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Publisher: Bluejack

January, 2010 : Feature:

The Top Ten Things I Can't Do with My Kindle

Signals 28

I love my Kindle. I do. I love its white frame and its little screen. I love the way I can make the font bigger and bigger, so that I can pretend I no longer need trifocals. I love the way it brings me books in the middle of the night, when I need them the most.

But my Kindle has drawbacks. I learned this when I read the instruction manual, which warned me about all kinds of things, like battery life and how to preserve my internet connection.

The top ten things I cannot do with my Kindle—in no particular order—are:

1) I cannot throw my Kindle across the room like I threw the paperback edition of Volume 1 of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant across the room when I got to the rape scene. Or if I did throw my Kindle across the room, I can guarantee that my husband would not calmly say to me, "Now go pick that up and keep reading. He pays for his crime," the way my ex-husband did oh so long ago. My husband—my current (and best) husband—would say, "What did you do? That's an expensive piece of equipment!"

No amount of outrage over content would justify destroying expensive electronics.

2) I cannot leave the Kindle in the bathroom. Well, I suppose I could, but considering how the stack of magazines looks by week's end—all wrinkled and water-damaged (I can't count how many times Vanity Fair unwraps itself and falls into the can [and no, that's not my fault! Vanity Fair's content does not outrage me].)—I can only imagine how long it would take (an afternoon?) before the Kindle has shorted out.

3) I cannot bend the Kindle to annoy my husband. My husband, the great collector, cringes when I bend the spine of my paperbacks. I do so to assert ownership. He cannot wrap my paperbacks in a pristine bag and place them on a shelf. My paperbacks look used because they are used.

4) I cannot use my Kindle to spy on other people. The Lee Child paperback I found in Robert's Bookshop near my home in Lincoln City, Oregon, had a United Airlines ticket stub wedged into page 52. I found nothing egregious about page 52. I was more concerned with how the paperback made its way to the Oregon Coast, two hours from any major airport. Besides, the woman whose name was on that ticket stub had flown from Redmond, Washington, to Stockton, California, going right over Oregon. How did that book get here?

No one will place a ticket stub as a bookmark in a Kindle. No one will leave a foodstained fingerprint on page 105 (chocolate? or some kind of sauce? Impossible to tell). No one will explore the mysteries of the turned down page (why stop there? There are no section breaks).

Books have secrets. The Kindle has none.

5) I cannot use my Kindle to impress people with my library unless I shove the Home page in their face. No one waiting for me to put on my jacket or waiting in the living room for Thanksgiving dinner will browse the books stored in my Kindle like they browse the books shelved next to the piano.

No one will see my defiant collection of mystery, romance, and science fiction hardcovers, a reaction to my creative writing professor's living room shelves, filled with James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner—while the books my creative writing professor actually read (his collection of Ace doubles and other classic science fiction novels) were crammed on the narrow bookshelves of his bedroom (and no, I didn't discover them there; Kevin J. Anderson, who was one of my classmates, did while browsing [snooping] at a party).

6) I cannot judge a book by its cover on the Kindle. Yes, I know, the cover appears on the order page, but not all of the book's previous covers. If I want Stephen King's Carrie, I can't chose between the garish first paperback cover (which I bought back in the mid-1970s), or the Sissy Spacek covered in pig's blood cover, or the tasteful 1980s cover that just said KING and CARRIE in large letters (Stephen in smaller ones). I am stuck with the cover du jour, which may not be the cover that I like the most, not that it matters, since I'll only see the cover when I order anyway.

7) I cannot read the last page first. Oh, I suppose I could. I can hit the advance button or skip ahead or actually do a "find" to get to the last page. But if a baby gets kidnapped on page one of the murder mystery, I can't flip to the last page to see if the baby gets a happy ending before I buy the book. The free sample only gives me selected pages, not the necessary pages.

8) I cannot build a fortress of Kindles. I simply can't afford it. But when I was a child, growing up in a particularly loud, unhappy home, I could build a fortress of books. I would sit behind my fortress and read. My literary (loud, unhappy) parents would think I was doing something useful. In these tense times, I like my fortress of books. Only now I sit behind them and read my Kindle.

