When I was growing up we had so many books that we could have built a house with them, the way environmentalists today build structures from plastic soda bottles or beer cans. I can’t imagine living without books. It wasn’t until I was in elementary school that I found out not everyone loved to read as much as our family did.
So every time I’d visit other people’s homes I’d see if they had books and how they stored them. When I was in college there was this guy, a friend of friends, who invited a bunch of us to their big old house in Manila. His name was Ditto Amador, the brother of the actress Pinky. He had science fiction and fantasy books piled up on the floor of his bedroom knee-high while a sheaf of papers was impaled to the wall with a sword, I swear I am not making this up. We all thought it was extremely cool and we wanted one.
Over the years, hundreds of my books were lost or damaged or stolen or given away. I wish I still had them, so I can revisit the familiar cadences of sentences that drew me to different worlds. Now, through the marvels of new technology, I can rebuild the library of my childhood, and carry with me the books I love as an adult, and later on bequeath them to my children, the stories and wisdom and knowledge of the world all in a gadget I can hold in my hand.
I recently acquired a pre-loved Kindle 2. This gadget is a brainchild of Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. The first-gen model – Kindle 1 – was released in 2007 and followed in 2009 by the second-gen version, while the third-gen device – Kindle 3 – ships on August 27 and pre-orders are sold out.
The Kindle uses e-ink (electronic ink) technology reminiscent of an Etch-a-Sketch and is not backlit, eliminating eyestrain caused by glare which is the problem when reading on computer monitors, phones, and the iPad. You can read in bright sunlight, but you’ll need a booklight in the dark.
Kindle 2 uses only one font but offers eight font sizes and both landscape and portrait orientation options.
How does it all work? Digital files of books in the proprietary .azw format are sold at the website and may be downloaded to your Kindle through wireless technology called Whispernet (the Kindle comes in 3G and WiFi flavors). A file may be received practically anywhere in the world there is telecom access in under 60 seconds – yes, in the Philippines too. It’s like it was sent as a mobile phone message to you – it’s that fast, and it’s free.
The Kindle 2 also reads other formats such as .mobi (Amazon bought out Mobipocket some time ago), .txt, and supports .pdf and mp3 and Audible audio book files.
The device is light and thin and may be held comfortably in one hand for a long period of time, say, reading in bed at night or while waiting for your police clearance at the NBI. The Kindle 2 has a 6-inch display in 16-point grayscale, giving an acceptable level of detail for viewing some types of graphics. For text, it is superb.
Control buttons are at the edges and bottom of the device. “Previous page” and “Next Page” on the left, “Home”, “Next Page” “Menu”, “Back”, and the five-point joystick on the right. On the bottom is a QWERTY keyboard for searching for books at the Kindle website through wireless; for looking up word definitions in the built-in dictionary; adding annotations (the e-equivalent of scribbling notes in the margins); and more.
The Kindle 2 only came in white, which looks clean, though newer versions also come in graphite that offers better contrast. No, they don’t have it in pink yet, though I have hopes.
It is a delight to read on the Kindle, and to be able to hold 1,500 books with one hand and carry them with you wherever you go. I can give away most of my ink-and-paper books now, saving only those that have sentimental value.
But I still want a sword.