A reader writes,
I have a question about e-readers. Going into the ministry, and seeing the great number of books that I am already collecting, I am considering making an investment into an e-reader mainly for convenience and a smaller book shelf! My main concern however is that my choice in a reader would lock me into that particular brand for all eternity. For example, if I choose the Kindle and I choose to upgrade 5 years from now to a Sony Reader, would I have to start over again in building my library, or can the electronic library be carried over the different models. Is there one brand in particular that is more flexible in accepting e-book formats? What is your opinion?
Good question. And I’ve done a lot of thinking about this as a Kindle owner and Logos Bible Software devotee.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind
E-readers are best for fiction or other relatively easy (or at least brief) material. I have read portions of Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections on my Kindle (I converted the online edition at Yale’s JEC site into Kindle format), and I found that it was just too substantial for e-reading. I needed to mark up the book, to have physical reminders of where I was in the argument—such as highlighting and even the thickness of finished pages versus those yet to come. I needed to flip back and forth sometimes. That’s tough with an e-reader. You simply can’t remember how many “pages” back that little tidbit was… And e-ink readers don’t have anything like the refresh rate of an LCD screen (laptop or iPad), so if you somehow did know that you wanted to go back ten “pages,” it would take a while.
For those reasons e-readers just not very good for long-form, careful reading.
But for long-form fiction and other easier reading like narratival history, e-readers are great. I read Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick, 1776 by David McCullough, and Stalingrad by Antony Beevor and loved them all. The Kindle was perfect for them because I always had it with me and could snatch a few pages (“pages”) whenever I wanted without losing my spot. The reading experience was immersive, I usually forgot I was holding something other than a “real book.”
Careful reading can be accomplished on the Kindle—but I find it has to be short. That has been one less-expected benefit of the device for me. Between my hard drive and Logos’ Theological Journal Library I have thousands of articles worth reading. If I run across something valuable I stick it on my Kindle and it waits for me to get a chance to read it. I finish it without the distractions provided by my computer, I highlight (and therefore file away automatically) worthwhile passages, and I can even make annotations.
How does this all apply to a seminarian and future minister of the gospel?
I think you need to plan to get more difficult books in paper form, easier ones in the cheapest way possible (e-reader or tree pulp), and as many good Logos Bible Software commentaries, reference works, and theological journals as you can get and will use.
Will your Kindle books be unreadable in 50 years, or even 10? Quite possibly. So I don’t buy many of them at all. I mainly use the device to read what I already have in other formats. But it is indeed handy for books I need right away, and Amazon is a serious company with a lot better chance of providing a wide selection than Sony since it’s already been in the book business for a long time (that stands to reason, anyway, though I cannot substantiate it).
I do hope there will be a standard e-reading format someday, and epub looks like a contender, but companies will use proprietary formats if it makes more money for them. The Kindle actually does read a great number of formats, including open ones; but still, if you want your grandson to read a book you buy, don’t buy a Kindle book. If you even want a book to be accessible to your wife and kids, buy it in paper form.
I love my Kindle and I use it a lot, but most of what I read on it I put there myself. That is one of its advantages: it will display practically any document on your hard drive, and you can send that document to the device wirelessly if need be.
We are in a time of transition in some respects not unlike Gutenberg’s. There are real uncertainties. But there are also real opportunities: information is cheaper and more plentiful than ever. God help us to access the good stuff, read it in submission to Him, and apply it by His grace.