E-books and Kindles!
The perfect solution for expat bookworms
First published June 2011, last modified January 2017
Note: I wrote this article back when tablets such as iPads and Android devices were a very expensive option for just reading e-books. Now that cheap Android tablets are available, and I have bought one, I have added a section comparing the two at the end of this article.
I naturally prefer to read books in my first language, English. However, I live in a country where the book shops generally have a poor selection of English books, and never stock the ones I want to read. So I have been forced to order nearly all of my books from the other side of the world (mainly from Amazon) and the shipping cost is always much more than the price of the book itself, not to mention the waiting period which can be anywhere from a week to over a month.
So I decided to look into e-books. I wonder if I was the last expat in the world to see the light. As I type this, Amazon's e-books are outselling their printed books! A friend in Tokyo had told me that there was a Kindle in my future, but I wasn't so sure. Anyway, I went to the Amazon web site and was surprised to see how little their current Kindle costs. When did it get so cheap? (And it has gotten even cheaper since I first wrote this article). The e-books are cheaper than physical books, and delivery is free and instantaneous over the internet! I checked the prices of e-book versions of the books I had ordered over the past year and figured that the savings would have more than paid for the Kindle.
So I ordered one on the spot and it arrived within 3 days from America to Japan! And I am absolutely thrilled with it. If you read lots of books in English and live in a non-English country, you need to get yourself one of these.
I was hesitant at first because the Kindle book format is not the standard epub, which is what public libraries apparently use for their e-books, but that low price won me over. And the format concern has turned out to be a non-issue for me.
I buy most of my books from Amazon anyway, and now all the free e-book web sites make their e-books available in formats the Kindle can read. The Kindle format is AZW, but it can also read e-books in MOBI or PRC format if it is unencrypted (without "Digital Rights Management" or DRM). A list of free e-book web sites is at the bottom of this page.Free books!
Of course, if you are able to borrow public library e-books or simply prefer epub, there are many e-book devices that handle epub such as the Sony Reader and NOOK. As I type this, the Sony Reader is more expensive than the Kindle in Japan (and hard to find in stores) and the Nook is apparently not available in Japan and cannot be shipped here from America. So this article mainly focuses on Amazon Kindle.
Some e-book readers have touch screens which might seem like an advantage, but one reason I prefer the Kindle is that it does not have a touch screen. I usually hold the Kindle like a regular book, with my thumb directly on the page itself, often in the middle of the page if I'm on a crowded subway where I need to keep a tight grip. This would cause all kinds of problems on a touch screen, but with a Kindle I don't have to give it a second thought.
There is a growing variety of great e-book readers in the world, but a quick glance around me on the commuter train tells me that Japanese consumers prefer to read (and play games) on their smart phones. Sony finally introduced their e-book readers in Japan about a year ago, but I have yet to see anyone using one. While other e-book device makers are apparently avoiding the risk of selling in Japan, Amazon is bending over backwards to make their Kindles available to everyone, and it's no surprise that the Kindle is the best selling e-book reader in the world now, even outselling regular tablet computers which can do more but also cost a lot more.Text and PDF
The Kindle can also read regular plain text (TXT) files and Portable Document Format (PDF) plus a few other formats (for example, if you change the suffix of a simple web document from html to txt, the Kindle will read it fine and retain all the formatting). There is a free program called Calibre which will convert all kinds of formats to the Kindle-friendly mobi format.
I find the plain text format especially useful since I read tons of articles I find on the internet, but don't like to read them on my computer, which hurts my eyes after a while. I used to print out the longer articles so I could read them at my desk or on the couch or when riding the subway, but that used up a lot of paper, and I ended up with a pile of articles which I would probably never read again, and had to either store away or throw away (which is not good for the trees). Now I just save the articles as plain text documents, and they display beautifully on the Kindle. When I'm done reading, I can just delete them. I love the e-ink format of the Kindle that looks like real ink on paper. Articles are especially suited to text to speech which I cover below.
