A bookworm’s first tryst with an e-reader

“After a lifetime of paperbacks, I reluctantly gave the Kindle Paperwhite a try”

My family has collected books for generations, but we were still in for a rude shock when we shifted the last of our belongings from Kolkata to Bangalore. Over 15 large boxes filled with books, not to mention the others we had managed to collect in the interim.

For someone who’s always had more bookshelves than closet space, the idea of replacing hundreds of well-thumbed, dog-eared pages with a single electronic device has never seemed plausible.

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I’ve stubbornly resisted the appeal of an e-book reader for years, but as luck would have it, my job placed the latest Amazon Kindle Paperwhite in my hands.

I’ll confess, I didn’t go into this with an open mind. I mean, how could I read a book without a cover? Or guess how many pages I had left at ‘7 hrs 35 mins’? And the most abominable part, what about the book-smell? (In case you need enlightening, booklovers enjoy sniffing books as much as reading them.)

Before you think I’m a complete e-reader novice, let me clarify that I’m not. I’ve read a few e-books, but only when it’s been impossible to find the physical versions. And while I’ve always used the (admittedly fabulous) Kindle app for this, my e-reading device of choice has been my Nexus 7 tablet. I was never a fan of reading books on tablets and smartphones though. The glare of an LCD display is a strain on the eyes after a while, and the temptation to check email or Twitter doesn’t make for an immersive reading experience.

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The Paperwhite though, is a different sort of creature. All my apprehensions about a backlit display were put to rest after I read a few pages. The subtly lit e-ink screen is unobtrusive, letting you focus completely on the book. And as a pleasant surprise, it’s suitable even for reading in the dark. Plus, you can always adjust the intensity or turn off the back light completely via the light meter.

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The touchscreen was another added bonus. It’s sensitive, but not overtly so. I’ve flipped through an entire book when I accidentally pressed my palm on my Nexus 7’s display. The Kindle Paperwhite has just the right amount of touch sensitivity. You can tap on practically any part of the display (except the very top) to move backwards and forwards, and if you still miss physically turning a page, you can flick to navigate too. The ability to pinch to zoom and increase font size is also a huge plus, as anyone who’s struggled with reading small print will tell you. Plus, if you’re a social reader, the Paperwhite comes with GoodReads integration, accessible via the utility bar at the top.

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While the Paperwhite is slightly bulkier than the regular Kindle, it still beats reading a 1,000 page book, which is liable to fall on your face and give you paper cuts (yes, it’s happened before). Its size and ability to store hundreds of books make it ideal to carry around while travelling, commuting or waiting for an appointment. In fact, the Kindle is so portable, that I’ve ended up dramatically increasing my reading time, reading a few chapters whenever I have time to spare, instead of mindlessly fiddling with my smartphone. 

There were a few things I struggled with though. Finding a reference in a previous chapter, or even in an earlier book in a series, takes so much effort on a Kindle. With a physical book, I can just flip through the pages, using memory to recollect approximately where I read about a particular character or scene. With a Kindle, I need to enter key words, which may or may not get me the results I want. The black and white display, despite being fabulous to read on, isn’t ideal for illustrations and is definitely a no-no for graphic novels. 

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Even so, I’ll admit that over the past few weeks, I’ve paid less and less attention to my bookshelf and relegated my nightly reading time to the Kindle. The benefits are obvious. I’m able to read a few chapters on my phone and pick up where I left off on the Paperwhite later. I can bookmark pages, search for specific items, browse and download titles in an instant, and refer to a dictionary, all without taking my eyes off the screen. Even the idea of (god forbid) losing or ruining my Kindle doesn’t seem all that scary, because my entire collection is stored in the cloud. And the best part is the battery, which requires a recharge no more than twice a month, and that’s with heavy usage.

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But what the Kindle can’t, and never will replace, is the romance of books. It can’t replicate cover art, the touch and feel of paper, the intimacy of reading a bedtime story, or the sincerity of lending a book to a friend. Your Kindle will last you a few years at the most, and will need replacing, as all gadgets do. Books last generations, are family heirlooms that are meant to be passed down. 

For folks who aren’t book collectors, or those who like to read but don’t have the room for a library, the Kindle could very well replace your bookshelf. Others, like me, will probably still end up buying a mix of digital and physical books. Going forward, I’ll have to decide which books I’d like to have in my bookshelf, and which ones I wouldn’t mind reading only in e-book format.

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If you’re a book lover, I would whole-heartedly recommend the Kindle, but I won’t convince you to stop reading physical books either. After all, all that matters is that you read, irrespective of the medium. 

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