How the Kindle taught me to stop worrying and love long books

Monocle Man

Last month I finally cracked and bought a Kindle. The price has dropped to $139, which isn’t exactly cheap, but is cheaper than a trip to the dentist without insurance. For that price I figured I’d enjoy an e-book reader more than chomping on one of those bite-wing x-ray thingies that cut into my cheek. You can also buy one for $114, but the screensaver displays an ad when the Kindle is turned off. I thought it was worth the extra $25 to opt out of that.

What finally pushed me over the edge and into a credit card charge was the Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series by George R. R. Martin. The first book was recently turned into the first season of an HBO series and it sucked me in. There have been four books released so far, and the fifth comes out in less than a week. The release schedule is like waiting for a Kate Bush album though, and Martin keeps adding books to the projected length of the series, so I’ll probably be fifty when it’s done. (Assuming he doesn’t die first.) As if that weren’t discouraging enough, each book is eleventy-billion pages long, so the time it takes to read this series is longer than some relationships I’ve had.

Here’s my confession: I’m afraid of big books. Anything over 350 pages starts to push the limit of what I can read before losing interest or losing hope. When I had to write my first book, I honestly wasn’t sure if I could write something 80,000 words long. The longest thing I’d written before that was a 13-page term paper on sex in the middle ages. (I chose that topic because the only way I was going to get through writing a 13-page term paper about the middles ages was if it was about sex.) It’s hard for me to keep an interest in a long book even if it’s about myself.

My fear partly comes from the fact that I’m a slow reader. I used to feel bad about this because a writer is supposed to read a lot so you can subconsciously steal from all the best writers and avoid doing everything the crappy writers do. I often felt inferior to people who could read as many books in a month as I read in a year. Sometimes people tell me they read my book on an airplane and I want to ask them if they were flying to Australia. I’ve NEVER read an entire book on an airplane, and never will unless it’s written by Richard Scarry.

I’ve only recently gotten over my inferiority complex (for the most part) because I realized I like reading slowly. I like saying the words aloud in my head (which is commonly or uncommonly known as subvocalization). I like rereading sentences or paragraphs that are particularly striking. I like letting my mind wander when a book triggers a line of thought, or when I stop to imagine some alternate plot the characters might embark on. I like to savor books, just as I wish I savored food. (I love to inhale food, though I’m always trying to eat slower and more consciously.)

Accepting my slow reading tendency does not make the prospect of a BFB (Big F*&#$ing Book) any less daunting. I have passed on reading books that looked interesting simply because they were too long. I can’t promise that I can finish them faster than I will forget what happened at the beginning. My short-term memory has its limits. However, I’ve finally found a way to overcome this fear. The solution is an e-reader!

The best thing about my Kindle is that I have absolutely no idea how many pages a book has. I have a general sense of its length because the main Kindle menu displays a row of dots below the book titles that is proportionate to the book length. But the Kindle doesn’t have page numbers! It has vague “location” numbers that have no correspondence in my mind to actual book length, sort of like I have no idea how far 28 kilometers is or how hot 23 degrees Celsius is. What does it mean that I’m at location 527 out of 13,572? I have no idea, and it’s wonderful! The Kindle does tell you what percent of the book you’ve read, so you know if you’re halfway through or not. But I still don’t don’t know how many pages that half was, so I’m not as intimidated by the half I still have to read.

Contrast this to paper and ink books where it is obviously clear how far you are through the book. You just need to look at the thickness of the pages you have left to go, and when it’s over an inch I feel like I’m on mile six of a marathon and already exhausted. Frequently I’ll flip to the final page to see how many pages there are and do a calculation in my mind of how many pages are left, and sometimes I get really depressed. I know I shouldn’t view reading a book as a race I’m trying to finish. I should just enjoy the book as it comes. But I can’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment when I finish a book and get to add it to my count for the year. I feel like I’m scoring a goal every time I get to the last page.

The other great thing about my e-reader is that it’s much harder for me to spoil myself for the rest of the book. I always tell myself not to do that, but by the time I’m 80 pages in and know it will be hours and hours before an exciting plot point will be resolved, I get impatient and flip around looking for the “good stuff.” It’s bad. I shouldn’t do it. I always do. It also lengthens the amount of time it takes to read the book because I usually reread those sections when I get to them in the proper order of things. With an e-reader, it’s a lot harder to flip around. You can go to the table contents and jump immediately to a later chapter, or you can do a search for a certain term. But even that is a bit of a pain, and with e-reader technology right now it still takes a second or so to “turn” a page. I can’t just fan the pages back with my thumb.

