Thursday, December 2, 2010

An L.A. Times "subjective buyer's guide" to e-readers, with Update

A Kindle version of the Lonely Planet guide to Germany lies next to the 844-page, 13.6-ounce printed version. (Richard Drew, AP / November 23, 2010)   Note that the photo is of a Kindle-2 model.

The Los Angeles Times's Business columnist Michael Hiltzik provides what he calls a "subjective buyer's guide" to e-readers.  There are some definitely interesting takes on the Kindle, the iPad and the NookColor.

Hiltzik is a "lifelong voracious reader and adherent of the books-as-totems school of household design:  One entire wall of our family room is a bookcase, floor to ceiling, and piles of books unstrategically decorate almost every other room too."

Choice excerpts from the colorfully-written Sunday column:
(Please see the UPDATE on the War and Peace book.

' Yet over the last seven months I've become a convert to e-reading, to the point where reading something bound and on paper seems almost quaint. I never thought I would make this transition, certainly not so effortlessly. I say this in full awareness that this trend may do incalculable harm to traditional bookstores, places where I have spent incalculable hours of my life.

My guidance on electronic reading came initially from the author Nicholson Baker, whose wholly admirable fetish is the archival preservation of printed artifacts — newspaper morgues, cards from library card catalogs, books. Last year Baker deconstructed the Kindle for the New Yorker...
[You have to read his description of that at the L.A. Times webpage as it's very entertaining but I can't be quoting everything.
This summer, Amazon brought out several new models, smaller, lighter, cheaper and with vastly improved screens. On the new Kindle the type appears sharper, against a background that in certain light appears almost white.

I opted for the large-format, 9.7-inch DX model because I thought I'd like the additional screen real estate.  My wife acquired the standard 6-inch model  (UK: K3).  Neither of us ever looked back.  In our house, the rustle of pages has yielded to the rhythmic clicking of page-forward buttons.

There's something liberating about a good e-reader .... There's no question that I've bought more books, and read more, than I did in any equivalent pre-Kindle period.  The two leading e-book merchants, Amazon and Barnes & Noble, allow you to download a free sample of any e-book...often enough to know you'll hate it.

Then there's the devices' huge capacity and the availability of inexpensive editions of great works in the public domain.  Here's just some of what I've currently fit on my Kindle: the haunting new Gary Shteyngart; the new Le Carre (a return to form); the new Alan Furst (so-so); two Christopher Moores (still the best: "A Dirty Job").

Also, the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of "War and Peace" (a new gold standard) [$0.00 $7.09]* ;  the complete works of Charles Dickens ($2.99); 25 novels, stories and plays by Joseph Conrad ($4.69); the complete Sherlock Holmes (nine volumes, $3.60); and the complete works of Mark Twain ($2.99). Plus one of those Stieg Larsson things, which I wish I could unread.  Have a suggestion based upon this list? Pass it along.

So which e-reader is best? Reading is a subjective sensation, so there's no right answer...

The iPad is not an e-reader as such.  It's really an entertainment device, optimized to deliver movies, games and other visual images with great clarity.  But in my experience (about a week with a lent model) it was very difficult to read on for any length of time.

When you hold it at normal book-scanning distance — say, 8 to 12 inches from your eyes — it isn't long before the back-lit screen delivers the sensation that you're staring into a car headlight, even with the brightness turned down.

The iPad doesn't have the resolution to display print fonts with comfortable crispness at close distances, and it's too heavy to hold without propping it up.  The iPad is certainly dazzling on first encounter, but its heart isn't in giving you something to read.

The new color Nook, which I tested at my local Barnes & Noble, has a similar screen and the same shortcomings.  That may be why the store takes pains to promote its suitability for children's books, in which color images play a bigger role than the printed word.  Still, if you must read in color, the Nook is a cheaper, lighter, smaller device than the iPad, though lacking the big guy's vast array of digital applications.

The Kindle  [UK: K3], by contrast, has been optimized as a reading device. The letters seem to sit on top of its matte black-and-white E Ink display, reducing eyestrain, their outlines razor-sharp.  One good thing about the Kindle is it's distraction-free — there is a Web browser, but luckily it's almost useless... '

UPDATE - 12/2/10 Original posting 11/30/10
* Melinda Varian, a knowledgeable regular at the Amazon Kindle forums, wrote to advise me that the $0.00 book I referenced for War & Peace by the recommended translators was not the right one; Amazon had assigned to it all the reviews from the correct paper copy and linked to it from the right hardcover page, but it's a different translation.  Melinda has both Kindle editions and verified this. (Many thanks to her.) Unfortunately, the price of the correct one is $7.09 rather than $0, but it sounds worth it for those tackling this book.
End of Update

He goes on to acknowledge problems with typos, odd hyphenations, the large but inconsistent selection of e-books... with examples given.  Is optimistic about the critical mass of e-readers as bringing improvements and with room made for multiple formats, and he likes the idea of the enhanced e-books with "useful add-ons such as video and animation.  E Ink displays will get even sharper, and eventually acquire color."

Michael Hiltzik's column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. Reach him at, read past columns at, check out and follow @latimeshiltzik on Twitter.

Kindle 3's   (UK: Kindle 3's),   DX Graphite

Check often: Temporarily-free late-listed non-classics or recently published ones
  Guide to finding Free Kindle books and Sources.  Top 100 free bestsellers.
UK-Only: recently published non-classics, bestsellers, or highest-rated ones
    Also, UK customers should see the UK store's Top 100 free bestsellers. Below are ways to Share this post if you'd like others to see it.
-- The Send to Kindle button works well only on Firefox currently.

Send to Kindle

(Older posts have older Kindle model info. For latest models, see CURRENT KINDLES page. )
If interested, you can also follow my add'l blog-related news at Facebook and Twitter
Questions & feedback are welcome in the Comment areas (tho' spam is deleted). Thanks!

No comments:

Post a Comment

NOTE: TO AVOID SPAM being posted instantly, this blog uses the "DELAY" feature.

Am often away much of the day, and postings won't show up right away. Posts done to use referrer-links may never show up.

Usually, am online enough to release comments within a day though, so the hard-to-read match-text tests for commenting won't be needed this way.

Feedback and questions are welcome. Thanks for participating.

Technical Problems?
If you're having problems leaving a Comment, Google's blogger-help asks that you clear the '' cookies on your browser's Tools or Options menu bar and that will fix the Comment-box problems (until they have a permanent fix).

IF that doesn't work either, then UNcheck the "keep me signed in" box -- Google-help says that should allow your comment to post (it's a workaround to a current bug).
Apologies for the problems.

TIP: There's a size limit. If longer than 3500 characters or so, in a text editor, make two posts out of it.

[Valid RSS]