When I first bought my Kindle about 18 months ago, it was kind of a pain in the neck to use. Amazon offered a pretty limited selection of titles for purchase that didn’t quite suit my nerdy tastes, and I couldn’t buy titles from anyone else because they wouldn’t be compatible with my Kindle. Which was actually OK by me, because they didn’t have anything I wanted to read either.
Eventually I ended up settling for a copy of War & Peace, translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky, for three reasons: a) it was available, b) I actually wanted to read it, and c) it seemed like a pretty awesome alternative to carrying around 4 pounds of book (no joke!). I also experimented with converting several of Project Gutenberg‘s public domain .epub titles to Amazon’s proprietary .azw filetype using some free software that I downloaded from the Internet, but the outcome was fairly hideous. So really I had spent $375 for War & Peace.
But soon things started to get interesting. About a year ago, Amazon released a software upgrade that enabled Kindle owners to easily transfer .pdf files to their devices. I bade farewell to my article-stuffed Library School backpack, and loaded all my homework onto my Kindle instead. Finally, my Kindle had crossed the threshold into being actually “useful”! But, it was still a little boring…
It wasn’t until last week, Readers, that I finally fell in love. I started poking around on the internet for new upgrades and add-ons, and suddenly my Kindle looked much more attractive — hubba hubba! These are the reasons why:
Amazon’s most recent software upgrades are pretty decent. I can rotate and zoom in on .pdfs, sort my books by “categories” (think “genres” or “shelves”), view comments and notes about what other Kindle users are reading, and even tweet my favorite quotes and passages directly from the screen. The Kindle’s web browser has also improved (although it’s nowhere near as sexy as browsing from an iPhone or Android). Many of these upgraded features are a little clunky, but at least they are there.
Readers, this is huge. The single most drastic improvement in Kindle-enjoyment over the past year is the increasing availability of free ebooks. My two favorite sites for downloading free public domain titles are Planet eBook and ManyBooks.net; both emphasize user-friendly browsing and aesthetically pleasing layouts. And, by the way, I think the best-kept Kindle secret is that Kindles are compatible with .mobi files — just knowing this will instantly increase your free ebook supply! Check your local library to see if they offer .mobi books for checkout.
Sexier Metadata Apps
One word: Calibre. I am completely infatuated. Calibre is kind of like iTunes, except it’s for ebooks: a user-friendly app for visually browsing and sorting your books, as well as editing metadata such as title, author, publication date, etc. Better yet is the ability to manipulate the look and feel of each book. Files that look like terrifying blobs of text can now be tweaked to include additional spacing, nicer fonts, prettier cover images, and even custom Table of Contents. I also love being able to easily convert .pdfs to .mobis (or even .azws). Calibre isn’t the only ebook app out there, but it is the best one I’ve seen that’s compatible with Macs. Using it to manage my ebook library is what has truly transformed my Kindle into a daily staple.
According to my cute techie spouse, what I’m experiencing is just the natural arc of being an early adopter — which lends a certain degree of cozy archetypal comfort. Kindle owners old and new, I’m curious to hear about your experiences: how have you been using your Kindle? Sony & Nook folks, I’d love to hear from you, too!