up, so I have two covers total now.

    I’m with you on the lack of folders!! But if interested, some customers have done a workaround for that which is very flexible though we still want the folders. That workaround is at my site and I don’t want to infest this reply with links.

    Re subscriptions to blogs that have links that you can’t use.
    But you CAN use them – I do everyday. The web browser goes to almost all of them. It’s slow but more capable than some have thought. I do have a guide or tips to using the Kindle web browser, with respect to the 3 modes of browsing that it offers us.

    That’s at

    By the way, re taking notes for your work, you already do highlighting of interesting passages which you can (via the copy of that which is put into your “My Clippings” text file), move to your computer for editing and expanding on those passages.

    I’ve now detailed how you can also make brief shorthand notes to yourself by copying and pasting passages to a note-box for the book (and for “My Clippings” file) first and then adding your brief notes to that referenced section. That’s near the top of my site also (this week).

    But first highlighting and then making a separate note does pretty much the same thing. It’s just a shortcut — I like seeing the copied section within a note I’m making, on the Kindle, while I’m [slowly] typing on it.

    I’m with you on the pleasures of this device. And am glad to see all the other e-readers being readied for the market after the success of this one.

    Comment by Andrys — May 29, 2009 @ 10:57 pm

  3. @Clint: No color unfortunately, and it doesn’t support many any file formats except e-book and text that I’m aware of. Supposedly PDF, but I haven’t tried it. The lack of a backlight was actually the selling-point for me. When deep reading for long periods of time, I need reflected light, back-light strains my eyes for some reason. I did read many books on my cell-phone before breaking down and buying this. : )

    @Andrys: Thanks for the input, and thanks for posting the links. With just a cursory look at them, I can see there are a lot of tip-and-tricks for getting the most out of this device.

    Comment by ideonexus — June 4, 2009 @ 8:59 pm

  4. I’d want one I could turn on or off :) It’s still a good step. Now they gotta make it cheap! :)

    Comment by ClintJCL — June 4, 2009 @ 10:01 pm

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