Quite a few readers and writers I know suffer from light to mild cases of paper chauvinism. “Yes, they say, ebook readers look cool, but they do not have the feel of a paper book.” I have to admit, even as a geek and a tech-enthusiast, I agree completely. “Feel” is something that no electronic device will be able to reproduce for a very long time. However, what matters to me the most is, well, reading.
I'm a big fan of reading, with or without the "e" prefix. And I also think also that ebook readers (ereaders for short) are a huge advantage to the working writer. First of all, you can have an immense library literally in the palm of your hand. While it's fun to walk to your bookshelves and look for that story, that citation you half remember, that passage that inspired you in the past, on my Kindle I can just start typing some keywords and get the entire text in seconds. It is especially useful if one has a day job, and often writes during lunchtime, further away than a few yards from the home bookshelves.
Second, there’s the money and convenience aspect. Sure, you have to invest in the device itself, but they are no longer that expensive. On my Kindle I can pick up lots of books for cheap, and I don’t have to wait for mail delivery. Keep in mind that in my town (Santa Barbara, California) two of the three major book outlets (Borders and Barnes and Noble) will be closed by the end of 2010. Now it takes more than a trip downtown to get a paper book.
More on convenience: buy once read everywhere. This is not (yet?) as good as it could be. Still, while many complain about DRM, the deal you make with the ebook seller (Amazon in my case) pays for an awesome service: buy a Kindle book, and you can read it on the Kindle itself, on the iPhone app, on the office monitor when no one is looking, or on a web-connected device of any kind. If you use whispersync, then you always restart your novel where you left it... without ever needing to bring the book itself with you!
International access. Some of us like to read in more than one language. This does not (yet?) work with Kindle, but ePub is becoming the de-facto European standard. I can now buy and read books in all major European languages right here from my desk without filling my suitcases with paper or paying for hefty, expensive, CO2-footprint-enlarging paper mail orders.
All the perks above will benefit any reader. However I think there are ever more advantages in using a Kindle to help with your writing.
Read it to me! Tired of scrolling to endless lines to edit? Dump your manuscript on your Kindle and have it read it back to you. Sure the voice sounds a little mechanical, the intonation is not (yet?) entirely there, but you can get a sense of the rhythm, repetitions, flow of your story. And you can do this on the go, listening to your own “audiobook” as you move through your day. If you hear something you don’t like, you can use the ereader Annotation feature to fix it!
Highlights. One important I was taught was to build a personal “roadmap” of writing which I found inspirational or had characteristics, ideas, ways to approach dialog or descriptions which I found remarkable or useful for future reference. Having an ereader makes this automatic: you highlight what you like, you add notes, it all gets saved somewhere, depending on your device. On the Kindle you can even tweet your highlights, moving your roadmap to the cloud, where you can access it at will, or you can find them all collected on the Amazon site (https://kindle.amazon.com/your_highlights) anytime you sync your Kindle.
Know your clippings. On the Kindle all your notes and highlights end up in a text file on your device, and can be accessed once you connect your device to your Mac or PC for recharging purposes. Rather than dig through removable devices and folders, it might be easier to simply put a shortcut somewhere to your clippings.txt file. I have one on my Mac Dock, so I can access my notes, fix manuscripts, permanently store roadmap entries just with one click.
Internet off writers? Long hand writers? Do you like to cut yourself off from the rest of the world, write in a park, in a broom closet, terminate all connections? You can still bring your (relatively) distraction-free ereader with you and access a dictionary (two shipping with the Kindle), a thesaurus (several available in the Kindle store: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=node%3D133141011&field-keywords=thesaurus&x=0&y=0) or a combination of the two. If you dare to use your 3G connection, you can also look up stuff on Wikipedia, just by typing your keyword in any Kindle screen and moving the cursor appropriately.
Ezines galore. Face it, short fiction paper-based magazine print runs are shrinking faster than the polar caps. Internet ezines are flourishing, be it flash fiction or longer works. Do you have time to follow your potential markets? Do you have the patience to scroll page after page on a monitor? I sure don’t. A few online magazines have a ereader edition (http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/ is one) sometimes free, sometimes not. I expect more and more to do the same. What you can’t yet download, you can read directly using your Kindle browser. To speed this up you can simply compile a list of your favorite ones in a Word file, paste in the URL next to their name (no need to get fancy, this is just for you) then send the file to your free conversion Kindle address. If you did everything correctly, the file you download on your Kindle will have active links that you can use to quickly access more online fiction that you can hope to have time to read.
In conclusion: I have a Kindle 3, and I am an obvious enthusiast. Whatever ereader you choose, think ahead about the use you intend to make of the device. For instance, I read a lot in the horizontal position, so an iPad would be way too heavy to hold, annoy my spouse at night with its persistent backlighting, fall heavily on my face if the book is boring enough to put me to sleep while reading, causing countless facial injuries. Besides books, I like to read at least a daily newspaper and a weekly magazine or two: concentrating all on one device with wireless delivery (3G and wi-fi because many places might just have one kind of wireless connection available) just made sense. But most of the above can be adapted to whatever ereader you use, especially if wirelessly connected.
Best wishes for a new year of reading and writing!