Also, for Web pages with lots of images, I can print the web page, but opt to save it as a PDF instead of actually printing it so I can read it on the Kindle. Or I can copy and paste the contents of the web page into a text program and save it as an RTF and then convert that RTF to an e-book (mobi) in Calibre so it flows nicer in the Kindle. Of course, I can also look at those web pages directly on the Kindle web browser (see below) but I like to carry these articles around with me without always having to connect to the internet.
PDFs are usually in a layout that cannot be modified to fit the Kindle screen (the text gets too small). This means you will have to view them in landscape orientation (horizontal) and do a bit of zooming and horizontal scrolling which gets tedious real fast. So I generally convert PDFs to a more flexible format such as mobi using Calibre.
However, PDFs with special fonts must be viewed as they are (in PDF form). One good example would be the free PDF files of the Gospels and Acts from Aramaic English Peshitta Interlinear New Testament by Paul Younan. Fortunately, the Kindle displays these PDFs just fine, and the Aramaic characters are intact (by the way, they read from right to left). There are also excellent interlinear and English translations of the Aramaic New Testament at AramaicNT.com which are published via Lulu as books or downloadable PDFs. Now that I have a Kindle, I'm more open to buying downloadable versions of books which are considerably cheaper than real books, especially since the shipping is so high with real books.
It looks even nicer in landscape mode, with no need to scroll horizontally:
Why would anyone want an Aramaic New Testament if the original was written in Greek? Because Jesus and the Apostles spoke Aramaic as their first language, so their messages and conversations were originally in Aramaic and then later written down in Greek for the sake of a larger audience. An Aramaic New testament clarifies the meaning of some ambiguous parts found in the Greek (the passage above is a good example). Some scholars even believe that the Greek New Testament was a translation of Aramaic text, and they cite poems and play on similar words which are clear in the Aramaic but vanish in the Greek. Who knows? A writer in the first century (Papias) did claim that the gospel of Matthew was first written in Aramaic. In light of this, a copy of the Aramaic New Testament (called the Peshitta) is a valuable tool, and I'm glad to have found a nice copy that looks so good on my Kindle.Dictionary
One useful feature of the Kindle is the built in dictionary which automatically displays words as the cursor reaches them. I discovered this really came in useful when reading the King James Version of the Bible. Below is a classic example from Jeremiah 4:22. Look at the second line where the cursor has stopped. What in the world are sottish children? Maybe people 400 years ago would knowingly nod their heads in agreement, and say, "oh yeah, those sottish children" but we in the 21st century are completely in the dark. The answer immediately appears in a pop-up window at the bottom of the screen:
And when you press the arrow button (carriage return) you go to the dictionary to read a more complete definition:
My Kindle came with The Oxford Dictionary of English and the New Oxford American Dictionary already loaded. For those special words which do not appear in regular dictionaries, I bought Easton's Bible Dictionary for Kindle. During Bible study I can make it the default dictionary so it will appear in the pop up windows.Better than paper?
The Kindle is easier to read than a paper version because there are no ghost images of print from the other side of the page and you can set how much space you want between the lines, and even how wide you want the column to be. The brightness of the page depends on the brightness of your reading lamp (or the sun) just like a real book.
You can even highlight or underline passages and type notes (great for those who have the habit of writing in the margins). Unlike a physical page, the notes are not visible in the margins or anywhere on the page itself. Instead, a superscript number similar to a footnote marker is inserted at the point where you typed the note. Just move the cursor over it and click to read the note. All your notes and even your highlighted portions are stored in a separate pgae so you can find them and later and easily and scroll through them.
There are 8 different font sizes to choose from. But I'm not sure when I would ever find the largest size useful:
However, I admit I still carry a paper Bible with me when I'm out, because one thing I can't easily do with an electronic Bible is whip and flip, in other words, whip it out quickly and flip directly to the passage I'm looking for. This especially comes in handy when listening to a sermon (and I still prefer the feel of a physical Bible when I'm in church anyway). So the Kindle did not render my old Bible obsolete.
