Saturday, May 30, 2009


I like ebooks. I was so blown-away by CLEVNET's pioneering work into this field, I helped get them an award for their innovation. It was revolutionary: sitting in my office 140 miles from Cleveland hours before the library opened, I could check out a book and download it to my PocketPC.

It was a joy to read books on my first PocketPC, the HP Jornada. When held in the palm of my right hand, it had a little rocker switch just below my middle finger which activated the page turn.

I did have some problems. There was a learning curve to set up all the necessary programs and get the content and digital license transferred to my device. And once on a trip when I changed timezones on my PDA, I was locked out of my book, even after I changed the time back.

My next PocketPC wasn't as ebook-friendly. The Compaq iPaq didn't have the nicely placed rocker switch, and my hand would cramp trying to hold the device so that my thumb could operate the little pad that changed pages. New formats were coming out, sparking more technical issues with installations and updates. It seemed like every time I checked out an ebook, I was starting from scratch, as if it were my first time. (This, by the way, is what I was referring to in a Columbus Dispatch story about ebooks -- the reporter quotes me saying "digital-content arms race," when what I said was "digital rights management arms race.")

Since then, most of my ebook battles have been with digital audiobooks. I long ago reached the conclusion that it is significantly easier to steal digital content than it is to borrow it legally, a fact that will always make it nearly impossible for public libraries to matter very much in the ebook world. And even though my library offers the de riguer access to an ebook collection, little of it works with my iPhone, and I end up using iTunes or the iPhone's Kindle App.

A month ago, I came home from a long, late day at work to discover an Amazon Kindle on pillow. The sweetest man in the world bought it for me with his income tax refund. I plugged it in, entered my Amazon i.d., and in seconds the book I was reading on my iPhone was synced to the Kindle (it even got me directly to the last page I'd been reading).

What do I think of it? I pretty much agree with everything Charles McGrath said in the NY Times this week. I love it, but it has some flaws. My three favorite things about the Kindle?
  1. I can buy a book (or just download a sample) at 10:30 p.m. when I'm settling into bed to read before sleeping.
  2. I can prop the Kindle on a cushion and read while knitting, turning pages with the push of a button.
  3. The Kindle, as others have pointed out, is the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

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