Janet Gilbert: Connecting with your Kindle

I remember what it was like to go from my paper organizer system — with its daily, weekly and monthly calendars bound in a small booklet with tabs — to an electronic one a decade ago. It took me a while, but I got used to it, and now I can't imagine what it was like before I owned a portable handheld game system! I mean, business calendar.

I remind myself of this necessary learning curve as I adjust to reading on a Kindle.

A Kindle, in case you've bitten a poison apple and fallen into a deep slumber for the past couple of years, is an electronic reader. As slim as a magazine and lighter than most paperbacks, it allows you to download hundreds of books wirelessly and nearly instantly at a competitive price.

I love almost everything about the Kindle. In fact, there are many advantages that are not advertised, the primary one being you can fill it with trashy beach-reads and no one is the wiser.

"Yes," I can say to my seatmate on the plane, "I'm really enjoying ‘Peace Is Every Step' by Thich Nhat Hanh." And then I can discreetly return to "Hot Surfer Summer."

Also, you can lug a lot of books around to suit your reading moods without, well, lugging a lot of books around. And you can keep that same shelf-load of books with you at all times, irritating your family members by reading aloud your favorite passages, which you can retrieve with a click.

You never need to worry about losing your place because the electronic reader always remembers where you left off. You can adjust the type size to your light conditions or the fact that you left your reading glasses at home. And your electronic book has a preloaded dictionary, so that when you come across a word like "chiaroscuro," you can quickly look it up and continue reading until you come across another obscure word such as "atresia," at which point you may decide to get back to "Hot Surfer Summer."

But here is the problem with the Kindle, or, more accurately, with me. If I don't get to read a book consistently over the course of a week, sometimes subplots and characters can fade or become muddled in my mind. I'll pick the electronic book up where I left off and wonder, is this the character who is running a secret school for girls in a remote Pakistani mountain village? Or, is this the corrupt guide who is part of the gangster underworld working against him? Clearly, this is a critical character distinction that would greatly affect my understanding of the novel.

Now, if I were reading an old-fashioned book, I would have a memory of where what we former English majors like to call the "bad guy" was first introduced — not necessarily the chapter, but a physical sense of the number of pages I had read before he appeared in print. I could easily estimate and go flipping back, find his name, and orient myself.

But with the Kindle, you see chapter headings, but who really keeps track of those unless you are creating a syllabus for your highly structured book club comprised of former engineers? You only know that you are 19 percent into the book, or 62 percent, and so on until you reach the magical end — which is usually at about 99 percent, depending on the author's acknowledgements. So trying to look back to refresh your memory can be daunting.

Apparently, you have to pay attention when you use an electronic reader. I suppose it probably also helps if you don't relegate your reading to the end of the day when you are stretched out in your bed, your eyelids drooping and your breathing on the edge of a snore.

Congratulations. You are now 100 percent done with this informative column on electronic readers.

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