Using a paper Bible along with a Kindle is a very useful combination, especially where desk space is limited. I can have a commentary or even a different version such as the Greek Septuagint or Greek New Testament or Aramaic New Testament next to the Bible.
This particular Greek New Testament has the Greek and English words interspersed, and when you click on a Greek word, it takes you to Strong's Greek lexicon which is included! The Septuagint also has this feature. The Kindle renders Greek characters just fine. I don't know how many other languages it can handle, but it renders Japanese perfectly as well.
When I first wrote this article the Kindle was available only from Amazon in America but now it is also available directly from Amazon here in Japan and the number of Japanese Kindle books is growing as a result.Wonderful Study tool with search function
I had always believed that these devices were for people who had nothing better to do than read fiction books all day. It had never occurred to me that I could find one useful for Bible study and research in various pursuits. Glad I found out.
You can use the Kindle for any field of study, but I mainly use mine for Bible study. There is a great search function that turns your Kindle into a super concordance that is activated when you start typing a word on the keyboard. This morning I was trying to remember where in the Bible it says that if we pray according to God's will, he hears us. So I opened one of my Kindle Bibles and typed in the words "he hears us" and found the phrase in 1 John 5:14.
If you want to expand your search beyond a single Bible, simply go to the home page, type the phrase, and opt to search "my items" and the Kindle will search all the books and documents on your Kindle, and display every place where these words appeared in close proximity to each other. When I tried this, my Kindle found these words in a few articles, some works by the Church Fathers, and several Bible versions inclusing my Greek interlinear. This is a powerful reasearch tool that is only limited by the number of books you have loaded in the Kindle.
There is also a quick way to find specific Bible passages by chapter and verse. Some Kindle Bibles which have a navigation system called Direct Verse Jump (DVJ) which lets you go directly to a verse by typing a few characters in the search box (ie. mt.24.1 would take you to Matthew 24:1). So every verse in the Bible has its unique identifying code, and this code is standard among all Bibles that use DVJ. So in the same manner descibed above for word searches, I can quickly find a Bible verse in different versions of the Bible that use DVJ, including my Greek versions. I will try to limit my future Bible purchases to those that have DVJ. I've put the DVJ versions in their own section in the book list below.
The amazingly useful ESV Study Bible also has a modified version of DVJ (you leave spaces instead of typing periods in your search).Text to speech, audio books and background music
This Kindle also has text to speech, which is amazingly natural (I've had conversations with some human beings who did not sound as natural as this Kindle). It's even better than the text to speech on my Mac computer, not mention the fact that it is portable. Portable text to speech! That's revolutionary! Although it cannot compete with a professional actor reading a story, it is great for documents which do not rely on vocal nuance or intonation subtleties. I find it very useful for listening to the The Apostolic Fathers or the Catechism or a number of informative documents which I can now absorb while doing other things such as doing graphics work or washing the dishes. It works especially well with articles downloaded from the internet, too. The internet has opened up an incredible wealth of information on a variety of subjects, but I can't afford to sit down and read all the articles I have found. Now I can load them onto my Kindle and have them read to me while I'm doing other things.
There are many old classic works in the public domain which are valuable treasures of knowledge and wisdom if you are willing to sit down and read them, but sometimes reading these old works can get tedious, and it's hard to stay focused. If you find yourself staring at a page while your mind drifts, text to speech will help you stay on track and let you plow through at a steady pace while you read along or even do something else.
Text to speech is also a great aid for consuming parts of the Bible. While much of the Bible is exciting and easy to follow along, anyone who aspires to read the Bible from cover to cover must also contend with long lists of names of people, geographic locations, and objects, especially in the Old Testament which serves as a detailed history of Israel. Text to speech will allow you to press on and plow through these parts and attain your goal.