9) I cannot find mysterious old books on my Kindle. My husband and I occasionally buy book collections (me for the research materials; him for the collectable value—and no, what is his is not mine in this instance, since I write in books [and yes, I can do that on my Kindle]). As I was reshelving, just today, I found A History of the World War. The title intrigued me. The book, written in 1919, is a history of the only world war that the world had had thus far. I'm convinced this book is not available for download on my Kindle.

10) I cannot loan my Kindle to friends. Well, I suppose I can, but my friends tend to take their books to restaurants where they spill water on them or read the books in the bathtub (water again) or leave chocolate-stained fingerprints on page 105 (which I will never see since I rarely reread books). Besides, I don't want to be without my Kindle for even a day.

Because as I said, my Kindle gives me books in the middle of the night when I need them the most. My Kindle carries an entire library with me on an airplane without ruining my husband's back (did I tell you he's the best husband ever?). My Kindle lets me read newspapers without getting ink all over my fingers.

I can list the top ten things I can do with my Kindle, but so many people have already covered that. And they never once mentioned my Kindle's drawbacks.

So I figured I would.

Copyright © 2010, Kristine Kathryn Rusch. All Rights Reserved.

About Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Kristine Kathryn Rusch is a Hugo award-winning writer who was, once upon a time, a Hugo award-winning editor. She has published fiction in almost every genre under a variety of names. Her most recent science fiction novel is Diving into the Wreck which Pyr
published in November. Her novella, "Recovering Apollo 8," won last year's Asimov's Readers Choice Award and was nominated for a Hugo. The novella has just been reprinted in Russian. For more information, go to her website at


Jan 13, 04:25 by IROSF

Comment Below!
Jan 13, 06:38 by RaphaŽl AJ
I didn't like the idea of the ebook reader when I first heard of it. Being the grand-son of a book store owner might have been one reason for that.

Now, even if I don't have a real ebook reader, I actually read on my iphone, mainly Doctorow's, Lovecraft's and Verne's works. The iphone is definitely not the best device I could find to read books in an electronic format but it's good enough (really!).

The main drawback I see with Kindle (and "friends") is the price. Of the device and of the books themselves. I can't afford that just for the pleasure of reading. So I'll stick to paper and to free ebooks on my iphone. And I feel fine! :)
Jan 13, 12:20 by Walt Gottesman
Can't wander through stacks of Kindles at the library or bookstore (used or otherwise) and discover serendipitous finds. Can't donate boxes of used Kindles to the library book sale (technically you could, but it would be too expensive and, well, boring). Can't press autumn leaves or four-leaf clovers in the pages of a Kindle. Can't dog-ear Kindle pages, doodle in their margins or otherwise engrave upon them and thus mark them as your own. McLuhan might categorize Kindles as "cool" on his continuum. They have their uses. But you are so right about what you cannot do with them.
Jan 13, 14:05 by Dennis McCunney
I don't own a Kindle, or any dedicated reader for that matter. Current models use eInk screens, color is a requirement for me, and eInk doesn't support color. Also, I need a device that does more than display books.

My ebook reader is a Palm OS PDA from a defunct manufacturer. It has a 320x480 screen, two SD card slots with a 2GB card in each, and about 4,000 ebooks. I can read just about any electronic format on it save ePub (and can convert that on my desktop to a format the PDA can read.) But it also has the standard Palm organizer functions, views/edits Word and Excel files, displays pictures, plays MP3s, shows videos, lets me write courtesy of a word processor for the PDA and a folding keyboard, has half a dozen programming languages on it, can connect via wifi to the internet...and oh, yes, it plays games.

I still buy and read paper books, as the books double rowed on the shelves, in boxes in the closet, and in an offsite storage facility will attest. For me, ebooks are an additional format, not a replacement. Too many things in my library, like volumes on art, design, and photography, either aren't available as ebooks and would look unbearable on a B&W hand held device screen if they were.

What my PDA collection does is expand my choices. I got into reading ebooks in the first place when I discovered that much of the documentation for systems I administered was in HTML format, and I could easily convert that to a format readable on my PDA and carry a searchable documentation library in my pocket. It was a hop, skip, and jump to other forms of literature. An awful lot of classic stuff I wanted to read or re-read - Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars series, S. S. Van Dine's "Philo Vance" mysteries, Plato's Dialogs - is available in public domain electronic formats. I certainly couldn't afford to buy them all if paper was the only option. And with a device that goes with me everywhere and a library in my pocket, my time to read expands, as I can pull out the PDA and read a few pages whenever there is a spare 5 minutes.

