So I broke down and bought a Kindle. As usual, I tend to be open to trying new technologies, but don’t like being at the bleeding edge (where people get hurt). There’s no doubt that electronic reading devices have a long way to go, but there’s also little doubt that they’re the wave of the future, or at least a sizable part of it. And the technology seems to have reached a point where Kindle editions of books are a non-trivial part of the market. My own decision to get one was definitely influenced by the number of queries I received about whether my own book would have a Kindle edition. (Answer: yes.)

And now it’s arrived! So the question is: what’s the first book I should buy? An obvious choice would be Infinite Jest, as the Infinite Summer project is underway and (as I have learned) toting a thousand-page book around on a cross-country flight is less than perfectly convenient. But, of course, I already own that book. And, as Matthew Yglesias points out, you don’t want to buy Kindle versions of impressive books that you can prominently display to buff up your credentials as a person of culture. And the worst would be to display a giant, impressive book on your shelves, but one that was clearly unread and in pristine condition, even though you really did read it, only you read it on your Kindle. Worst of all possible worlds.

The idea, then, is to find a good book that I haven’t yet read, but not one that is too good — not good enough that I’d rather have the dead-tree edition. Any suggestions?

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46 Responses to Kindling

  1. court jester says:

    Spacetime and Geometry: An Introduction to General Relativity

  2. yj says:

    is it a Kindle DX ? Or a standard Kindle ? How well does it display PDFs from arXiv ?
    I’m interested in getting one not for reading books, but to stop printing out tons of papers…

  3. Fill says:

    This sounds like One Hundred Years of Solitude territory all the way.

  4. Kacee says:

    Anathem by Neal Stephenson. Big heavy book that would be nice not to lug around, but worth a read.

  5. Underworld, by Don DeLillo. Bulky enough, and underrated.

  6. Wanderfowl says:

    My suggestion: Don’t buy anything. Go to Project Gutenberg or (who uses Gutenberg content) and download any of the thousands of great classics available there, in the public domain, for free. Just download the .txt version, copy to the Kindle, and read without DRM concerns and without spending a dime. “The Count of Monte Cristo” is a very good book that I downloaded from there a while back.

    YJ: I’ve got the DX, PDF support works great for papers.

  7. Rakiah says:

    Blindsight by peter watts

  8. George Musser says:

    One thing that has put me off the Kindle is the screen flicker when changing pages. Is it something you get used to?

  9. Supernova says:

    Possession, by A.S. Byatt. Long, dense, engrossing academic mystery/love story told partly in poems, letters, scholarly articles, and other documents. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is similar and similarly enjoyable, only with vampires instead of Victorian poets.

  10. Geoff Arnold says:

    (1) The flicker? Yes, you get used to it – in fact it fades into insignificance very quickly. (After all, when you turn a paper page there’s a “flicker” as the luminance changes for a moment, but we don’t notice that.

    (2) First book? I agree with “Anathem”: excellent on the Kindle. At some point, you should visit the Kindle books store at Amazon, pick a category – science, or history, or poetry – and sort the results on “Price, low to high”. There’s a ton of fascinating stuff there. I grabbed the complete works of Milton and “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, each of which would be several volumes in paper.

    I’ve been a Kindle user since day 1, and upgraded to a Kindle 2 as soon as it became available. For me, the greatest feature is the ability to download a sample of a book at a moment’s notice. I was watching Colbert on TV last night, and he was interviewing Simon Schama the historian. Before the interview was over, I had a sample of Schama’s new book on my Kindle.

    I’m about to head off for two weeks in Shenzhen, China. Long flights, not a lot to do except work (and I don’t speak Chinese – yet). I’m loading up my Kindle with stuff to catch up on.

  11. Kevin Schnitzius says:

    Terry Pratchett. Discworld. There’s something really impressive about an author who’ll use a whole chapter to set up a good pun. Plus, there are enough Discworld books for several trips to China.

  12. jondiced says:

    If it’s a bad choice for books you want to prominently display, then perhaps this means it is best suited for books you DON’T want anyone to know you are reading.

  13. Bryan says:

    The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

  14. p says:

    I enjoyed Watership Down or This Perfect Day very much.

    First by Richard Adam the second by Ira Levin.

    Or perhaps something more in your interest, a proper account of religious thought – beelzebub’s tales to his grandson by Gurdjieff.

  15. Peter Coles says:

    I always wanted to buy a collection of those cardboard pretend-books that you find on shelves in furniture shops, but I couldn’t find them so I had to buy real ones instead.

  16. Tom Robbins’ “Jitterbug Perfume.”

  17. QUQ says:

    Given your last post, I’d suggest “Fingerprints of God” by Barbara Bradley Hagerty (2009). Though it was perhaps not her intent, she presents a compelling case for the idea that much of what we experience as mystical/spiritual is simply the result of a shift in the ratios of certain types of brain activity. Good book for making you further question the nature of reality.

    And I can see where you, Sean, might not want it sitting on your bookshelf. 😉

  18. Jake Coughlin says:

    It took me about 3 weeks to adjust to my Kindle 2 from books. The first week I was hyper-aware that “I”M READING ON A KINDLE”. The second week I just wasn’t getting lost in the reading. The third week I made the decision to purchase a Kindle edition of a book that I’ve read before and really enjoyed reading. Then I actually felt the spark.

    So, (a) give it some time and don’t be disappointed if you’re not an instant convert and (b) pick something that you’ve read before and enjoyed it enough to read it again.

  19. Ben Finney says:

    Use the Kindle device, or any other ebook reader, as a reader of DRM-free ebooks. (The works from Project Gutenberg as suggested earlier are a good source.) Unfortunately, that doesn’t include ebooks from Amazon, which are restricted by Kindle-enforced DRM.

    I encourage you to read the article The Future of Reading, illustrating how Amazon go to significant lengths to make their ebooks far more restrictive than real books; and the Kindle is a willing tool of applying these restrictions to you.

  20. Eric says:

    Harry Potter… obviously

  21. JaspervH says:

    Incandescence by Greg Egan.
    The book is based on the idea that the theory of general relativity could be discovered by a pre-industrial civilisation.

  22. weichi says:

    I like the Count of Monte Cristo suggestion.

    Another option – A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. Big, very entertaining, very good, but probably not enough cache to make it worth keeping on your shelf.

  23. greg says:

    If you are a fan of fantasy literature, and if it is available, I recommend Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind

  24. rob says:

    The Kindle reminds me too much of the ipod. A major corporation sees a market that hasn’t been exploited, so they seize the opportunity to buy a monopoly over that exploitation, in part by using digital rights management to their advantage.

    The DX appears to do most of what I need (I’ve mostly just been waiting for PDF support), but I’m gonna hold out for that Plastic Logic reader.