I used part of my tax refund this year to buy the basic, $79 Amazon Kindle e-reader. The Kindle, which is optimized for reading books, has a black-and-white, easy-on-the-eyes "e-ink" screen, and it's different from the $199 Kindle Fire, which has a backlit color screen and which lets you not only read books but watch movies, listen to music and so on.
In some comments on a blog post of mine last week, Times-Gazette community blogger Steve Mills gave me a shocked "say it isn't so!" reaction. He, like my North Carolina brother, considers e-readers to be an affront to the great heritage of printed books.
Well, I like printed books as much as the next guy, but after more than two months, I have to say the Kindle has done wonders for my reading. The convenience of being able to take the device everywhere, the ready availability of low-priced, free, and library-loaned books, and even little conveniences like a built-in dictionary for looking up words have me completely hooked. I've easily read more in the past two months than in the preceding two years. It's also easy to jump back and forth from one book to another -- say, a serious history book and a browsable humor or trivia book.
Just last weekend, I plowed through "The Professor and The Madman," by Simon Winchester, the fascinating tale of one of the most prolific contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary -- an expatriate Civil War veteran confined in a British asylum for the criminally insane. I checked that one out through the Regional eBook & Audiobook Download System, or R.E.A.D.S. (reads.lib.overdrive.com), affiliated with Argie Cooper Public Library. Just like checking out a printed book from the library, it didn't cost me a thing; all I needed was the ID number on the back of my library card.
There is, however, a waiting list for a lot of the e-books in the system. A library-borrowed e-book will automatically disappear from your device at the end of the checkout period, with no action required on your part. However, to be kind, I manually turned in "The Professor and the Madman" as soon as I was through with it, by going to the "Manage Your Kindle" page at Amazon.com (amazon.com/myk). I thereby freed it up for the next person on the waiting list.
I highlighted a few passages in the book while I had it, in order to share them to Facebook. If I ever check that same book out again, or buy it from Amazon, my highlights or other notes will still be there.
There are numerous web sites you can go to to follow the latest sales or free promotions on ebooks. Each of these sites has multiple ways to keep up -- you can just manually go to the web site and browse when you feel like it, or you can subscribe to an RSS feed through something like Google Reader, or you can friend them on Facebook and have their latest messages pop up automatically in your stream.
Several that I know about are Pixel of Ink (pixelofink.com), Ereader News Today (ereadernewstoday.com) and eREaderIQ (ereaderiq.com). The Cheap (the-cheap.net) focuses on deals for Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader.
Amazon also has its own Kindle Daily Deals web site (amazon.com/kindledailydeal).
There are scores of free books offered each day -- but many of them are self-published fiction or self-help books. Amazon gives self-publishers who list their e-books exclusively on the Kindle format a way to offer their book for free for a certain number of days each year, as a promotional gimmick. (The author is hoping that the people who get free copies will leave favorable reviews or that heavy traffic in the book will help it turn up in Amazon's recommendation engine.) Speaking as the author of my own Bad Self-Published Novel, some of these books aren't that great. But for free, there's not much risk in trying them out.
There are also some great deals from time to time on books from traditional publishing houses, and this is where you're more likely to find non-fiction books in categories such as history, science or biography. On St. Patrick's Day, for example, Amazon and the publishers offered a steep discount on "The Irish Americans," by Jay Dolan, which I downloaded and thoroughly enjoyed. Recently, nearly all of the books of author and preacher Francis Chan were free for a day. I downloaded a couple but haven't gotten to them yet.
I know there are still skeptics, and will be for some time, but I've found that e-reading has been a great thing for me.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is lakeneuron.com.