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>Burning down the house?

>Amazon’s new e-book reader, Kindle, is here. I have great hopes for e-books, read them regularly (via Miss Palm) and Kindle has a lot of neat features, mostly stemming from its free (if limited) wireless access to the internet. But two things are stopping me from wanting one: it’s ugly and it doesn’t have a backlight. If technology doesn’t allow us to read in the dark, what’s the point?

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. >Isn’t the backlighting what usually makes reading electronic books fatiguing? Maybe they’re finally on to something that will support hours of continued focus, like the wonderful page.

  2. Roger Sutton says:

    >So they say, but I have always felt like I was looking at something dead when reading passive-light screens (or whatever they’re called). And I do enjoy being able to read in the dark.

  3. SamRiddleburger says:

    >Try a GP2X. It’s a Korean gaming device with a Linux operating system. Does almost everything – music, movies, games and books.
    I’ve read a ton of e-books on mine and love it! (Reading War & P. right now.)

    I posted about it a while back:

  4. >Actually, the Kindle, the Sony Reader and the iLiad don’t have screens at all. They use a new technology called e-ink or electronic paper, which is supposed to be very close to the resolution and experience of reading paper and thus not cause eyestrain like the screens of most digital devices. And just like you can’t backlight paper, you can’t backlight electronic paper either. Although it’s not exactly like paper, you can think of it like paper with dots made from charged particles rather than ink. If you’re interested, there’s an explanation of how it works at:

    (Yes, I am a geek who likes to read about these things)

    I do agree that the Kindle is ugly and it looks like a kluge. I’d rather lose the keyboard and have a larger display area. Of the e-book readers available today, my favorite is the iLiad., Unfortunately, it’s 2 – 3 times as expensive as the others.

  5. >Call me a romantic, but can anything really beat a piece of paper with ink on it? I mean, really, if you’re going to cut down a tree, at least do it for a good purpose, like making a book. Though, I wouldn’t mind having some of my text books on something like that. You know, those things I don’t read very often anyhow.

  6. >I can see a lot of advantages to something like this.

    – I often carry around more than one book if I’m going to be gone for any length of time. This would be more convenient.

    – As you say, Stella, it would be a big advantage for textbooks. There’s been a lot of concern over children lugging around heavy backpacks and causing back strain; this would alleviate that problem.

    – I could load it with books that are previous or related volumes to the one I’m reading, so that I can refer to them if I want to.

    – I’ve become accustomed to having search at my fingertips, and sometimes when I’m reading a book I wish I had the capability to search it when I want to look back to find something I’ve read earlier. Also, when I’m reviewing a book, I frequently want to look back to find a particular passage. Yes, I can usually skim through and find what I’m looking for, but an e-book reader with search capability would be useful.

    – It would save a lot of trees (and it uses very little power).

    I would love to have an e-book reader with an i-ink display, but I haven’t seen one yet that meets my expectations. I’m waiting until the technology is a little more mature.

  7. >love it or hate it, and i have mixed feelings, it’s here and we need to deal with it, and it’s probably going to be big

    I think books will never go away but we need to deal with amazon and kindle and live with them like some kind of noisy neighbor

  8. >Does anyone know how much of each download payment gets back to the publisher? I’m wondering about royalties for this thing.

  9. >I thought they’d be nice for vacation in that it would solve my never-ending “which books to pack” issues, but a friend just pointed out that as an electronic device, you can’t use it at the beginning and end of your flight! I’d still have bring at least one book for those times!

    Can you really not back-light e-ink? Because I was thinking that an optional back-light would be nice. It would ease eye strain during normal use, but then you can use it in the dark.

  10. >As far as I know, you can’t backlight it because it isn’t a screen. You could use a regular book light, though. And there’s no eye strain with e-ink because it’s not a screen. The resolution is nearly the same as paper, and there’s no need for screen refresh, which is what tires out the eye on a regular screen.

    As for flights, I don’t know about the Kindle, but I believe that the Sony Reader only uses power when “turning a page.” So maybe you could load a page before takeoff, and then read veeerrrrrrrrry slooooooooowly, LOL.

  11. Roger Sutton says:

    >Jeanne, I’m guessing that the royalty rate for authors depends on their contracts with their publishers, not with Amazon. I see that authors who self-publish with Kindle (which, if I’m reading correctly, allows anyone to do so for free with anything, possible leading to a nightmare Amazon has not foreseen) get 35%.

    Kindle wouldn’t solve the problem of carrying large numbers of books around for me, as going from one book to another while holding the same thing and looking at the same typeface doesn’t feel like enough of a change. I’d feel like I’d just switched chapters. Amazon and other e-book publishers are assuming that only content makes a difference, not form, but I’ve never seen this to be true. I don’t know about you all but I read a rack-size paperback differently from a trade-size paperback differently from a hardcover differently from an audiobook differently from an e-book. I love ’em all, and I love the variety, but form is definitely part of the experience.

