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Ken Follett and the Kindle iPhone app (Sunday Salon)

I'm reading two books at present. One of them, Alex Berenson's The Silent Man, is a hardcover, and it's a decent read so far. I'm about a quarter of the way through.

The other book is Ken Follett's World Without End, which I'd been meaning to read since it came out in hardcover in 2007. I've loved Ken Follett's books since I was a teenager, and normally I'd run out and buy them as soon as they were published, so this delay was unusual for me. Unusual, but perhaps fortuitous.

I've been lusting after the Amazon Kindle since the day it was released. I held off on getting it because I wanted to wait for the second iteration. That was finally released this year and, when it was, I hesitated again and then--after a year of reading about the Kindle on blogs and on Twitter and watching Amazon's interviews with Kindle owners--I impulsively bought an iPod Touch instead. It's about a hundred dollars cheaper than the Kindle. The reason: I understood that what I really wanted/needed was a portable browser more than an ebook reader. While the Kindle does offer a rudimentary (so I hear) browser, it's not its focus. The iPod Touch offers more of what I need.

So, while I'd still love to have a Kindle 2, I couldn't be happier with my iPod Touch, which does what I wanted and more besides. It's the most amazing piece of gadgetry, and a reason to go on living should you be looking for one.

So, the other day, Amazon released a (free) iPhone/iPod Touch Kindle application. (For those not in the know, the iPod Touch is essentially the iPhone without the phone: you get all the apps and the music, but no phone and no $75/month charge. It's an incredibly reasonably priced machine. You just need wifi to take advantage of the internet side of the device.) The iPhone Kindle app is meant to serve as an extension of the Kindle: if you have both, then the two machines will sync, and if you stop reading on the Kindle and start up again on the iPhone, or vice versa, then you'll find yourself on the same page. If you've written notes on the Kindle, they'll be available on your iPhone. And your Kindle library--not PDFs, I think--will be available to you on your iPhone.

The iPhone app does not do everything the Kindle can do. You can't buy books from Amazon through the app. But you can exit the app, open your browser, buy a book, and then go back into your Kindle app and find the book already arrived. Still, it would be great to be able to buy a book without leaving the app, and I imagine Amazon will include that capability in subsequent releases. You cannot subscribe (yet?) to magazines or newspapers on the Kindle app or view them if you're subscribed to them on your Kindle. You can't write notes on the book.

But to use the Kindle app for the iPhone you do not need a Kindle. Hence I found myself the other day downloading sample chapters from Ken Follett's World Without End. And after I'd read the first chapter on my iPod I decided to shell out $9.99 (cheaper than the $12.99 for the paperback) for the whole thing. My first Kindle purchase, from probably my favorite author, so that's fitting.

Since I'm reading the aforementioned Berenson book, I haven't allowed myself to go hog wild on the Follett book yet, but I have read the first three chapters. It's a decent reading experience. You can change the font size--which is very helpful--and bookmark specific pages. (The Kindle app will open your text to where you left off, which is great. But if, say, your 13-year-old has frantically paged through the text to watch the pages flip by then where you were when you exited the app won't really be where you left off. So sometimes it's handy to bookmark your stopping point.) You flip through the pages by swiping the page, which can--as others have noted--be a little tiresome after a while. A single click to page turn would be nice, but swiping isn't too onerous. I find myself forgetting as I'm reading that I'm not reading from a traditional book. At least, I do while reading this book. If I were bored by the text then perhaps reading on the device would not seem so natural.

The one thing that will take some getting used to is the lack of pagination. The Kindle/Kindle app does not use page numbers: in a way, page numbers become meaningless when the "page" changes every time you alter the font size. Instead, it uses locations, which I guess roughly correspond to the number of sentences in the book. I'm on location 771 out of 20,726 in Follett's book. It's a 1024-page book. You can see your progress through the text via a progress bar that pops up at the bottom of the screen when you tap it. This is helpful, but still doesn't quite impart to me as good a sense of how much text is left in the book as a whole. It's not the same as feeling the heft of the remaining chapters. Worse, there's no way of telling how much farther one has to go in a particular chapter, which I find very unsettling. I don't see why Kindle can't map the locations to the hard copy's page numbers. And it seems like it would be possible also to somehow show graphically on the progress bar where the chapter divisions are.

So, will I be reading more books on my Kindle app? Undoubtedly. Reading real books is great, but I can live without the problem of storing and/or getting rid of them when I've finished. I'm no longer emotionally attached to books as objects, as I used to be. Does the Kindle app replace the Kindle 2? I've never used the latter, but I still want one: bigger screen, the machine's optimized for reading. I'm unlikely to run out and buy one because of the expense, bu, perhaps counter-intuitively, having the Kindle app makes me want a Kindle 2 even more, so I can supplement it. I also want--once the Kindle fairy puts a free machine in my lap--publishers to start sending out electronic ARCs--it's good for the environment and for my groaning shelves. And it's got to be good for the publishers, who must spend small fortunes printing and mailing review copies, many of which will go unread anyway. Now if only the publishers would see fit to supply book bloggers with free Kindles.....



Great idea - and such a comprehensive review of the kindle/ipod touch experience. I didn't know about that ap, I wonder if it's available over here. It would be good to experiment to see how it works because although tempted after reading this, I still think I want the feel of the book. Also I really like to know how far from the end of a chapter I am! That for me would be a big disadvantage, I feel - but maybe I'd get used to it.


I think it may not work for the UK yet, but you could check. Easy enough to try and download the free app.

Yes, not knowing where the chapter ends is the biggest disadvantage, so far as I can see.

I said above that it's perhaps counter-intuitive that it makes me want a Kindle more. But perhaps that's not counter-intuitive at all. In fact, Amazon's probably banking on that reaction. Someone I read referred to the app as the "gateway drug," and that sounds pretty accurate.


Feedbooks provides both iPod- and Kindle-compatible formats for all their (free!) e-books. They're a terrific resource - and not just because they're going to serialise my new novel Corvus in a Kindle-downloadable format. Their formatting is apparently good, there's lots of helpful information on how to set up and use the various applications, and they answer emailed questions promptly and efficiently. And since I own neither iPod or Kindle, I'd love to know how you get on with them. Here's the general link:

And here to Mortal Ghost:


It looks like one can't use Feedbooks with the Kindle iPhone app--just with the Kindle. Of course, one can use Feedbooks with Stanza (another iPhone app). I've tried Stanza briefly, but am more comfortable with the Kindle app. (Font size is much more easily changed on the Kindle app, for example, and I tend to do that a lot. Plus the getting of books on the Stanza is a little complicated. Yes, yes, they're free, I know, and it's not like working the mines.)

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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Reading Herodotus: A Guided Tour through the Wild Boars, Dancing Suitors, and Crazy Tyrants of The History. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

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