As for #9 above, you can certainly read the History of the World War on the Kindle. It's a Project Gutenberg title. The Kindle uses the ebook format invented by French ebook publisher Mobipocket (Amazon bought them.) Gutenberg can download it to you in Mobipocket format. The Kindle reads Mobipocket files not protected by DRM. You are not stuck with Amazon as your source for Kindle books unless they are DRM protected commercial titles. (You aren't even then, but hacking is required...)

But note that you aren't actually writing in the book: annotations are saved as separate files bookmarked to the location where you made them.
Jan 13, 14:55 by Mike Jasper
I like reading on my iPhone, actually, and probably won't get a Kindle (just finished reading your Smoky Dalton story yesterday, Kris! Nice twist at the end). But ebooks have arrived.

What I really wanted to comment was your description of Dean, which so cracked me up: "my current (and best) husband"! Hee hee!
Jan 13, 15:48 by D. Nicklin-Dunbar
Wake me up when e-readers are DRM free, can boast a better than 800 DPI resolution and have a screen larger than 3 inches diagonal.
Jan 13, 19:57 by Bluejack
Wake up!!!

The kindle DX has 1200 x 824 pixel resolution, a 9" screen, and the *reader* is drm free. Sure, much of the content you might buy through Amazon has drm (because of publishers, of course -- Amazon has no love of drm, just visit their mp3 store!) But you can put all the non-drm content you want on it.

Sure, there are lots of things a kindle doesn't do, and there are lots of reasons you might not want one, but those particular three? not the right reasons!

Jan 13, 21:15 by Mur Lafferty
Heh, the browsing problem rears its ugly head in the other direction too, when people want to see your shiny new kindle and you *can't* put the dirty books you downloaded in the secret bookshelf, they're right there next to The Windup Girl and The Doomsday Book.

Uh. A friend had this problem. Not me. My Kindle is as pure as the white plastic that surrounds it....
Jan 13, 22:53 by D. Nicklin-Dunbar

The screen has 1,200 x 824 pixels, about the number on the LCD of a 12" Dell Latitude E4200 laptop, so the Kindle DX's linear resolution is significantly higher than that of most notebook displays. However, it's about 10% lower than that of the 6" E Ink display on the Kindle 2 (150 dpi vs. 167 dpi)

So, for $500 US you get a device that displays only in black and white, whose vast majority content is locked in DRM and displays that content at only 150 DPI. Not to mention that after that initial (excessive) investment you have to buy the content at prices equivalent to if not exceeding print Hardcover. And once all that is said and done, your device only displays books (with some minor ability to annotate but those annotations are attached to the book file itself which can be deleted remotely without notice, permission or compensation). It doesn't play music, it doesn't surf the net, it doesn't even act as an alarm clock.

No thanks.

Screen resolution numbers can seem impressive indeed, but when a standard house hold printer can pump out 600 DPI and good quality print books can reach 1200 DPI, the latest, greatest Kindle gets me 150 DPI, well, I think you can finish the rest of that thought.

$500 US buys me a hell of a lot of books, magazines DRM free in full colour and high resolution. (Or one device that does a whole lot of other things as well as display books).

Like I said, wake me up when e-readers get even somewhere comparable to print media.
Jan 14, 00:46 by Bluejack
lol mur. too true.

d. nicklin: sure I realize there are reasons many people won't want to own an e-reader yet.

black & white v. color, absolutely.

I think the dpi issue is not as significant as you might think for text. it's true that large high-res images do not scale down well, even to the 9" screen. but because the electronic ink technology works differently than lcd, you might find that you get a lot more out of your pixel count than you might expect. it's not like comparing laser printers to old dot matrix printers... not at all.

re: general purpose uses, the kindle does surf the net (poorly) and it does play music (fine on headphones). not sure about the alarm clock. electronic ink represents a trade-off in better reading experience for lower refresh rate. It us suitable for a device that is specialized for book reading. Thus it's specialized purpose.

That may be an evolutionary dead end in the grand scheme of things. People may end up not minding light-emitting reading experiences (electronic ink does not emit any light, making it much easier on the eyes, as well as fully functional in the brightest sunlight as well as extremely low in energy consumption), or another technology with better refresh rates may supercede electronic ink in order to deliver us the true reading experience as well as general purpose information tools.

