M. C. A. Hogarth (haikujaguar) wrote,

The Irreplaceable E-Book Reader Experience

I remember vividly reading Anne McCaffrey for the first time. I was twelve years old, sitting in the glassed-in patio in our New Orleans house, with the bright syrupy sunlight of summer lying like a blanket on the patio furniture beside me. In my lap, I had an enormous copy of the New American Dictionary, a tome that dwarfed my legs. I kept it open and set the novel on top of it, and read it with an uncapped red pen in my hand. To my right I had an open spiral notebook.

Every few words, I would stop, painstakingly underline an unfamiliar word, leaf through the dictionary, read the definition and then copy it into my notebook. And then… I would resume reading from the beginning of the sentence with new understanding of the phrase but a rather interrupted sense of the narrative.

And I did that… for the entire book. It was full of red ink. But it was the only way to get through it, because it was so full of big words that twelve-year-old me knew she wouldn’t even grasp the story unless she did the work.

My kindle would have delighted young jaguar. Instead of having to go through all that trouble, she could have just highlighted the word with a pointer or finger and… pop! There’s the definition. And she could have merrily gone on reading with a lot less interruption; no hunting in a giant book, no copying so she could find it again faster, no uncomfortable weight on her lap.

As an older reader, when I ran into a word I didn’t know, most of the time I just skipped it and got what I could out of context before moving on. I didn’t (and still don’t) have Young Me’s tolerance for interruption. But since getting my kindle, I use the dictionary look-up feature constantly. Why be confused or have to make do with context? I think. I use it even on words I vaguely know, or think I know but want a refresher on. It’s fabulous. I love the look-up feature. I love it so much, apparently, that I take the habit with me off my e-book reader. I was reading a paper library book not long ago and ran into an unfamiliar word, and I touched it in full expectation of enlightenment.

Seriously. Not as a joke. It had become a reflex. “In response to confusion, touch for more information.” When nothing happened, my reaction was to be startled: the expected response had not happend! And then I was chagrined, and I kept reading, and caught myself starting to do it a couple more times.

(I did not go look up those words later, I’m sorry to say.)

A few days ago, my kindle spontaneously loaded a software update. Imagine my reaction to discover that when I highlight a word now, I can look it up… on Wikipedia. Wikipedia’s reliability is always an issue, of course. But now I think of all the historical personages referred to in the historical fantasies I’ve been reading, or the Sherlock Holmes mysteries that refer to traditions, current events, and locations I know nothing about, and have a moment of glee. At last! Context!

But still, that was not the coolest thing I got with that software update. That one I found when I ran into a foreign word I was fairly sure was Spanish but had such a weird verb ending that I thought it might be Italian. I highlighted it with a ‘why not’ feeling, checked ‘more’ and found a ‘translation’ function. When I chose it, it itself detected the language and then furnished the translation…!

This is Spanish. It is this verb case. It means ‘differentiate.’

This was so cool I just started loading random books with foreign words in it and translating them.

I recently read the unabridged Les Miserables, and I feel like between the (then) contemporary cultural references and the untranslated French, I understood maybe 65% of it… if I’m being generous. To think of what a different experience it would be to read it now…!

When I first bought an e-book reader, I thought of it as a handy replacement for books. Lighter, easier to store, more convenient. Now I think of all the ways it makes my reading experience more fulfilling, and I know I could never go back.

Now if I could just get them to let me bundle an author-specific dictionary with an e-book, so that people could touch an alien word and get the right definition… *rubs hands together*

Mirrored from MCAH Online.

Tags: books, culture, e-books, kindle, technology
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