The speakers on the Kindle work great. They are in the back, on a raised and curved surface so that the sound bounces off the flat table top surface. The sound is actually louder when the Kindle is laying on a flat surface than when you are holding it in your hand. When you are sharing a space with other people, there is a jack for headphones or earphones.
Speaking of audio, you can also listen to audio books on this, and Amazon sells them on its affiliate site Audible.com . There are also many MP3 audio books out there which can be obtained for cheap or even free if you go to places such as Audio Books for Free. I discovered that if you create a folder on your kindle and name it audible and put MP3 podcast files in there, you can play them using the Kindle audio book interface that has buttons for play and skip back or forward 30 seconds.
You can also listen to regular MP3 files for background music if you out them into a music folder, but you can't navigate the selections other than jump to the next song.Your best friend on public transportation
After I had bought my Kindle, my job situation changed, and I was required to stand for about an hour on a very crowded commuter train every morning and evening. Instead of getting up an hour earlier to get in my daily Bible reading before leaving home, I opted to try it on the train.
Sometimes the train is so crowded and there are so many bodies squeezed together that it is impossible to have a book at an adequate distance from your face to allow your eyes to focus, let alone turn pages. Now I can continue reading even when others around me have given up. I keep the earphones plugged in so text to speech can keep me on track as I get jostled about, and endure loud announcements. It also helps to block out noise from other peoples' conversations or music players. Now with a few clicks, I can navigate through different parts of the Bible and even refer to a dictionary or commentary. With this long commute, I'm reading a lot more now, and the Kindle plays an even bigger role in daily life. It makes the commute so much more tolerable, even pleasant. Some downloadable daily Bible reading charts for your Kindle are available at the bottom of this page.
Of course, if you have read the rest of my web site, you will know that my preferred activity on the train has always been sketching. If there is a little elbow room on the train, I still prefer to sketch people (in a pocket notebook). But more often than not, there is only enough space to read something on my Kindle.Web browser
One more feature I was surprised to discover was the web browser. It's pretty slow, and can't compete with your computer, but it can be useful if you are near a WIFI spot and don't have your computer available. I was able to use Google maps to find an arial photograph of the building I was in, which was pretty cool. The pop up search window on the Kindle even has options for jumping directly to Google or Wikipedia if you have the wireless connection turned on.
Who can deny that the worldwide web has caused an explosion of information? A seemingly infinite amount of data is within reach of everyone with internet access, and how much knowledge you can acquire is only limited by how much you can absorb, and until recently, how long your eyes could endure staring at a computer screen with its bright backlighting and reflections. Now all that information is at your fingertips any place and time, and in a form that is easy on the eyes, just like traditional ink on paper.
You can also view a web article in article mode which reformats the web page to fit nicer on the Kindle screen. Here is the same web page in article mode:
This Kindle can display a wide range of gray scale so black and white photos look as good as printed photos. I have a few photos on mine now, mainly just to impress my friends.Lessons from a broken Kindle
Lesson 1: Don't rest the Kindle on a soft surface such as a bed where accidental pressure from above will easily bend it. A hard table top is better.
Within the first three months of owning my Kindle I managed to break it. I was in the hospital for an overnight stay after minor surgery, and was looking forward to a wonderful time of lying in bed reading dozens of Kindle books without interruption. It was such a perfect situation, I was actually happy to have endured surgery and compulsory abstenance from food and have an IV drip connected to my arm. Movement was awkward, but I managed to get out of bed to position the reading lamp just right, and when I got back in bed I accidentally leaned my elbow with my full weight on the Kindle which was lying next to the pillow. A loud crack and a screen full of black and white streaks told me I was in for a long night with nothing to read!
Lesson 2: If your Kindle breaks, contact Amazon and it will save you money, and they are nice people to talk with. They will even offer sympathy for your accident.
