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Friday, February 20, 2009

Sarah Lally Brown is a voracious reader, often devouring three tomes at a time. While the 35-year-old Woodinville, Wash. resident prefers the woodsy, remote area where she and her husband live, 40 miles from Seattle’s city center, she says she wouldn’t be there if they couldn’t get broadband. Still, Brown is not what you’d call a gear head.

As her friends point out, Brown possesses many of the skills that would come in handy in the event of civilization’s collapse — vegetable gardening, canning, sewing, sawing logs, tending chickens (of which she has five) and upholstery (hey, you never know). Many of these skills she either learned or improved thanks to books, lovely bound paper books.

Why then, one might imagine her luddite literary brethren asking, does she not only own — but love — a $359 Amazon Kindle, the e-reader many fear might destroy the publishing industry that creates the books she says she loves? "Why does anybody own a Kindle?" luddites often ask. As early adopters drool in anticipation of Kindle 2’s launch on Feb. 24, Technotica asks a literature-loving Kindle owner just that.

Technotica: Why do you hate books?

Sarah Lally Brown: I love books! I have an entire room in my basement that is full of board games and books.

Well then, do you celebrate the rapid decline of the book coffee shop culture? Barnes & Noble-encased Starbucks locations not closing fast enough for you?

I applaud having a venue where you can take a book read for a test drive and having the whole selection there. It can be really nice, but I vastly prefer my neighborhood bookstores.

So why do you have a Kindle?

My husband got one for himself right when they first came out. He is a notorious early adopter of everything. He ordered his and I soundly mocked it. I told him it was completely ridiculous — why would you ever want this thing to read books?

Then he left it home a few days when he was at work and I picked it up because he had a book that I wanted to read. I realized this is pretty cool and I started borrowing it so much he was irritated enough to buy me one for my birthday.

Were you surprised?

I was totally surprised. It’s not the kind of thing I ever would have justified for myself because of my most problematic thing about the Kindle: Man is it really pricey. When you think about it, it is not a trivial piece of electronic equipment.

Yeah, it’s not the kind of thing I’d feel safe carting into the bathroom …you know, for reading in the bathtub … and whatnot.

Yes, definitely. It’s not the kind of thing I would ever indulge in for myself. I am very lucky to have been given one as a gift. I often get asked what the gadget is that I am using, and I love to explain the book reader concept and how much I love it. But evangelizing the technology always hits a huge speed bump when people ask me how much it cost and I sheepishly mumble, "three hundred and, cough, dollars."

Kindle does frighten the luddites.

Most people clam up at the price and I can almost see them shelving the option way up high on the luxury shelf. And what is the book reader all about? It's getting people to love books again. Making books less intimidating — a 50-page short story and a 800-page novel look the same when you hold them in your hand — and more likely to fit into your every day.

Has the Kindle made your reading ability faster, stronger, better than it was before?
It definitely allows me to read more. I usually have two or three books going at the same time — a fiction, a non-fiction and some kind of trash — like a beach blanket kind of book. That’s actually my favorite thing to use the Kindle for. I’ll get books that I would’ve gone to a book store and bought used, and read them and donate them to the bookstore. Now I can get them and not worry about having to recycle them when I’m done.

Or worry about anybody seeing you reading them …

That is really nice, yes.

So you told me before we officially started that your husband is looking forward to the new Kindle. How about you?

They didn’t change any of the things about it that would make it necessary to me. It’s pretty and it has some changes to it … but none of the things that would be important to change are there.

What Kindle improvements would you prefer?

Besides price, I'd have to say the display. If there was a full-color display with crisply scanned images, it would be so nice to convert my heavy shelves of plumbing and electrical and other books into something smaller. But for regular text reading the current display is fine by me.

If the new Kindle had its corners cut off like everything square or rectangular on “Battlestar Galactica,” I would totally drop $400 on it … in a minute … because that would be awesome!

That would make it look futuristic!

Yes. And awesome!

There is one thing I really like about (the current Kindle). I can read one-handed or read no-handed if I’m eating. It’s light and easy to balance and I can click through. But I do get this weird notch in my thumb.
Do you miss pages?

I do love my paper books more. If there’s a book that I truly love … and I especially like to loan books to friends … I’ll read the Kindle version then I’ll go out and buy the paperback.

That kind of eliminates my last question: How do you loan books to your loser friend who will never ever return them?

It is a kind of hard thing to get around, and I’ve had to kind of suck it up. I’ll buy books in dual media. Sometimes there’s a book that you want to pass on.

Well, it’s a good thing you still love corporeal books. You never know when a rickety chair needs a shim!

Actually, I use zip ties.


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