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Book/Kindle Update

I still haven’t entirely sorted out when I prefer to read a book on my Kindle and when I prefer to read a physical book. But I have just had what may be the perfect Kindle experience. Two days ago, the current New York Review of Books arrived in the mail. As always, on inspecting the table of contents, I was eager to read many of the articles. I began with Jonathan Raban’s review of Sarah Palin, then continued with the next article, James Salter’s review of William Langewiesche’s recent book on the crash landing last January of the US Airways flight in the Hudson River.

I had read about the book — Fly by Wire: The Geese, the Glide, the Miracle on the Hudsonin the NYT and elsewhere, but I hadn’t anticipated wanting to read it. Salter’s review got my attention. I’m interested in airplanes and flying. Who isn’t? And I realized the book is much more than an account of the flight itself. The larger theme is Airbus’s decision over 25 years ago to design the A320 as a fly-by-wire airplane, one controlled by computers and electronics rather than cables and hydraulics, and one whose programming would limit errors on a pilot’s part, with no option for the pilot to over-ride the computer settings. The story of US Airways Flight 1549 is interwoven with both the history of the A320 and gripping accounts of famous airplane crashes or near-crashes. These accounts highlight the role of pilot error and the benefits of limiting the pilot’s range of options.

Anyway, after reading Salter’s review two evenings ago, I thought this is a book I would enjoy. And it’s short — just 200 pages. Minutes later, we headed off to a party. We were back a little before 11:00 PM, and while I was catching up on some news on my computer, I realized I could be reading the book. All I had to do was download it for my Kindle. I went to Amazon.com, found the book, clicked that I wanted the Kindle version downloaded, and when I headed upstairs, the book was waiting for me.

I didn’t start it right away. Joel had received a new disk for his Xbox 360 that afternoon, one with more music for Rock Band, and he and Gail were in the midst of trying it out. I couldn’t resist joining them. By the time I was ready to read, it was nearing midnight. I read just a few “pages” and went to sleep. Yesterday, I found the book irresistible. I was finished with it less than 24 hours after reading the Salter review.

This struck me as an example of everything that’s good about the Kindle. I read a review, I get curious, I buy the book, I start reading. I don’t need to get to a bookstore, or order online and wait a couple of days. Spontaneity isn’t everything, and in general I’m not all that spontaneous about my reading choices, but this time I indulged my curiosity and was rewarded by an excellent book. Plus, to my continuing surprise, I enjoy the physical experience of being able to hold the Kindle and turn pages with one hand. I wish there were more contrast between the text and the background, but with decent lighting, it’s not a problem.

What’s missing? Well, in this case, one thing. The map. According to the table of contents, there’s a map, but it didn’t survive the kindleization process. My guess is that if it did survive, it would have been difficult to view in any case. Fortunately, I am sufficiently familiar with LaGuardia, the layout of its two runways, its setting within Queens, and the route of Flight 1549 that I doubt I missed anything. Yet, I felt cheated.

I especially enjoyed a short segment of the book in which Langewiesche quotes from the transcript of the conversations between the air traffic controller, incoming and outgoing pilots, and three snowplow teams. As I mentioned in a recent post, I took it upon myself two Sundays ago to learn the radio codes for the letters of the alphabet, so I was ready when snow plow Team 3 asks the controller if it can do “Papa” and Team 2 is sent to do Foxtrot. The best part of the transcript is the final exchange, when the controller tells Delta 1356 to reduce speed because it is “about 50 knots faster than the Airbus ahead,” to which the pilot responds, “Got the anchor out.” I can’t resist such lines.

I mentioned the missing map. Let me say a little more along these lines about the failure of Kindleization. In my initial, mid-October post on the Kindle, I expressed frustration at not being able to get a Kindle version of Hilary Mantel’s new historical novel Wolf Hall. Not being able to download it onto my Kindle meant I wouldn’t be able to take it to Europe with me. On our return, a Kindle version was available, and I concluded my post in mid-December on books and Kindle by indicating my uncertainty about which version of Wolf Hall I wanted to read. It turns out that that was an easy issue to settle. A couple of days later, I remembered that I could download an opening sample from Wolf Hall onto the Kindle, and I did so. As I paged through the front matter of the book, I discovered two key reference sections: a Cast of Characters and two family trees. In the hardcover book, which I now have, the Cast of Characters occupies five pages. One can easily turn back and forth through it to find whatever one wants. Each family tree fills a page, with landscape orientation. The print is small, but they are easy to read. Alas, what greeted me on the Kindle sample was a Cast of Characters that in the print size I normally use occupies 13 pages, with a disagreeable layout, and two family trees that are utterly unreadable (and unchangeable in size). And even beyond formatting and legibility issues, it simply isn’t convenient, in mid-book, to return to these sections for reference on a Kindle. Flipping back in the physical book is no problem. On the Kindle, forget it.

That made that decision easy. I added Wolf Hall to my Amazon wish list, and what do you know, Gail bought it for me. I have it at last.

My next big decision is what to read now. There’s Wolf Hall of course. And Lords of Finance, which I have mentioned repeatedly over the last year and which I now happily own both in book and Kindle form. Two long books I have been eager to start. Plus, given how much I enjoyed Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs last month, I added her short story collection Birds of America to my Amazon wish list and got that too. And Joel surprised me with two books not on my list: R. Crumb’s The Book of Genesis Illustrated (see Harold Bloom’s review last month) and David Mazzucchelli’s graphic novel Asterios Polyp. I hadn’t been familiar with Mazzucchelli’s book. I somehow missed the review in the Sunday NYT last July. It looks great.

I know I can’t go wrong. The only problem is that we’ll be traveling again soon, and I’m committed now to taking only my Kindle on trips. No physical books. I don’t want to start one of them and have to leave it at home unfinished. Maybe that means it’s time for Lords of Finance.

Categories: Books, Technology
  1. Jingle
    January 5, 2010 at 5:49 AM

    yes, a good book view has changed your world view, a lot,
    you switched your time to book, a book that makes sense to you…
    reading online could be good if the posts are of quality…you just have to discover it.

    Smooth sailings, 2010.



  1. January 30, 2010 at 6:13 PM

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