August 24th, 2009

Kindle 2

Unscientific American

I wasn't particularly strong in science in school; I wasn't good at math, which made it difficult to excel in certain areas of science, like equations in chemistry, or pretty much all of physics, which I never took for that reason. I did all right in bio, and in geology, but I never aspired to science as a career.

But since I write spec fic, I do subscribe to Scientific American. I admit to being lost after a few paragraphs on a lot of the articles, but I do enjoy reading what scientific breakthroughs are coming, even if I don't grasp the details well. And some of the regular features, like the Anti Gravity column are quite entertaining or even downright funny. In the August issue Steve Mirsky relates his experiences reading on a Kindle. He started with borrowing a relative's Kindle 1 and liked it enough that he bought a Kindle 2.

His observations are entertaining particularly as he's apparently a science fiction fan. He references the Kindle-like "data slate" (or whatever it was called) that a yeoman would occasionally hand Captain Kirk on the Enterprise; he even makes a red-shirt joke, a sure sign of a fan. A later reference to Galaxy Quest confirms his fan status beyond question.

But Mirsky also recounts a bad reading experience on the Kindle; the free sample lulled him into thinking he would like a book (it was a speculative fiction book, too!), but the ending let him down in terms of logic, and so he discovered a shortcoming of digital books that reside on dedicated eReaders— you can't chuck the books into the river without losing the eReader, and no one is going to toss a $299 Kindle because of a bad book.

I was talking about Mirsky's column with friends, one of whom is a voracious reader who uses the term "wall-bangers" to describe books so bad, she throws them against the wall. She reads ebooks on her iTouch using a Kindle app, and says she does delete the wall-bangers, but it doesn't provide the same visceral satisfaction as throwing a paperback against a wall.

We decided Amazon and Sony and other eReader developers need to come up with a "delete with prejudice" function. Possibly hitting this would not only delete the book, but would produce a resounding thud, or maybe a flushing sound. At the user's option, it could even send the publisher a message that the reader was not happy with that book. That last function would at least make up for the limitation of not having a physical book to abuse.

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