After I finally got home from my disastrous hospital stay, I checked the Amazon web site and discovered that I had to talk with them on the phone about a replacement, but there is a button to click to have them call me at my convenience, even immediately if I liked, and save me some phone charges (I live in Tokyo). They said this was not covered by the warranty but I could buy a replacement for $53.00 plus shipping which is less than half the cost of a Kindle, provided I returned the broken one (which I was happy to do). They would even pay return shipping postage and provide me with a barcode label and all the forms to print out. I had a new Kindle in my hands in two days, sent from America to Japan!
Lesson 3: Text to speech may well be the most amazing feature on the Kindle that you will find difficult to live without.
During the time I was without a Kindle, the thing I missed the most was text to speech! As I mentioned above, it is great for keeping on track and moving forward when you must read something tedious, and I discovered how spoiled I had become because of text to speech.
Lesson 4: You may want to buy a sturdy cover to protect your Kindle if you are inclined to do stupid things.Newer models all the time! Two better than one?
Since I wrote this article, Amazon has come out with new models which are smaller, lighter, and some are even cheaper! And they renamed my old Kindle the "Kindle Keyboard" because the new models don't have a keyboard. After several months I decided to get one of the new Kindles, the cheapest one available. A few months after I bought the new model, an even newer model has come out, which I have not tried.
Why would anyone buy a second Kindle when the first one still works fine? Well, that second one really comes in handy when I'm studying outside the home, away from my reference books. In the photo above I have the New Testament in English and Greek side by side for comparison. I can also have an English and Japanese Bible open or two different English versions, or a Bible along side a commentary. Come to think of it, any kind of study often requires more than one book open at the same time for quick reference. This pair has turned out to be so useful, I don't know how I ever managed with only one.
I have found my Bible study greatly enhanced when I'm using two Kindles along with a paper Bible. The Kindle on the left is open to the Greek / English interlinear version of the same passage and the Kindle on the right is open to a commentary (actually, it's the notes section of a study Bible). All those resources on such a small desk top.
The new Kindles are smaller and lighter, and will fit in smaller pockets. Although the weight and dimensions don't seem all that significant when you see them at the Amazon web site, they are very noticeable when you have the new model in your hands. They respond quicker, and the screen looks as good if not better than the older model. My new Kindle doesn't have speakers or an earphone jack, so I can't use text to speech or listen to MP3 audio, and it doesn't have a physical keyboard so I can't type with my fingers, but I still have those features on my older Kindle which is still used as much as ever because of those features.
So the new Kindle is smaller and lighter while the older Kindle has more features. Now that they are phasing out the old model, those features can only be found on the more expensive Kindle Fire models which have a lot more features than the regular Kindle models.Then that day came...
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that I must buy all my books because there are no decent libraries with English books in my neighborhood here in Tokyo. This has resulted in an incredible accumulation of books over the years, with heavy piles in every room, and one entire wall in our living room completely covered with overstuffed bookshelves from floor to ceiling. Then the big earthquake came in March 11, 2011 (after I had first written this article, and still painfully fresh in our memory) and all my books became my enemies as they tumbled violently out of their places and threatened to harm anything or anyone in their way. You could not see the floor because of all the books. As I spent a few hours trying to return them to their shelves, knowing this would probably happen again, I threw away about a third of those books. Since then, I have stubbornly refused to buy any book that was not available as an e-book for my Kindle. Fortunately most new titles that I am interested in are also coming out as e-books so it hasn't affected my reading life very much.
I can only think of one disadvantage to relying on the Kindle for all your important reading: what happens if you no longer have access to electricity? I'm not thinking so much about the classic desert island scenario, but there is the possibility of ending up in an evacuation center after another devastating earthquake. Or taking a trip or going camping in an area where there is no electricity. No power means no ebooks. So I did a little research and found a solution. Now I always carry a solar charger with me. This is the Solio Bolt Battery and Charger which works very well and will power up any USB device including the Kindle.
