The Pros and Cons of Reading on a Kindle

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Five years ago, I discovered my daughter had arrived in the USA for a family holiday with a luggage load of books and little else. They were heavy and cumbersome to lug along the east coast, but in her defence, I kind of understood. We were going to be travelling for over 3 weeks, and she didn’t know what she would feel like reading a week from now. But humph.

 

We bought her a Kindle for her birthday. It was the first one I had ever seen (they are unavailable in Sweden) and I was in love. And very surprised. Because isn’t a huge part of the joy of reading founded on the smell of the paper and the feel of the firm weight in your hands?

Not necessarily.

Kindle’s light weight and convenience are just two of its pros; there are several other indisputable advantages re. reading books and magazines on a device.

Size of print: Forgotten your glasses? No problem. Simply switch to a larger font size. Or a clearer font. Or both. Custom your reading experience to you.

Left or right-handed: with controls on both sides of the device, this is a non-issue.
Reading in the dark: Read while your partner sleeps. No more light disturbance in dark settings.

Management: How does one arrange one’s books? By genre? Alphabetically? By title or author? Kindle allows you to arrange your books into Collections. Think shelves. You name your collections as you wish and one book can be listed under several. So you might, for example, pop the same book into Favourite Authors, Women’s Fiction and Christmas. Then you browse that specific collection whenever the spirit moves you.

Storage: Kindles can store hundreds and hundreds of books on one device. Read via the app, and the only limitation is the size of the computer, phone or tablet’s memory. And there is absolutely no reason to even use that memory: each Kindle account comes with cloud storage – your own personal bookshelf in the sky – where you can upload and download the books you have bought to your heart’s content.

Search: Now technically, you could simply choose to load your Kindle without any thought of order. The Search function will find a book via title or author, or even all the books that contain a specific search word. Words can be searched within books, with each page location listed and accessible at a touch.

Dictionary: Strange word? Simply touch it and wait for the definition or Wikipedia page to open. Problem solved. This is also useful if you are reading in one of the foreign languages Kindle supports. Download the dictionary for that specific language and enjoy. Kindle stores the words you look up in a Vocabulary Building function.

Notes & highlights: Kindle allows you to highlight words or passages and even add own notes, and then collates them into one place. This allows you to scroll through your list of highlights, touch the one you want, and return to that exact location in the book.

Location: This is one of Kindle’s most useful features. Not only will it keep track of where you are in the book, and sync all your apps and devices to allow you to continue reading on say, your phone (which is great for those wasted waiting minutes), it will also keep track of how quickly you read and offers the option of indicating how much time you need to finish the current chapter or whole book.

Samples: My favourite feature. Every Kindle book has an optional free sample. This is very useful if you want to gain a feel for a writer before shelling out for the whole book, which ultimately means a great way for writers to gain more readers, as downloading a sample is obviously free. I use Samples to remember which books I want to read. I read a review or receive a recommendation, download the free sample, and pop it into the relevant Collection(s).

Easy purchasing: While Kindle books tend to cost roughly the same as hard copies, give or take a few bucks and definitely without shipping costs, access is infinitely easier. Are you in a foreign country or live in the sticks? Finished your book on a train? Simply hook up and choose another. Voila!

Share an account: Sharing an account with family members means several people can read the book at the same time. And everyone has their own clean ‘copy’.

Email: Every Kindle device or installed app has an own email address which allows you to send own documents straight to your device. Write a book in Scrivener, and then send it to your Kindle to see how it looks.

eBooks: Great opportunity for self-publishing writers. eBooks have blown the publishing industry wide open, for better and for worse. But largely for the better.

Amazon recommendations: Based on what you buy, regular recommendations are a good source for discovering new writers within your favourite genres and finding out when a favourite has published a new book.

But no silver lining, however shiny, comes without a cloud.

So what are the cons of using this laudable device? Once again, there are several, and some are biggies.

No paper smell: Reading by Kindle is not the same experience.

Illustrations inferior: No beautifully illustrated book will ever be Kindle-friendly. Not yet anyway. Available, but inferior.

No satisfaction in watching a collection grow: Gradually filling a bookshelf is very satisfying. Particularly for children.

Bedtime reading: Just don’t. Children cannot snuggle around a device. And it’s yet another screen for them to interact with. Much better to let them drift off to sleep the old-fashioned way. Over a book.

Kindles are expensive to replace if you leave it on a train: The books will still be available because they are linked to your account and not a specific device, but replacing a lost device is pricey.

Reading in the bathtub: Ditto, if you drop it.

Battery life: Run out of battery, and it won’t matter how many books you had two minutes ago. Right now, you don’t have access to any, unless you can switch device, until you recharge.

Wi-Fi or 3G dependent: Access to new books is entirely dependent on access to Internet or a 3G connection.

Reliant on Amazon: Now, there is nothing to suggest that Amazon would ever close down their Kindle operations. But what if they do? Hard copies cannot vanish at the touch of a button.

Big brother Amazon: Do you mind Amazon knowing how much of a book you have read? It’s none of their business, but they know.

Are Amazon fair to writers?: Rumour has it that Amazon may be planning to only charge readers for the pages they actually read. This is equatable with only charging shoppers for the slices of loaf they took; it’s good for the buyer but a disaster for the producer i.e. the writer.

And last but by no means least, the biggest drawback of all.

By online — and this applies to both hard copies and eBooks — and your local bookstore is missing out on a much-needed sale.

Our bookstores are dying, one by one. The knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff is an endangered species. And our children will never know the thrill of browsing among shelves of sweet-smelling pages or even the traditional dodgy right to choose a book based entirely on its cover.

And if a town loses its bookstore, not only are the locals reduced to buying their cards, stationery and books from a very limited and often uninspiring and predictable supermarket selection, any tech-challenged seasoned reader will find it very hard to continue enjoying books.

So buy what you can from bookstores. Again, there’s no shipping. Going away this summer? Buy a travel book before you leave instead of when you arrive. And travel books are always better as a hard copy.

Gifting books is another great idea. I defy anyone to walk into a bookstore and find nothing that would interest the receiver. There’s always something.

At the end of the day, if we want to keep our bookstores, we must support them.

Which, aside from the smart technology, is why there are huge pros and cons of reading on any device.

If we get the balance right, we can enjoy the best of both reading worlds.

And so will our children.

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