I'm cautiously anticipating apple's tablet for this very purpose.

In short: I'm a lifelong reader, and I love my books. I also think electronic ink offers the best reading experience of any electronic reader on the market, and I think there is *enormous* value in a 10,000 book library you can toss in your coat pocket.

I'm curious as to what will be next, and do hope that someday soon my laptop, my cellphone, my reader, and a host of other digital paraphernelia can be consolidated into a single *thing* that I can love. We're definitely not there yet.

But I'm not going to wake you up. You'd better rely on your own alarm clock for that.
Jan 14, 02:24 by mike grone
Why not try the Sony eBook Reader and free downloads of the latest and classic books from your local public library?
Saw the beginner's model at the local big box store for $199.99.
Your friendly neighborhood eLibrarian,
Jan 14, 03:28 by Bluejack
Have a sony ebook reader also, and it's definitely less of what a reader wants than the kindle, although the industrial design is better. smaller screen, smaller memory, far, far fewer options, and dealing with sony's store is like hitting yourself with a hammer. not fun. also, sony's drm is way worse than Amazon's.

Jan 14, 15:53 by D. Nicklin-Dunbar

All good points, I will admit, but the current crop of e-readers leave much to be desired. This year's CES showed what dedicated electronics companies can design and build for the e-reader market and early adopters will, I think, regret buying in a such a high price for such a limited device.

E-ink may look good to some, but comparing it to print I find that the Kindle is fuzzy, difficult to read and does not provide anywhere near enough contrast for easy and comfortable reading. And when you compare it to the IMOD displays about to hit the market (as in already there), e-ink doesn't stand a chance. Resolutions are higher, battery life is longer, displays are in full colour and it frees the device to do more than just display black and white text. Light emitting screens for these sorts of devices are on their way out, right along with e-ink.

There may be value in having 10 000 books in your pocket, but what about the price? Are you, and the public, really willing to pay $30-$40 USD for a bunch of bits? If you got a print copy of the books with the e-version, I can see the justification for the outrageous markup, but you don't. You don't get any physical commodity to back up that price, you are limited in what you can and cannot do with the data you have purchased (like lending it out or re-selling it). You have only the most limited control over the product you (supposedly) own.

The 1984 scandal last year illustrates this very well. And while Amazon has settled to most consumers' satisfaction the point remains: do you really own what you have bought? What good is your 10 000 book library when Amazon (or whichever content provider) can come along and delete it at will? This is any issue that has yet to be resolved in not only this industry but in any traditional content provider attempting to deal with the digital age.

Until the whole copyright and DRM inanity is worked out e-books will remain a niche product. A big change is going to have to be made in the minds and businesses of content providers if they truly want to join the 21st Century. DRM is a failed proposition.

And there still remains the whole problem of a dedicated reader. With the rumored Apple tablet (yeah, like I haven't heard that one for the past 15 years ;) ) capabilities, why would anyone spend up to $500 USD for something that is only good at reading books? I was being facetious about the alarm clock bit but the point still stands. If you are going to drop that kind of money on a device that displays books, why wouldn't you buy one that does other useful things and displays books? If the Kindle was cheap, say around the $100 to $150 USD level, even I might be tempted to pick one up. But they aren't. And they aren't even available outside of the USA.

Dedicated e-readers are a great idea in theory, however I do think they are failed attempt to transfer the traditional print industry into the information age under a failed business model at an outrageously expensive cost.
Jan 14, 16:51 by Bluejack
Who's paying $30-$40 for ebooks? I've never paid more than $7.

I don't know that we necessarily disagree, overall; I think I'm just more enthusiastic about the babysteps toward the holy grail than you are.

Jan 15, 00:15 by Gabrielle
You can't get a Kindle signed, either. Well, you can, but the sharpie would probably wear off with use and the signature wouldn't always match the current book on the screen. If you collected too many autographs on the front, you wouldn't be able to read, and if you asked a writer to sign the back, they might feel insulted, or might wonder if you were saving the front for someone else.
Jan 4, 22:10 by
I dont think you will find me paying that much for it. However, we might see it with our loft conversions company
Mar 3, 11:56 by
I think Kindle it's irreplaceable, it takes reading to a whole new level. I really, really, love it. I often read stuff about clearance flooring pensacola fl, this is what I do for a living.
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Apr 18, 19:14 by
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