I bought the e-reader before taking a trip to visit family and it was fabulous to travel with–the screen is almost easier to read than a book, and I was able to carry many “books” with me. As a scholar who works on a lot of non-canonical novels, I’m grateful for easy to access to authors (like Dinah Mulock Craik and Charlotte Yonge) whose complete works aren’t so easy to find. My copies of Craik’s or Yonge’s or even Charles Kingsley’s novels are often more than 100 years old, and needless to say they don’t travel well!
I wonder, in fact, how much of the reason for the canon is material rather than about “quality”–only so many Victorian novels are in print at any given time, which limits what we can read and think about to some extent. I think that projects like Google books and devices like e-readers are doing a great thing in making these books more democratically available. It can only add to the richness and diversity of scholarship in Victorian studies to have this kind of access. I wonder if we will see a renaissance in work on lesser-known novels as this access increases. Or, if more ordinary people will start reading more Victorian novels simply because they’re out of copyright and free on the web.
I’ve read a lot of (usually print) articles worried about the demise of the book with the advent of the Kindle. I don’t see these two things as being in conflict. I have both a shelf full of beautiful old books which certainly have an aesthetic and cultural value that the e-reader doesn’t, and an e-reader to take with me when I don’t want to damage those beautiful books.
Another benefit to the e-reader is environmental–I have yet to start reading articles on my e-reader, but it is pdf-compatible and I could see this really cutting down on my printing. There’s even a disability studies angle to this book technology–the option of increasing the font-size makes the technology accessible to the visually impaired, and it’s easier for people with difficulty with fine motor skills to press a button than to turn a page.
The biggest detraction I’ve found so far in reading Google books on my e-reader is that the software they use to decode the fonts and convert it to e-pub format produces some junk characters. This would be a problem if I was doing a close-reading of one of the novels or quoting from it, and for that I would switch to my print editions. But for an initial reading of a novel it’s really not a problem.
Do any of you have a Kindle or other reading device? What has your experience been?
p.s. I personally decided on a Sony because it has a touch screen that allows me to scribble notes on the text and is compatible with Google books, and it didn’t hurt that it was on sale for $150 and red!–but really this could all apply to any device on the market.