Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My Kindle Story

Why do I feel like I am writing the "Our Story" page of a wedding website?  Maybe because my relationship with my Kindle has been something of a love story, or perhaps something akin to an epiphany.  When I talk about it to friends or colleagues, I know that the funny look they give me is due, in part, to the mystical look I get in my eye when I talk about e-ink, or blowing the font up so I can read on the elliptical machine, or tweeting my highlights.  I have the fervor of a devotee.  

Funny enough, I was sort of dragged to the temple of the Kindle.  Soon before my first Christmas with my husband, who was my fiancee at the time, he told me he wanted a Kindle for Christmas and he, in return, wanted to give me one too.  I looked at him a little skeptically.  Kindles were in their second generation and I had seen a few ads, had a vague idea of what they were.  I said to him the same things I hear from others: How can I live without turning the page?  How can I read in the sun on the beach?  Won't it give me a headache to look at a screen all day?  What about my beloved marginalia?  I need to scribble little notes and symbols when I read.  I need to highlight and underline.  Not to mention the roughly $350 price tag.  

My husband had already joined the e-reader world when he got a first generation Kindle from his parents for Christmas a few years prior.  Ironically, he had lost his Kindle in a Barnes and Noble right before I met him.  (I have created an elaborate hostage story in my head about the paperbacks snatching the Kindle and holding it captive for years in a ink-and-paper storeroom jungle.)   

I was in my third year of teaching middle school English in New York City and I had a close relationship with books.  Before we started a novel in my class I would make the students fan the pages, smell the ink, rub the paper between their fingers.  Books were an experience.  I cherished the smell of old libraries.  I felt proud of the weight of my sagging carry-on filled with books for a beach vacation.  

Undeterred, David began his campaign.  First he explained that the Kindle emitted no light.  Instead, the screen was made up of tiny little magnetic balls of ink.  Simply put, they were white on one side and black on the other.  The Kindle would magnetically orient the tiny balls of ink to make the screen show the words.  No light.  Which meant I would need a light if I wanted to read in the dark, and I could read it in full sun on the beach.  "You mean, it's like a computerized etch-a-sketch?"  Sort of, he answered, but much more complex.  The balls of ink actually had more than just black and white.  They had other shades of gray so that it could also display images in black and white.  The key thing was, no light=no headache.  

Then he started to woo me with the creature comforts the Kindle provides.  I could download books in seconds, from anywhere (the Kindle had built in 3G).  No more heavy carry-on for the beach.  I could hold a 1,000 books in my little slender Kindle.  And, I could subscribe to the New York Times and have it downloaded automatically every day.  I have to say, that the Times piqued my interest.  No more complex origami needed just to read an article in a crowded subway train.  

"But the pages, David, the pages!  I must turn them!" I countered melodramatically.  He conceded that I would no longer have pages to turn.  But, I could read one handed and turn pages with the click of one button.  You have to be a strap-hanging New Yorker to recognize the value in this.  "Strap-hanger" is the term given to those of us who rode the vast bus and subway system to get around each day.  The straps are actually gone, but they refer to old straps that used to hang from the poles so that during rush hour, when all the seats are taken, we could stand in the center and hold on while the train or bus lurched forward and screeched to a halt.  With one hand clutching a metal bar above you, it is really hard to hold a book open for reading.  It's possible, but a hand cramp is bound to come your way and turning the page requires letting go or using your nose.  Neither is graceful and both result in uncomfortable consequences ("Oops sir, sorry I just fell into your lap, that wasn't on purpose!")

As for my beloved marginalia and highlights, he explained that the Kindle had a keyboard and a cursor and I could highlight and make notes.  I could even search my notes quickly on my Kindle, rather than having to thumb through to find that beloved passage.  

His battalion of reasons overwhelmed my defenses and I gave in.  He dismissed the pricetag saying that we were early adopters, we were the avant garde and this is the price we pay.  (Did I detect a twinkle in his eye, a sense of duty to lead the e-reader crusade by way of our example?)  We ordered the Kindles before Christmas and when mine arrived first, he ripped it open and I found him playing with it at the kitchen table when I came home one day.  I pouted that he had robbed me of the opening experience, but the wonder and awe in his eyes made it hard for me to stay mad.  He was a (big) kid with a new toy for Christmas.

