I started reading at the age of three and haven’t stopped since. I find power in words, solace in them, pain, despair, joy, inspiration, but most importantly, I find life in words.
I am, believe it or not, traditionally a bookish sort. I started library school wanting to be a rare books librarian, actually, which is kind of funny when you think about what I do now (high tech and futurist trends are pretty much the polar opposite of old, decaying, dusty books). Of course, my focus in rare books librarianship was on digitization of the materials for open and free dissemination on this relatively new thing they had back then called “the internet.” So I guess even then the techie bug had bitten me. But it was, and is, all about the information not the technology that carries it.
There is a weight to a physical book, and I don’t mean a physical heft. Books have a meaning, a significance in our culture. They hold untold promises and infinite possibilities. Books are objects of art. Carrying or owning books implies that you’re intelligent. Books = good things.
And for all of the years that I’ve been talking about digital libraries, using technology to improve yourself and your community, and even about eBooks specifically…I privately hated eBooks. I hated the technology that locked them down, I hated how they worked (or rather didn’t), I hated the thought of reading on a screen, just…hated…them. I clung to my printed books. I did not advertise this little love-hate relationship with the eBook; only a few people close to me ever knew.
And then (as is wont to happen) the technology got better and I had to eat my own words. The consumer-level experience of finding and obtaining an eBook got better (sadly, the library eBook experience is still pretty crap). E Ink was invented and revolutionized the eReading experience entirely. E Ink is the screen technology that makes the Kindle and other devices work–ultra low power consumption, high resolution, and not back-lit. I don’t know about you, but after reading a lit computer screen all day, I honestly do not think my eyes can stand staring at another one for pleasure.
There is a lot that is still jacked up about the digital reading experience. Don’t get me started on digital rights management or we’ll be here all day and you’ll leave with bleeding ears. But there are some things that work just fine, at least for me. Most of these aren’t hardware gadgets per se, but apps/software/services. So how do I read digitally? Let me count the ways…
The Kindle (& its bouquet of assorted hacks)
Yes, I own a Kindle. And I love it. Hate me later library purists; listen to me now. The E Ink display is fabulous. The reading interface is good, annotating works, sharing passages is nice, battery life is remarkable…it’s all good. And you can hack it. Read on.
To me, the Kindle is like a seductive box of dark chocolates: a tasty, wonderful, yet guilty pleasure that I know I shouldn’t indulge in but want so badly. I am confident there is something amazing in there to be had; I just have to find a gentle and creative way around existing obstacles (in the case of chocolates, my guilt at eating an entire box in one sitting). And just as with those very few guilty pleasures that I have desired and couldn’t have right away, I’ve been pretty persistent in trying to get what I want with the Kindle. I am patient and I try to figure out a way to make things work for me even if at first blush it doesn’t look promising. My instincts are generally good and I usually end up being right and getting what I want. Just ask my Kindle.
As you may know, the Kindle is a closed ecosystem and you only “license” books from Amazon–you don’t own them as you would with a printed book (same w/ other eBook vendors too). Rejecting these principles as complete and utter bullshit, I hacked my Kindle. I absolutely hate that the Kindle is a locked down system, a completely isolated bubble of content and delivery mechanism (just like the iPad and iPhone ecosystems, which I shun on principle b/c I can’t hack them…yet). Locking down information goes against everything I stand for as a librarian. Let me be clear: I do not do anything illegal on my Kindle, other than the hacking itself (which is a grey area, imho, even if you adhere to the DMCA to the letter). I’m not stealing books or giving away books. I hacked my Kindle so I could do with my device what I want with the books I paid to “license,” when I want, and in what format I want. And that is the right of every reader, dammit.
“Hack the Kindle?” you ask. ”Do tell!” All righty then. Without getting myself into any more legal difficulties, here are some fabulous resources to get you started on hacking your Kindle into the dirt. Share these with your co-workers, family members, and (if you’re braver than I am) with your library users.
- Jailbreaking your Kindle (step 1 before you can do a lot of this other stuff)
- Mario1Up posted this great comprehensive list of various Kindle hacks (w/ links to how-to articles) on the mobileread forum site. These are small things mostly — changing fonts, screensavers, margins, etc.
- Removing DRM from eBooks in a variety of formats (that’s right–I said removing DRM)
- Video tutorial on removing DRM from Mobipocket Kindle eBooks
- KIF – put a text adventure game on your Kindle
Scout’s honor, I actually do use NoveList to find new books if I’m looking for something in a particular genre. NoveList is an online resource that many public libraries subscribe to, and I’m glad mine does. It is a-w-e-s-o-m-e. From the first time I tried NoveList years ago, it has always made me happy and gives me good recommendations. Tell it what authors you like, or a book you like, or just keywords you want to read about. Boom! Book recommendations. And I love using it with family members, non-library-world friends, or library users and showing them how to browse around. You can get lost in there for hours following thread after thread and finding more and more books to put on your “to read” list. The K-8 version is great for kids too. I actually found a long-lost-childhood-favorite-book using NoveList after every other method had failed–describing the book to long-time children’s librarians, searching by keywords on search engines and other book sites, no dice. Love it.
What do you use?