Previous reviews are at Mack Pitches Up

Monday, August 24, 2009

My Kindle -- First Report

My Kindle DX arrived last Wednesday. The photo shows it with a standard size hardback. The Steinbeck image is one of several that display when the Kindle is turned off. I picked the DX version because I wanted a larger display and a larger keypad for the sake of my arthritic fingers.

After this first section, I list the books I've downloaded so far then give a few general impressions.

I'm assisting a professor with Freshman Seminar this semester. The focus of the course is Sherlock Holmes and as soon as I received the Kindle I downloaded the The Complete Sherlock Holmes.

Saturday I sat down in the glider rocker with a cup of tea and the Kindle positioned on the story, A Case of Identity. Here's how the Kindle-specific bits of the session went.

Holmes spends a paragraph telling Watson that truth is stranger than fiction. I'll add a note to remind me if Holmes makes a similar observation in other stories. A little superscript number appears. Cool. Later on the page Holmes says "Depend on it, there is nothing so unnatural as the commonplace." That's a nifty phrase, I'll highlight it.

Holmes offers Watson snuff from a box that was a gift from the King of Bohemia so we know this story occurs after A Scandal in Bohemia. I make a note of that. Chronology of the Holmes stories is interesting if frustrating and ultimately futile.

Watson comments on a ring Holmes is wearing. It's a gift for services from the reigning family of Holland but Holmes can't tell Watson the story. Is there a later story that covers those events? I'll search the book for references to Holland. Holland is mentioned seven times in the canon but no story to explain the ring. Wasn't there a story in Shadows over Baker Street where Holmes and H.G. Wells go to Holland? Turn on wireless, go to the Kindle store, hurrah there is a Kindle version of Shadows over Baker Street, download it. There it is, "A Case of Royal Blood" by Steven-Elliot Altman. I'll add a note since I can use it when I discuss pastiches.

Reflecting on the case, Holmes takes an "old and oily clay pipe" from the rack. Popular image of Holmes has him smoking a calabash pipe with meerschaum bowl - search the book, neither calabash nor meerschaum are mentioned, what is meerschaum anyway, turn on wireless and go to Wikipedia, OK meerschaum is hydrous magnesium silicate mostly used to make pipes. Search for pipe in the canon, 109 references, scan results to see what type of pipe Holmes smokes - brier-root (3), black clay pipe (7), cherry-wood (1), plus lots of generic pipe references but nothing that could be described as a calabash pipe. It looks like we owe the calabash pipe, like the deerstalker hat, to the movies.

While reading this story I added notes, highlighted passages, searched the text several times, went on the Internet and purchased a book, and looked up a reference on Wikipedia. It beat manipulating pen and paper and sticking post-it notes on pages, going to the computer to look up something, and going to book shelf to find another book that has something related.

If you take notes while reading and the book is available, the Kindle makes the process much easier.

The Kindle is also fine if all you are doing is reading for pleasure.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes (Collection of all his adventures; Nine volumes in one Book) $3.60. The Amazon blurb says that this volume is authorized by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's estate. There are cheaper editions but one reviewer pointed out that "the quotation marks are real typesetter's quotes, the dashes are proper em dashes" indicating that it was prepared with care and doesn't look like it was done on a typewriter.

The Penguin Book of Gaselight Crime: con artists, burglars, rogues, and scoundrels from the time of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Michael Sims. $9.99. I wanted this book to supplement my interest in Holmes. It has an excellent introduction and the first story (read in a restaurant at lunch) is most entertaining.

Shadows over Baker Street, edited by Michael Reaves and John Pelan. $9.99. Short stories that put Holmes and Watson into the world of H.P. Lovecraft. This is another book I wanted to download to add to my Holmes collection. I will be teaching a class session on parody and pastiche and this is an interesting example of crossing genres.

Two-Way Split, by Allan Guthrie. $1.25. I've wanted to read something by this author for a while but, being a Scottish writer, his books don't show up in the book stores around here. Author/blogger Declan Burke suggested I start with this one. I felt bad that it only cost $1.25 but I'll have other opportunities to spend money on Allan.

Downloading a book is dead easy. Too easy. Must control myself from making impulse purchases. You can shop Amazon from the Kindle or have it sent to your Kindle from Amazon.

The resolution of the text isn't close to that of the printed page but is still quite good. The background is more grey than white but I've had no problems reading.

The screen isn't backlit so you need adequate ambient light. I also purchased an LED book light for that purpose.

I am able to use the tip of my finger on the keypad unlike my Blackberry where I have to use the edge of a fingernail. Fairly easy to make short notes.

The control buttons for previous page, next page, home, menu, and cursor movement/selection are on the right edge. I don't find that they get in the way when reading. I found that I knew where the buttons were and didn't have to take my eyes off the screen to highlight or start adding a note.

There is a lag moving the cursor around, changing pages, bringing up menus, pressing the selection button, etc. Annoying but not overly so.

I've taken the Kindle with me to lunch and to a bar while waiting for carry-out and found it more convenient than a book. The Kindle lays flat and you can tap the screen advancement buttons easily even with a sandwich in hand.

Unless I am downloading a book or going to Wikipedia, I keep the wireless turned off to conserve the battery.

I'll report more on my Kindle experiences as I add to my library.