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.