This change in perception has made it possible for me to read the first four books in the Song of Ice and Fire series in about a month and a half. Thank you e-reader! Your obfuscation of true book length and the difficulty you make it to spoil myself have led to an overall more positive reading experience. You also play MP3s with pretty decent speakers, so I can listen to the Game of Thrones theme while reading Game of Thrones. I heart you.

Hungry Cyclops

* Those of you with a Kindle might be wondering how I removed that cycle of kinda’ pretentious images of authors and wood carvings that serve as the screensaver. (I don’t have anything against Emily Dickinson and Virginia Woolf and Harriet Beecher Stowe and all those peeps. It just seems silly to imply that I’m filling my Kindle with the classics when it’s actually filled with trashy novels and pulp fiction.) The screensaver was starting to annoy me, so I jail broke my Kindle.

Jail breaking is dangerous because you might “brick” your device. Bricking is when you eff up your device so badly that you essentially have a very expensive brick. You can’t get a free replacement either because you voided your warranty when you started jail breaking, you naughty person, you! People have been known to jail break iPhones so they could use them with other service providers. From what I’ve read, jail breaking a Kindle is relatively safe, but if you break yours, don’t come whining to me. Please don’t ask me for help jail breaking your Kindle either, because I don’t care. Figure it out yourself or accept your life with Harriet Beecher Stowe and company.

Once I did that, I installed a screensaver program and loaded my e-reader with anthropomorphic images, a picture of a Nintendo console, and the cover of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (the one described in the books, not the Douglas Adams book itself). Now it makes me happy to see my screensavers! Sometimes I turn my device off and on just to flip through them :)

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  1. Maureen says

    Oh man, you are always so hilarious. If you would like to console yourself for spending so much on a Kindle, you can borrow my logic (which I just came up with over the weekend, after having a Kindle for years): It costs about the same as a bookcase. It has made me feel IMMENSELY better about the whole thing.

    I was also not a “classics” reader until I discovered that many of them are free! I am very cheap, so this really appeals to me. And, I really enjoyed the ones that I have read. No wonder they are classics!

  2. says

    I’ve always been a reader, fairly quick at that, but I find I’m reading a whole lot more with the Kindle than I did before. I don’t have to worry about making room to carry a thick book in my bag… or multiple books if I’m nearing the end of one.

    And thanks for the jail breaking thing! I didn’t know that was possible. Does yours rotate through the images? Mine moves to the next one when I turn it off/on, but will stay on the same one until I wake it again.

  3. says

    Hurray! I love my Kindle, too. If you ask me, one of the best things about a Kindle is that you don’t have to be near a computer to download books.

    This weekend I was a terrible grouch, and I perked myself up by spontaneously purchasing Tim Gunn’s book — which is a fantastic read, if you can tear yourself away from fiction and fantasy novels.

    I would never have been able to browse at a bookstore, with two small children in tow, but I was able to browse the Kindle store during naptime.

    FYI — I read your first book on my Kindle and it was awesome!

  4. fd says

    before 10 days ago I don’t recall having a conversation or reading anything about a Kindle or similar devide. I think its come up every day for the last 10 several times. Something tells me I’ll have one soon…

  5. Linda says

    @JenFul – I can so totally relate! I have tried reading the Harry Potter books but it became a chore because of all the pages. Once it becomes a chore, the joy is gone. I also hate to get to the end of a book because I am still “savoring” the book. I actually slow down my reading to make it last. I broke down a couple of months ago and got the new Nook. I had thought I couldn’t give up the feel of a real book. I love, love, love it. I love having all of my books I’m reading with me at the same time. I still keep one paperbook around for when I want that feel. If my Nook broke tomorrow; I’d be buying another. I love it that much!

  6. Sarah Fowler says

    I’ve had my Kindle for about six months and I LOVE IT. I’m a big reader anyway (I read War & Peace and Moby Dick in a six-week period in high school) but the Kindle makes it even better. Huge books aren’t so damn heavy, and I LOVE that you can underline sections and have them appear in a file all together.
    I also read a lot of classic literature, and it was getting to the point where I wanted to delve into more obscure authors or less well known titles from famous authors and the library didn’t have them! On Kindle they’re FREE. Genius.
    I also love that on Kindle (vs. Nook) the e-ink screen isn’t backlit so my eyes get the break from screens they need just like a book.

  7. Amy P says

    Don’t forget to take a quick peek at the Amazon free book list every so often. I have found some great new authors and got re-introduced to some old ones looking at that list.

  8. says

    You forgot another way e-readers make giant books more safe and accessible: they reduce the danger of injury from bonking yourself in the face with the book when you fall asleep reading it! Less wrist strain from attempting to hold up a large hardcover 500-page tome with one hand while petting an attention-hungry kitty!

