Monday, April 2, 2012

Kindle Fire Review (pt. 2)

For the first part of this review where I discuss outfitting my Kindle Fire for graduate work, click Here

Last week, I was assigned 3 books to read for two of the classes I take aside from Arabic: Black Mecca: The African Muslims of Harlem by Zain Abdullah; On Suicide Bombing by Talal Asad; and Holy Terrors: Thinking About Religion after September 11 by Bruce Lincoln. My purpose here, in Part Two of this Kindle Fire review, is not to summarize or evaluate these three books, but rather to reflect on the process by which I read them – via Kindle Fire e-Book. I believe that, during the course of the week, I accidentally talked most of my classmates out of buying a Kindle Fire (or other e-book for that matter). I would, however, like to clarify that I certainly recommend the Fire, though it’s shortcomings in both class discussion as well as in paper writing (alongside skepticism that e-books will have the longetivity of their bound counterparts) make me reticent to recommend that this mode of reading should usurp the more traditional bound, paper and ink books. My criticisms with e-books generally, and my experience with the Kindle Fire in particular, do NOT have to do with portability, ease of reading/highlighting/notetaking, or affordability of books which are extremely positive aspects of the device (I’m currently reading a book that costs $22-$24 on Amazon hard copy that was $10 in e-book form and reading/notetaking is very easy and intuitive). The problems, rather, arose from class discussion, reviewing my notes, and keeping up in a discussion with colleagues using traditional, rather than “e”, books.

E-Books – Writing Papers and Discussion

Out of the three books I read, I wrote a paper about one of them and participated in class discussion on all three. After writing the paper on Asad’s On Suicide Bombing, I found the greatest advantage of the Kindle Fire was found alongside its greatest weakness: citation.

Side note: if you own a kindle, I would highly recommend downloading the “Kindle for PC/Mac” app from their store. It is free and allows you to purchase and read e-books on your desktop/laptop/tablet (further, if you already own a tablet, I dare say that this app negates the necessity of purchasing a Kindle Fire, but if you are new to the tablet game (comme moi) the Fire is the way to go).

Moving on…on my laptop, I was able to highlight and make notes in the e-book with a bit more ease than on the Fire itself (despite using my stylus/wand of pretentiousness). I was also able to copy sections of the text and paste them into the word document – below is a text copied directly from the e-books as it appeared in the word document:

The modern nation, in direct contrast, originated in Europe with attempts to expand capacities for organized violence by peoples who felt themselves menaced by more powerful neighboring states.

Bruce Lincoln. Holy Terrors, Second Edition: Thinking About Religion After September 11 (p. 63). Kindle Edition.

The perception that human life has differential exchange value in the marketplace of death when it comes to “civilized” and “uncivilized” peoples is not only quite common in liberal democratic countries; it is necessary to a hierarchical global order.

Asad, Talal (2007-06-22). On Suicide Bombing (Kindle Locations 1504-1505). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

That is, are differences between culturally distinct groups in pluralistic societies necessarily divisive, and do they automatically lead to conflict?

Abdullah, Zain (2010-09-30). Black Mecca : The African Muslims of Harlem (Kindle Locations 1070-1071). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

The citation appeared as soon as I pasted, making writing the paper a bit more convenient. This technological trickeration was the highlight of my reading/writing/discussing experience with the Kindle Fire. As you’ll notice, the first citation notes that it is from page 63 of Lincoln’s text while the other two are noted by their “Kindle Locations” – as you read the e-book, the tracker at the bottom tells you that you are at Location X out of Y – I am not sure how the locations are determined but it makes it difficult to “sync” with those who are citing page numbers rather than locations. For this reason, the following e-mail had to accompany my paper as I sent it to the class to consider for discussion:

"I used the kindle version of the book so the page numbers are...nonexistent in my citations - technology has its advantages but lack of synced pagination has been a frustration with me for ebooks. There are 2238 "locations" in the book, and the epilogue ends and notes begin at location 1524 so those more talented at math can follow the kindle pagination. Sorry for any confusion."

My professor even quipped that he wondered what type of book I had been reading as he read my paper. In another class, while discussing Abdullah’s book, someone asked which page we were on, to which I replied “location 1517.” When another student cited a passage, it was easy for me to search for a phrase and end up at the correct passage rather quickly, but it was difficult for me to proffer passages and find/cite them in a timely manner (I’m thinking of when I stated in class “this paragraph is probably about halfway through chapter one after the author cited Surah 18”). The e-book certainly met its limitations head on in class discussion (and may find similar limitations in book clubs and/or reading groups). But should the lack of pagination and difficulty of discussants to – quite literally – get on the same page really be deemed a damning criticism or reason to avoid e-books in the academy? I think not.

The Future of [My] Kindle Fire

I will not be purchasing all of my books on Kindle Fire from now on. I will, however, be buying at least one e-book per course per semester. Despite the difficulties of searching, re-reading my notes, and keeping up with class discussion, my suspicion is that the difficulties I faced had much as much to do with the format of e-books as it has to do with being conditioned, through experience, to think of the transmission of ideas from author to book to pupil to discussion in a certain way for my entire life. The pagination issues were nothing that I haven’t faced before due to being too cheap to buy a new version of a book while all the other students had a fancy, re-issued anniversary edition. I believe that by replacing the tactile experience of flipping pages, making notes in the margin, and carrying the book around with the experience of searching for phrases, making notes alongside highlights, and “flipping through” the scroll bar at the bottom of the page I will be challenging myself to think/engage a “text” in a different manner, thereby (hopefully) growing as a thinker and scholar. Plus I will have several books and ALL of the .pdf files I will ever hope to need in one place. I also intend to use it for lecture notes in the fall/whenever I end up teaching my own class, so keep an eye out for an evaluation of how that goes. And I’ll be able to play Angry Birds. And Tweet.

Thanks for reading.