LATELY — 4 October 2010

How I Managed to Read the Third Stieg Larsson Before the Second; Kindle Review

Several people have ex­pressed sur­prise that I managed to read the third Stieg Larsson’s Millennium TrilogyThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest before reading the second. The reason I bought it out of se­quence was partly the fault of my Kindle, but the reason I fin­ished it (arguably the greater error) was because I thought the author was being com­mend­ably ef­fi­cient with story.

Yes, I did think plot points were being skipped over and dealt with sum­mar­ily but hey, I thought that was intentional. I am re­minded of Chekhov’s advice: “Fledgling authors fre­quently should do the following; bend the note­book in half and tear off the first half … you’ll only have to change the be­gin­ning of the second half a little bit and the story will be utterly comprehensible. Every­thing that has no direct re­la­tion to the story must be ruth­lessly thrown out.” (Cited in the in­tro­duc­tion to “A Doctor’s Visit: Short Stories by Anton Chekhov,” by Tobias Wolff.) It seems there’s even a term for this: “in medias res.”

Anyway, the Kindle. I really like it. It’s good for books and longer articles. It does come with a web browser, but it’s slow and awkward and really only useful in emergencies. (I haven’t tested it, but the free web access is sup­posed to work internationally.)

The battery life is pretty good, al­though I do find myself charg­ing it every few days. The built-in dic­tio­nary is useful, as is the keyboard. (For searching, for the web browser, for taking notes.) For some reason it’s fairly dif­fi­cult to nav­i­gate from book to book, and within books. (There isn’t always a table of contents, and it’s awkward to use even when it does exist.) The UI is oth­er­wise fairly well thought-out.

You more or less do need a case, and un­for­tu­nately the Amazon-produced ones are really expensive, es­pe­cially the ones with the in­te­grated LED, which go for £50! Luckily I dis­cov­ered that my old SunDog book cover fits the Kindle perfectly. (It also doesn’t look quite a bad in real life as it does on that webpage.)

There’s quite a few good way to get content onto the Kindle, though nothing as yet is com­pletely painless. First of all, you can send any PDF to a special Amazon address as­so­ci­ated with your Kindle and Amazon will arrange for it to au­to­mat­i­cally end up on your device. If your device has a WiFi connection, it’s copied to your Kindle for free. (If it doesn’t have a WiFi con­nec­tion at that exact moment, de­liv­ery is queued.) Even better, if you use the subject like “convert”, Amazon will convert it from PDF into Kindle format, so that text can be resized, notes work, and so on. This usually works fine with PDFs that are fairly “clean” such as the print ver­sions of web pages. (More info.) Note that if you’re on a Mac, every print dialog has a “Save as PDF…” and “Mail PDF” option.

The other tool I use is Instapaper, which is a site and as­so­ci­ated tools (bookmarklets, apps) that make it easy to book­mark and track “long” ar­ti­cles that you might want to read later, or on a dif­fer­ent device. Its trick is that it pre­sents a stripped-down view of the article, without ad­ver­tise­ments or dis­tract­ing graphics–very useful when reading on the screen, but even better if you want to create a plain PDF to send to Amazon for conversion. In­stapa­per also has some more direct Kindle integration, but I don’t like the way it com­bines ar­ti­cles to­gether in one bundle.