Nicholson Baker vs. the Kindle

By  |  Monday, July 27, 2009 at 9:11 am

Nicholson BakerNovelist Nicholson Baker is an unapologetic friend of paper–and his book Double Fold* is an important expose of the mass dumping of bound newspaper volumes by libraries in favor of vastly inferior microform copies. So you gotta think that when The New York arranged for him to write about’s Kindle, it knew that it wasn’t going to get a love letter. It didn’t—but “A New Page” is as eloquent a bad review of the Kindle as you’re going to find. Even if you find much more value in the Kindle than Baker does, as I do, you may find yourself nodding as he makes the case for print and ticks off all of the Kindle’s downsides.

Other than…well, me, Baker is one of the few Kindle judges I’ve seen who doesn’t buy Amazon’s “reads like real paper” claims for the device’s E Ink screen:

The problem was not that the screen was in black-and-white; if it had really been black-and-white, that would have been fine. The problem was that the screen was gray. And it wasn’t just gray; it was a greenish, sickly gray. A postmortem gray. The resizable typeface, Monotype Caecilia, appeared as a darker gray. Dark gray on paler greenish gray was the palette of the Amazon Kindle.

Baker also points out rightly that the presentation of newspapers–at least all the ones I’ve seen–on the Kindle is pretty pathetic. It’s not just that they aren’t well done; they’re nowhere near as well done as they could be even considering the Kindle’s limitations.

Like me, Baker isn’t so sure that the conventional wisdom that an LCD screen such as that on the iPhone is harder on the eyeballs than E Ink is true. Actually, he’s pleased with the iPod/iPhone Touch version of Kindle as a way to quickly dip into a snippet of a book.

So am I–enough so that I’m flirting with the idea of selling my Kindle 2, since I do most of my Kindle reading on the go on my iPhone these days. I’ll let you know if end up parting with it.

*footnote: Baker’s takedown of the Kindle is available on the Kindle, which lets you subscribe to The New Yorker. And Double Fold (subtitle: “Libraries and the Assault on Paper”) is available as a Kindle book, too. In fact, Amazon seems to really want you to buy it in that form:

Double Fold


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3 Comments For This Post

  1. Tom Nocera Says:

    Being a critic of breakthrough electronic gadgets is not all that difficult – nothing is perfect. Waiting for a couple of months after a new product is introduced before passing along a review of it, is a way to play it safe by having the advantage of access to all the previously published comments of earlier reviews.

    What is much more intriguing about Amazon than the screen color and color of type, is that Jeff Bezos is currently seeking one or more patents to cover the ways to insert paid advertisements (or website links) into page display for the next generation of ebooks Amazon will offer via Kindle. This should reduce the cost of ebooks. One of the companies standing to financially benefit from Amazon’s technology is Millisecond Publishing Company, Inc. (MPC). MPC is almost ready to introduce tens of millions of pages of deep family history content on ebooks. Its monumental quantity of high-value genealogy pathways content originated from the 14 year-long Family Forest Project that is digitizing the known “dead tree” records that chart family histories to the beginning of recorded history – 3 to 5 thousand years ago.

  2. Robert Says:

    I too enjoy my Kindle on the iPhone.
    For me it’s actually easier on the eyes than
    traditional books. And the simple convenience
    of the format is key.

  3. Cathy Says:

    Not a typical Baker story, it reads too calmly. But thanks for the link Harry, I have a student coming in to interview me on the subject today and I’ve printed off a copy for her.