Welcome to the inaugural edition of Monday Ebooks! We hope to make this a regular feature of AustenBlog. Regular readers have probably figured out that the Editrix is quite enthusiastic about ebooks and electronic texts of all kinds. We know that many readers can’t imagine ever using such texts in the same way they do paperbooks (or pbooks), but we hope to at least give our Gentle Readers some information about ebooks and answer any questions you may have. This week, we have asked Laura McDonald, proprietress of Girlebooks, a site dedicated to free ebooks by women authors, to review her Kindle, an ebook reader device developed and sold by Amazon.com. –Ed.
Mags has asked if I could write a up a few words about the Kindle for you folks. Just to give some background on my experience with the Kindle, I’m going to start with a few words on my experience reading ebooks pre-Kindle.
I think most people would say they are more technologically literate than their parents. That’s definitely not my case. Both of my parents are tech-FREAKS. I make a habit of inheriting their old cast-off computers and other gadgets. They also love to buy other people tech gifts, which was the case when they gave me a Palm pilot several years ago. The idea of a digital address book seemed like a cool idea, but it was certainly not something I would have shelled out the money for myself. I thanked them for the gift, half-heartedly loaded up my Palm pilot with some addresses, and then forgot about it.
A few months later while while doing a semester abroad in Brazil, I had just read the last book I had stuffed into my suitcase. Local books were not only expensive but also written in Portuguese. Imagine, the nerve! My mom mentioned that she quite enjoyed reading ebooks on her Palm, and why didn’t I try it out? Around that time I discovered a site called Project Gutenberg that offered (and still offers) thousands of free e-texts of public domain works. I was immediately in heaven with an endless library of words, in my native language, and free! Lovely Project Gutenberg, while an amazing resource, has two drawbacks. One, their e-texts are horribly formatted; and two, the layout of the site is quite…dry. If you don’t know what you are looking for, it isn’t exactly a site you browse for reading material. These two drawbacks were the main reason why I started my Girlebooks site–with professionally formatted ebooks and a very (hopefully) browseable ebook catalog.
After years of reading on my Palm, my parents recently presented me with a Kindle. Again, considering the price, it was not something I would have sprung for myself. While I had my prejudices at first, the Kindle–like the Palm before it–has turned out to be indispensable. The screen is so easy on the eyes I can hardly bring myself to read on my Palm anymore. Another point for the Kindle is the sheer amount of ebooks available on Amazon’s Kindle store. While I’m a little put off by their decision to “close” their store to other ebook formats, only offering ebooks for their own ebook reader, I’m sure this will change with time.
One really cool feature I’ve been making use of lately is sending myself a sample of books directly from Amazon’s online catalog. I see a book I’m curious about, and with one click I send it straight to my Kindle. It’s usually about a chapter’s worth of sample material with a dangerously convenient “buy and keep reading” link at the end of the sample. I’ve found this sampling method very useful. For example, I recently sent myself a sample of a highly rated Pride and Prejudice spin-off which shall remain nameless. I was entertained by the first few pages until I came upon–*gasp*–A DOUBLE NEGATIVE. Jane Austen never used double negatives! Then I started seeing grammatical errors all over the place and quickly decided that I would have a terrible time trying to read this book. Conversely, I have also sent samples to my Kindle somewhat randomly and ended up pressing the dangerous “buy and keep reading” link because I simply couldn’t put it down.
So there you go. Considering how far we’ve come–from reading badly formatted public domain texts on a Palm pilot to nicely formatted bestsellers on a beautiful eInk screen–I’d say there’s much more improvement to come. I’d like to see Amazon offer ebooks in various formats for different ebook readers. I’d also like to see the selection of ebooks expand, on Amazon and also on other ebook sites. Even with Amazon’s large ebook catalog, I still have a large wish list of books that aren’t available as ebooks yet. But for now I’m happy to keep reading Jane Austen and other gems I dig up for my Girlebooks site while I wait more ebooks to become available.