Nicolson Baker on the Kindle

The new issue of The New Yorker has a really interesting piece by print-advocate Nicholson Baker about the Kindle. It’s worth reading the whole article—I haven’t read a review of the Kindle quite like this one—but here are a few of the highlights:

It came, via UPS, in a big cardboard box. Inside the box were some puffy clear bladders of plastic, a packing slip with “$359” on it, and another cardboard box. This one said, in spare, lowercase type, “kindle.” On the side of the box was a plastic strip inlaid into the cardboard, which you were meant to pull to tear the package cleanly open. On it were the words “Once upon a time.” I pulled and opened.

Inside was another box, fancier than the first. Black cardboard was printed with a swarm of glossy black letters, and in the middle was, again, the word “kindle.” There was another pull strip on the side, which again said, “Once upon a time.” I’d entered some nesting Italo Calvino folktale world of packaging. (Calvino’s Italian folktales aren’t yet available at the Kindle Store, by the way.) I pulled again and opened. [. . .]

The problem was not that the screen was in black-and-white; if it had really been black-and-white, that would have been fine. The problem was that the screen was gray. And it wasn’t just gray; it was a greenish, sickly gray. A postmortem gray. The resizable typeface, Monotype Caecilia, appeared as a darker gray. Dark gray on paler greenish gray was the palette of the Amazon Kindle.

Baker’s bit about the graphics—both in terms of illustrated books (like cook books) and papers is particularly relevant . . . and funny:

One more expensive example. The Kindle edition of “Selected Nuclear Materials and Engineering Systems,” an e-book for people who design nuclear power plants, sells for more than eight thousand dollars. Figure 2 is an elaborate chart of a reaction scheme, with many call-outs and chemical equations. It’s totally illegible. “You Save: $1,607.80 (20%),” the Kindle page says. “I’m not going to buy this book until the price comes down,” one stern Amazoner wrote.

And the information about Vizplex (“the trade name of the layered substance that makes up the Kindle’s display) is very interesting as well.

I haven’t tried reading a book on a Kindle or iPhone, but Baker seems to prefer the latter, even though it is a high resolution, backlit reading experience (compared to the “reflective” eInk, which apparently has some issues when you read it outside in the sun):

In print, “The Lincoln Lawyer” swept me up. At night, I switched over to the e-book version on the iPod ($7.99 from the Kindle Store), so that I could carry on in the dark. I began swiping the tiny iPod pages faster and faster.

Then, out of a sense of duty, I forced myself to read the book on the physical Kindle 2. It was like going from a Mini Cooper to a white 1982 Impala with blown shocks.

Although at that point the text itself takes over:

But never mind: at that point, I was locked into the plot and it didn’t matter. Poof, the Kindle disappeared, just as Jeff Bezos had promised it would. I began walking up and down the driveway, reading in the sun. Three distant lawnmowers were going. Someone wearing a salmon-colored shirt was spraying a hose across the street. But I was in the courtroom, listening to the murderer testify. I felt the primitive clawing pressure of wanting to know how things turned out.

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