I wasn’t sure I could learn to like a Kindle, much less love one. Sure, after a week or two, I was ready to acknowledge its well-advertised charms: the ability to load a shelf’s worth of choices onto a device that fits neatly in my purse; the capacity to share purchases with my husband’s iPad; the option of virtual ownership when one of my book groups selects a title I don’t want to make physical space for on my overcrowded shelves.
I also voiced criticisms I’d heard before: the reading experience isn’t the same. I miss not being able to flip through a book. Like many booklovers, I have a spatial recall that startles even me, although I know I’m not the only reader who experiences it. When I want to double-check a characterization or a plot point, I’ll think to myself, “I saw that mentioned on the lower left side about fifteen pages back.”
Clicking through a Kindle book, which negates the left/right spatial orientation, is nothing like this, nor is using the keyword search feature, which with its laborious button-pushing seems as antiquated as a card catalog compared to the computer-like quickness of my brain. Reading a book on Kindle is not a recursive experience; I’m not manipulating a three-dimensional text, not constantly flipping pages through space to recheck the epigraph and/or the dedication, to consult the index, or to linger over accompanying photos. I won’t even bring up Kindle’s way of charting your progress through a book. The percentage tally makes me feel as if I’m participating in an opinion poll. The location number method makes me feel as if I’m having an extraterrestrial experience.
However a recent discovery may redeem the Kindle. I’ll share it with you under the assumption that if I took six months to find it, you are also clueless (plus I tested the discovery on ten Kindle-using friends and none of them knew about this feature).
While searching for something else on the “Settings” screen, I noticed an email address I’d never seen before: email@example.com. I read the paragraph that included this never-before-seen address and discovered that I could send documents to my Kindle in a variety of forms, including .doc or .docx. I pasted a chapter of my novel, which I’m revising, into an email and sent it to myself. Quick as a flash, I received a reply. No dice. Your email doesn’t have a document attached. This response included lots of other useful information, as well as a link to a Help screen. I tried again, this time attaching the chapter. In less than five minutes, the document showed up on my Kindle.
So good. I’ll be able to send my novel to readers. They won’t need to spend ink and paper printing it out or sit for hours reading on computer screens. And in fact, friends with agents confirm that their agents are using e-readers for exactly this purpose.
However, the real advantage to me, the writer, lies in Kindle’s usefulness as a revision tool. I read my sample chapter on Kindle—a chapter I’ve examined several times during the revision process. In one quick read, I saw six infelicities: two consecutive sentences ending on the flat note of the same prepositional phrase; several unneeded adverbs, a comma splitting a compound predicate; a monster paragraph that straddled two screens; an inconsistency in the spelling of a character’s name; the pronoun “her” repeated ten times on one page. In several cases I noticed that paragraphs had lost their indentations, making the text blobs frequent and daunting. So much for impressing a prospective agent.
How was it possible that I had missed these items? What made them apparent when I read my manuscript on Kindle?
I concluded that space between lines, or leading, matters. When the sentences containing the prepositional phrases were no longer double spaced, they drew together on the page, and I spotted them. The monster paragraph also became apparent with book-style leading. I missed the relief of a paragraph indent when I looked at the screen.
The proportion of the page also matters. The Kindle page looks like a page from a book. Its proportions, its ratio of text to margin, mimic a physical book. As I read, I noticed words differently.
I ran into a couple of problems sending a file to my Kindle, problems that were solved by asking Google. Not every paragraph was indented for example. I learned that it’s best to delete tabs and to use the paragraph indent feature (under format/paragraph or on the ruler bar at the top of the window). The same website recommends saving the document with an .html extension rather than .doc or .docx. I followed both suggestions and the resulting document showed up on Kindle formatted as I wished.
Maybe, just maybe, reading on Kindle provides more of an actual book-reading experience than I realized. When I read my manuscript on Kindle, it was formatted like a book. I noticed all the features that called attention to themselves as they slouched across the screen, reminding me that I don’t yet have a book, but a manuscript undergoing revision. Kindle’s real value may be as a revision tool that helps me see my work again.