I can't remember what my first book was but after the initial shock of not turning the page, I was hooked.  I loved the New York Times every morning, I loved browsing the Kindle store right on my Kindle and having the book in seconds.  I highlighted and typed out notes galore.  I consumed oodles of books during my hour long commute--look Ma, one hand!  I was sold.  

Flash forward to 2012.  I am now teaching high school English in Nashville, Tennessee and Kindle comes out with the Kindle Touch which I upgrade to for Christmas.  Many new features have been added, included public sharing of notes (on Twitter, Facebook and my own page) and I can now see what others have highlighted as I am reading.  I can see what all readers of that book have highlighted, or I can create a community of readers and see just their highlights.  

I've been dreaming of creating a Kindle classroom and it seems that the new features are making that possible.  Every time I have brought up the idea of a Kindle English classroom, I hear the same argument: students need to actively read and I need to be able to check that.  They need to be able to highlight, underline and comment and I need to be able to see that.  Now, however it is possible.  I start really seeing the possibilities.  I could see what my students have highlighted as I read.  I can tweet interesting passages.  They can go to my Kindle page on Amazon and see all of my notes and marks.  

What I see is the possibility to really create a community around a class text.  I see them highlighting and tweeting, then reading other's highlights and retweeting them.  I see them observing the passages that are getting highlighted by their classmates.  I can see myself coming in ready to start the class discussion based on the students popular passages and the comments the students are sharing about the text.  Instead of just a cursory glance at their novels to check they have actively read, I can participate in their active reading.  Our class discussions will not be limited to just our class period.  They will begin to happen as we read, wherever we are.  

So here I am at the beginning of a Kindle Classroom experiment.  We start with the willing.  I will teach from my Kindle and invite those who already own an e-reader to do their class reading on their e-reader.  I will encourage e-readers for required independent reading.  The library at our school has a few loaner Kindles as well.  I will document this journey and ask my students to guest blog about their experiences as well.  

I am hoping that this blog will be an e-reader beacon that will entice other educators and learners to step in, experience the e-ink and taste a reading world without page turns.  

Welcome, the fire is warm and the Kindles are charged.  

Reading Joanne Harris' Chocolat as I sip a latte and eat an egg and cheese biscuit at Barista Parlor, a local coffee house.  


  1. 1. first comment!
    2. interesting. I look forward to following up on how your little experiment goes - after my upcoming exams. I've gone through a similar evolution regarding my feelings on e-ink. Many of my colleagues still think I'm crazy for putting medical textbooks on mine. Most either prefer paper as you and I once did, or use their e-readers purely for personal reading... they'd consider it a violation of their personal space, almost, to put professional reading on their hallowed devices.

  2. Thanks for commenting! I feel special!

    I look back at my college and grad school days and wish I had a Kindle then and that all my texts were available. How great to have everything in one place! Also, think about how studying for a class could be so much easier when all of your notes and highlights are electronic and can be easily searched.

    All of my students' laptops have the Kindle for PC app, so anyone who uses their Kindle can access their ebooks on their laptops and see their notes and highlights there as well. So, they could choose to work on their laptop or their Kindle. They can also put the Kindle app on their phones. I do that in a pinch if I am stuck in line somewhere and didn't bring my Kindle.

    I am also excited about how much easier it will be for them to save quotes that they might possibly use in an essay. No more will they need to ask, "Hey, where is that one quote about Antoinette tearing Jane's veil?" Type "veil" press enter. Voila!

    I find that the resistance to this is more that Kindles are not a part of my colleagues daily lives yet. Before I experienced it, I felt the same way. That's why we have to build it from the ground up, brick by brick. My hope is that I will get some students excited about it and the excitement will spread. So many of them have come to me and revealed they already own a Kindle, or they want advice as to which model to buy.