Reading on the Kindle

Amazon Kindle

Reading George Eliot on Kindle

Andrew Seal has finished reading all of Middlemarch on the Amazon Kindle, and he has a report of his experiences therein.

I found this report particularly useful since Andrew’s reading habits seem to parallel mine in a number of ways. He likes a lot of physical interaction with a book while he reads it (underlining, annotating, etc), and he reads a lot of the classic works of the English language, which one would assume would be a perfect match for the Kindle (because they’re free in the public domain).

On that latter point, Andrew says something a little interesting:

Middlemarch is, like many public domain books, free to download through the Kindle store, although people who get frustrated by inessential details might find the frequent errors in paragraphing irritating enough to shell out the few dollars for an official release. (Basically, the problem is that there are too many new lines—paragraphs break in the middle—but in almost all cases it is after a sentence, and the new lines aren’t indented, so it’s easy to tell where a real new paragraph begins. There are also a handful of simple typographical errors probably resulting from a visual scanning program—Balstrode for Bulstrode occurs maybe about four times. At any rate, I will continue reading free copies when I can.) Additionally, Project Gutenberg has a lovely option for downloading a Kindle-friendly file of its texts—the mobi. Some public domain books (like Jude the Obscure, strangely) are not available in a free edition in the Kindle store, so this is quite useful.

I’ll agree that a few out-of-place line breaks and obvious misspellings here and there aren’t going to ruin anyone’s reading experience, but it is noteworthy to see that this sort of thing has become to tolerable, especially with a classic novel. I think for most of us, if we saw similar errors in a print work, those would immediately be marks against the work, or at least the work’s publisher. But in the case of Kindle + free + George Eliot, such mistakes become wholly acceptable. It’s an interesting set of norms that building up around e-texts, and I wonder if it doesn’t speak to our era where nothing is really permanent and everything can be instantly corrected and republished.

But beyond that, Andrew’s remarks on the annotation functionality offered by the Kindle isn’t making me want to drop my pencil:

You can “highlight” blocks of text, and you can write notes, both of which are viewable when reading back through the text, but which are also collected in a file called “My Clippings” which displays all these highlighted selections and notes along with the “location” of the source in the text and the time you created it. (One related note: I have yet to figure out how to, or if I can, get the current time of day to display on the Kindle.) This has its uses and its drawbacks—it’s nice to have everything collected and ordered in one place to obviate incessant flippings through the pages, but it also means that if you’re reading more than one thing at a time, then the “clippings” quickly get a little jumbled. I was reading some of Pope’s poetry (also free, and it displays fine) earlier this month, so there are a bunch of highlighted selections from that which interrupt the chain of notes and highlights from Middlemarch. It’s very easy to figure out which is which, but I can imagine that if I were reading and marking up four or five texts at once, it might grow tedious. More generally, the “My Clippings” file should really be something more like a sortable spreadsheet rather than a simple text file—capable of being ordered not only by date, but also by source; its navigability could be greatly improved. Similarly, there are unfortunately no hyperlinks to take you to the “location” in the text from which the “clipping” comes; you have to copy down the numbered location, go to the actual text, and search for that location—it works, but again it’s tedious.

Frankly, that sounds like a nightmare. I do think that the Kindle’s ability to search a text for a word or phrase would be very helpful (I already do this fairly frequently for Google Book), but the clippings element sounds like it needs a lot of work. I’d rather just stick with the system I’ve devised for keying in on parts of a printed novel that I think I’m going to want to come back to.

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