Thursday, February 5, 2015

Relearning to Read

I’m relearning to read—on an electronic device.

I’ve resisted e-readers. I’m one of those English-teacher-y types who get intoxicated on the feel and smell of books. I tried an Alice Munro collection of short stories once on my husband’s Kindle and felt my reading comprehension shrivel. Something about not having visual access to a full 2-page spread or the tactile sense that I flip back about this many pages to check on the last time that character appeared.  

But the current circumstances of my life have “rekindled” my interest. I’ve just divested myself of most of my beloved books for a move from our house of 20 years in Tokyo to a furnished apartment in Okinawa. And for these 6 months between the 2 homes in Japan, I’m living a nomadic life in the US. So a Kindle seemed like the perfect way to fit a library into my suitcase. Thus I ended up getting a Kindle for Christmas. 

Cold turkey seemed the best way. Acclimatization has to happen, and if you don’t force it, it won’t happen. (Like the great US non-switch to metric.) So I got a couple of books that had been at the top of my to-read list (the newest Murakami and the Man Booker Prize winner) and the NIV Study Bible (I use it for my own devotions and carry it to church). 

Here are 8 things I’ve learned—in addition to the terrifying ease with which it is now possible to spend a small fortune on ebooks:

  1. No decisions about which books to bring. Hard decisions in moving, in bringing a few professional books to the US, in leaving some in Michigan while we travelled to California; now I’m wishing I had some I shipped to Okinawa.
  2. Instantaneous access. Reviewing sample AP syllabi, I came across The Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez. It intrigued me. I ordered it. I had it. Boom. (Even better when I’m back in Japan and an English bookstore is not just down at the mall. On the other hand, I cannot put the book in my class library now that I’ve finished it.)
  3. All the classics free on Amazon. If it’s Jane Eyre and The Scarlet Letter you want, there are 400 pages of free classics in the Kindle store. (That’s no exaggeration—I just did the search.)
  4. Free previews from Amazon. I’d heard a lot about The Other Wes Moore on English teacher threads. I downloaded the free preview (about the first 10 pages), got hooked, and then bought the hard copy so I could also put it in a classroom library. (Know the tool for the occasion!)
  5. Definitions at a touch. When reading The Narrow Road to the Deep North, I didn’t know what an Akubra was. Not finding it in the dictionary, the machine automatically switched me to Wikipedia where I got a full description of “an Australian brand of bush hat,” right down to a list of Prime Ministers who were known for wearing them. In fact, I was so taken with this feature that when I finally, with great joy, sat down to read a hard copy book (The Other Wes Moore), and came across “Jheri curl,” I nearly touched the word on the paper page, then felt a letdown that I couldn’t. Considered getting out of bed and turning on my computer to look it up. Then opted to fall back on my old context skills of determining it was some particular sort of black hair style which I could not form a mental image of.
  6. Highlighting—both my own and others’. I think this is probably a really great feature. I’m still learning to use it. Can I see all my own highlights from a given book together in one place?
  7. More features. The NIV Study Bible Kindle version IS in many ways a pain to navigate. But I’m learning. It’s really quick to go to a referenced verse—just touch it! And there are pictures not included in the text version.
  8. Can’t finger-read on a touch screen. Not that I usually do, but when reading aloud in public—whether from a novel in class or from the Bible in a church setting—I like to be extra sure of not losing my place. Backfired this week while reading a verse aloud in Sunday school and suddenly the page flipped back….

I’m sure there’s more to learn—more benefits and more pitfalls. But I’ll continue to learn them, and when an ebook and when a bookbook is the best tool—because as a tool, the Kindle is here to stay.

I still have to deal with that low-level, underlying fear of a device failure leaving me stuck on an airplane for 12 hours with nothing to read. 

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