  9. says

    But surely you can’t take one into the bath. Or leave one beside the pool or on the beach while you go for a swim – a lot more valuable than a paperback.

    I still don’t have one.

  10. says

    i love my Kindle too! I have had it for about 6 months now and I wouldn’t want to live without it. I actually downloaded a book that I have in hardcover that I hadn’t read yet just because it’s so big and heavy! I love that it’s so light and easy to carry around with me wherever I go. I also read your first book on my Kindle. I loved it so much, such an inspiring story.

  11. BB says

    I bought myself a Kindle for Christmas after saying I’d rather hold an actual book in my hand. What convinced me to try a Kindle is when a friend said it limits the clutter. Ah…never thought of it that way. I love it but there’s so much I want to read!!!! Glad you like it too

  12. Sherry says

    I have a Nook color. It shows the page number I’m on and what the total page count is. This feature is NECESSARY for my numbers focused brain. I’m not sure I read as fast on an e-reader. I love it for many reasons not the least of which is the “cool” factor. Yes at 53 I still want to be in the in-crowd. I also have the Nook app on my iphone (insert more coolness here). I enjoy reading a book in line at the store and other places where I should zone out to avoid getting bitchy.

  13. Brandy says

    The only Nook that is backlit is the color version, all of the others have the e-ink screen just like the Kindle.
    I got a Nook for Christmas and I LOVE it. And I do actually read it in the tub and by the pool. Live dangerously. :)

  14. says

    Thanks for the chat about e-readers. I am a librarian and made it a mission to get a grant to buy some Kindles for the kids…but do not have one myself. I brought one home for a while and took it on a plane…along with some non-e-books, just to try it out. My problem is that as a book-aholic I already own so many books I want to read it would be wasteful to get them as e-books also. If I wait until after I have read them all I might be 106 years old…at which time Kindles/Nooks will be curiosities in museums and books will just be downloaded into peoples brains using the chip we will all have in our heads. (I like sci fi and fantasy too.)

  15. says

    Thanks for the link to the kindle jailbreak, I’ve just done it and am now looking for images I like. I love the ones you used, where did you get the face/monocle images?

  16. Irisrainbow says

    Thanks for the information. I had been wondering if I jailbroke my Kindle, if it would void the warrenty.

    I don’t understand why Amazon doesn’t sell new screensavers. I would love one of my favorite SciFic authors. Amazon is missing out on a source of revenue with this.

    So I guess I get to wait two years (extended warrenty), until it’s warrenty free, then I get to jailbreak it!

  17. JenFul says

    @Irisrainbow – I was rather shocked that you couldn’t edit the screensaver without jailbreak it. It seems like a real no-brainer, even if they charged people for the option.

  18. Kristin says

    Hey Jen — I love my Kindle and I was too cheap to buy a cover for mine so I crocheted one with my initial on the front. If you’d like, I’d be happy to make you one in your favorite colors — I figure I owe you because I have loved reading your books, your blog and you turned me onto Dietgirl’s blog, too. The cover works really well — I placed mine on top of my car and drove off by accident. A neighbor found it down the road and returned it to me unharmed!


  19. says

    Loooove my Kindle. I am a speed reader so it changed my life for a different reason. It meant I am finally able to carry enough books on me so I don’t have to purposely slow myself down in a plane in order to not go through the only two books that fit in my carry on. Love love love.

  20. Kayla says

    As a really speedy reader I actually kind of envy people who naturally read slowly enough to really appreciate a book. Reading out loud to my kids has been great for me, I actually read every word, or get in trouble from the kiddos! My goal is to learn to subvocalize when reading for myself and really read, not just skim. Glad to hear another good review for Kindle, definitely on my wish list.

  21. says

    I’m the same way! I loved reading Game of Thrones on my Kobo. The show and series are so awesome. I’ll get through the whole series eventually – definitely before season 2. I’m reading Anna Karenina now (another doorstop!)

  22. Angie says

    I think it is great to know someone else flips to the end of a book, too. I am actually a very fast reader but I get impatient when the plot isn’t moving fast enough or I can’t wait until the end. I end up rereading the sections, too.
    I think I am going to bite the bullet and ask for an e-reader for Christmas. I am cheap because I don’t like buying books when I have a particularly good library several blocks away. But, I like the space saving idea and knowing I can borrow books from online libraries.

  23. Elle says

    @Cari – I put mine in a large Ziploc bag and lounge in the pool with mine….I don’t trust myself not to drop it in the water and it’s still readable and able to page turn!

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