  12. >I recently ordered two Sony Readers for my 3rd grade classroom. This was before I knew about the Amazon Kindle (which has WAY more children’s lit. titles available than Sony’s e-store) The nice thing about Sony’s e-reader is that pdf files can be uploaded for free, so all public domain works are instantly in our library in a usable form (think Alice in Wonderland, etc.) I can also upload my own created materials (Alice in Wonderland discussion questions, etc.) and store them for future use.
    Obviously this can all be accomplished with paper. My comment is I believe Sony, Amazon and others have a big opportunity in the children’s chapterbook-reading set. I believe these will be a big motivator with my students! I am hoping the catalogue of children’s e-literature will continue to grow.

  13. >Roger, I too “read a rack-size paperback differently from a trade-size paperback …” Last week I started to reread The Once and Future King in a rack-size paperback, and it felt so wrong that I traded up (pun intended) to a trade-size paperback. It’s really a book worthy of being read in a hardcover, so even now I’m a little dissatisfied. Reading about Wart on an e-book would be a travesty.

  14. >Although I and all my friends at college are computer savvy and spend hours on-line on our laptops, we all read books. And we all perfer real paper books, likely because of the nightmare known as NetLibrary. Not only that, but we all like the feel and smell of books, being able to turn pages, write on pages, and bookmark our favoriate passages. Alot of us go to used bookstores, and we love finding old books, books with pyschedelic covers from the 70’s, books with notes made from previous owners, books with dated forwards about some ‘new’ devlopment. I love finding old folklore books the were printed before World War II. I once found a Norse mythology book in my university library that was about a hundred years old and everyone I showed it to thought it was the coolest thing ever and wanted to check it out after me. Really its the older adult crowd that loves e-books and e-readers; we Millinals are into retro: vinyl records, thrift shop clothes, farmers market and organic food, flea market objects, and dumpster diving decor (I kid you not, and I found some nice silverware and bowls by a trash can once, thank you very much)are all popular and getting more popular with my generation. We like technology, we like the internet, but old school is the way to go, if its old, if its got cracks, chipped paint, handworn spots, or yellowed paper that crackles when its turned, it is cool and the thing to show-off. Books are completely retro and completely cool and I don’t think my generation will fully embrace e-books; I think it becasue the older generations was told ‘technology will solve everything’ and we hear ‘the planet is in peril of _fill-in-the blank_ because of _fill-in-the-blank_ misused technology’ news blasted in our ears.
    Sorry, I started philosophizing.

  15. Pop Culture Chick says:

    >I have a Sony Reader, and I love it. Before, I used to read text files on my PDA, but the backlight was just too tiring on my eyes. I adore the Reader’s e-Ink technology and I like the sleek design.

    But will I give up on paper books? No. Not yet. Eventhough I find the concept of a Reader good for the environment (I wince at the thought of the numerous books being pulped because they couldn’t be sold), I know that right now it is not viable because the demand and supply isn’t there. Yet. But I hope for a future where kids will bring their textbooks in their ebook readers and commuters will read their papers on them while getting to work…

  16. Betty Carter says:

    >I’m clearly in the Christmas shopping mode with a husband who loves the Sony Reader but mentioned Kindle because, and I’d love to be sure here, one can listen to music while reading.

    Personally, I want the pages, the variety of heft and weight, and no music at all, but this method of reading is but one difference the two of us have.

    I’d love some advice here.

  17. Pop Culture Chick says:

    >You can also listen to music while reading on the Sony Reader as it gives you the ability to upload music. You just have to connect the device via a special USB cable to transfer the files.

    I think with the Kindle, you have the option of downloading selected magazines and newspapers free – I’m not very sure – via wireless. But only if you have Sprint.

    With the Sony REader, if you’re out of the US, at least you have the option to get your own reading materials and transfer to the reader.

    And the Reader is US$100 cheaper … always a plus!

  18. Roger Sutton says:

    >Betty, you can download mp3s onto Kindle via your computer and a usb connection, audiobooks and other documents too, depending on format. Of course, Don could just turn on the radio or stereo or iPod while reading, too. He’s a bright boy 😉

    I’m loving Tina Brown’s biography of Diana right now on my Palm TX.

  19. >Sony was stupid and short-sighted not to include search and highlight capabilities in their eReader. I wonder what moronic group they used to get their input.

  20. >I have a Kindle and actually enjoy reading from it. Do agree that it has awful design elements (e.g., too easy to go to next or previous page, keys are too small for fat fingers). But, I do love the ability to get a book “instantly” on the device – and to maybe get titles at a less than hardcover price. I’m reading one bestselling biography now that I probably would not have purchased for myself had it not been avaiable for $9.99 as an eBook.

    Best, Kyra

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