It stores up solar energy and becomes a portable battery so you can use it to charge your Kindle when you need it. Some solar chargers out there may or may not work with the Kindle, but I've charged my Kindle with this one and it worked just fine. Actually the Kindle is ideal with this type of solar charger since the Kindle can go a few weeks on one charge, and these devices take a while to gather energy from the sun (like all day, or a few hours a day for several days).
Another highly rated solar charger for Kindle is the Power Monkey Extreme which is more powerful but also costs quite a bit more than the Solio.I'm hooked
This little device has allowed me to cut my book costs to a fraction of what they were, eliminates shipping costs completely, lets me aquire new books in a matter of seconds, and puts a powerful research tool at my fingertips. And it's easy on the eyes like a regular book, and will even read to me in a natural voice. When I'm away from home for long periods of time, it's great to have all these books with me that take up so little space. Apparently the battery can last a month on a single charge.Kindles vs. Tablets
Any article about e-readers or any technology is bound to become outdated very quickly, and this article has become a snapshot of how things stood in 2011. Amazon continues to introduce new Kindle models including the Kindle Fire which is really a completely different animal from the original Kindle. It's a tablet computer like any Android tablet except that it runs on an older version of the Android OS which has been modified to be Amazon's lobotomized servant that helps you to buy Amazon products.
Rather than getting a Kindle Fire, I opted for an incredibly cheap Android tablet (made in China) with seven inch screen and the latest Android OS. This thing cost me around $65.00 and I was concerned that it would not even work, but it is amazing; a little computer in my hands. I won't tell you the brand or Chinese maker because its only available in Asia and these things can vanish quickly. So how does this compare with my old Kindles? Many of the tablet advantages are of course applicable to the Kindle Fire which is also an Android tablet (but I don't own a Kindle Fire, so I can't say for sure).
The tablet is much better with PDFs. It can resize to any magnification unlike the Kindle which is very restrictive and frustrating. Also, you can see color rather than shades of gray. Since I have the Kindle app on my tablet I am able to see all my colorful art books as they were intended to be. If you have a Kindle and then get a tablet, you will want to get the free Kindle app so you can see all those books you already own.
The tablet is really a computer so it can do most things a regular computer can do such as web browsing (including You Tube), and creating and editing documents including HTML. It can also read e-books, of course.
But there are some strong reasons for keeping that old Kindle around. First, a Kindle is much faster than a tablet. You can turn it on, and get right to your reading while the tablet is still taking its time to respond -- and sometimes it can be very slow, even a minute or more of waiting time. Also, the Kindle is much lighter in weight and easier to hold. If your Kindle has a non-touch screen, you can hold it with your thumb on the page itself and not wreak havoc. Very carefree! Very much like a real book.
And the Kindle's built in text-to-speech is unsurpassed. I had tried the text-to-speech options available for a tablet and even paid for one of the highly rated ones, but it does not compare to the Kindle, which is amazingly natural and handles difficult parts much better than the tablet voice. I have a new appreciation for the Kindle text-to-speech after experiencing with the tablet equivalent. It's so good, you will forget it is text-to-speech and think it's a real person reading to you.
Also, a Kindle lasts longer on a battery charge. I need to recharge my tablet every day while the Kindle can go a few days (the older keyboard model's charge lasts even longer!).
So, for carefree reading or having something read to you, the Kindle wins. For PDFs, color, and stuff you would do on a computer, the tablet wins. I use both every day.
Kindle devices sold in Japan
Here are some free downloadable resources to help you read the entire Bible in a year on your Kindle.
Daily Bible reading chart based on the chart by Robert Murray M'Cheyne
The Catechism of the Catholic Church text divided into 365 daily readings mobi file based on free copies found on the internet
|If you click on any of the Amazon links and actually buy something there, Amazon will send a small percentage of the amount to my account with them. When this amount accumulates to a certain level, I can buy a book from Amazon or at least get a discount (and maybe post a review of it on my web site if it's any good). Since the price is the same to you either way, be a pal and click on a link if you're gonna buy the book anyway. Thanks!|