I admired it, a little nervously, ordered a nice bright blue cover for it, charged it up, and then put it away so we could both have a rest. But before Christmas, I was off to Brussels for a week or so to meet my new grandson. Aha, I thought - the ideal opportunity. I was taking a bag full of presents plus the normal luggage; there wouldn't be enough room for a decent supply of books. The Kindle was about to come into its own.
So I sat down with it, I downloaded the instructions, we had a friendly chat, I ordered a few books - two Dickens, since you ask, an Alan Gibbons, a Penelope Lively (by mistake, this one, I was actually just looking), and we were all set. I was about to get to know my Kindle.
Of course, many of you will have been using an e-book reader of some kind since the year dot plus one or two. I'm hoping you will be able to explain some of the things I still haven't mastered. But mostly, this post is for those who still haven't dipped their toes in. I'm going to tell you how it's been for me. (Please note: this is about the Kindle from the point of view of a reader, not a writer. For the writer's point of view, best go to Authors Electric.)
- The most obvious pro is that it's small and light, so it's perfect for journeys. It was at its heroic best when the train I caught from Paddington to Bristol was full, so that I had to stand as far as Reading. (No, not an impenetrable pun - I mean the town.) With the Kindle, I could hold on to a seat with one hand and my Kindle with the other. It was easy to see the screen, and, back in ancient Rome with the charismatic Didius Falco (no, not to be found in Dickens or Alan Gibbons - will explain later), I was able to laugh in the face of adversity and Great Western.
- The screen is very comfortable to read. In a dark corner, it's easier to see than a paper page. You can adjust the print size, too, if you want to. And you don't need two hands to keep the pages flat.
- It's fantastically easy to order new books. You can access the Kindle Store on the device itself, choose your book, and within minutes it's downloaded and ready to read. This is great if you're on the move. For instance, some time ago I read the first Lindsey Davis book about an informer in ancient Rome, the aforementioned Didius Falco. My son had the second in the sequence, so while in Brussels, I read it. I was hooked. He didn't have the third, so I downloaded it onto my Kindle. When I reached the end, there was the first chapter of the next one. After a very brief struggle on the grounds of cost and self-discipline - Dickens was still there, ready and waiting - I gave in, and ordered the next one. Okay, yes, and the next - for the train, you see...
- It's fantastically easy to order new books. What you should do is order old, free books, or seek out ones that are cheaper than the paperback version would be. I'm sure I'll get the hang of this in time, (particularly with the help of Authors Electric) - it's just that Didius Falco has very cleverly got in the way.
- Ordering books is very quick, but everything else is very slow. I don't have a smart phone, and had thought the Kindle would be handy while I was abroad for checking emails, blogs etc. I found each action - connecting, loading up a new page etc - agonisingly slow; and when the page had loaded up, it was much too tiny to read. I know there's a way of getting round this and making the page bigger, but I lost patience and used my son's laptop instead. I was going to have another go at it before doing this post, but the Kindle seemed to have got confused, what with having been away and all (not to Brussels, just to Essex even) and plaintively said it couldn't connect. It managed it after about half an hour, but this post is already late. (Sorry, sorry...)
- The device is visually very dull. I'm sure the technology will catch up, but at the moment it doesn't do colour. But in the meantime - how hard could it be to make the device itself some colour(s) other than grey? It's positively leaden, which seems a contradiction when one of its usps is that it's very light in weight. I'd be much fonder of it if it was bright blue. And the screen savers which it uses - they are images of classic writers from the past, which is fair enough, but these versions are strangely dull too: Emily Dickinson is on there at the moment, with dull charcoal eyes and dull charcoal hair. Black and white most certainly doesn't have to be leaden, but these images are.
To sum up, I like my Kindle. In some circumstances, I like it a lot. I wouldn't consider it for any books which are illustrated, and by preference I would still go for a conventionally produced book - particularly one which is beautifully produced, an object of loveliness in itself as well as in what it contains. For the future, I'd like something which was similar to the Kindle in terms of size and portability, but was also easy to use as a means of accessing the internet and using the keyboard.
It probably already exists - I know that as far as technology goes, I always arrive ten days after the battle. If so, go on, tell me about it!