Side by Side: Moby-Dick Book v Kindle

This summer my husband suggested a reading project for the family (me, him and the then 10 year old son): Let’s read Moby-Dick! I know! You’re wondering why you didn’t think of that! Well maybe you aren’t from some crazed reading obsessed family nor are you an ex-English major.  But we are! Except the 11 year old may be a future ex-English major.

Well we’ve had reading projects before and very successful ones. When he was several years younger he wanted to see the Lord of the Rings movies that his friends had seen. I had (stubbornly) never read the books but had seen snippets of what looked like scary movies my husband kept watching. So the project/deal was: read a book, watch a movie. And we all read the books one by one and, upon finishing, watched the movie. Turns out I was being stubborn for nothing they are perfectly great books that don’t turn everyone into a raving fanatic and we thought the movies were very well done and had great discussions on how the movies varied from the books and why they might do so. But I digress.

Back to Moby-Dick. Turns out I had never read that one either, it remained on my long list of books I should have  and will read one day when I have time, maybe.  We began reading in the Summer of 2009, my husband and I taking turns reading a chapter or so a night to my son. We hadn’t read to him since he was a wee lad, so he really enjoyed the evening ritual. Immediately I realized something…this Herman Melville dude…very funny guy! Had to turn to my husband from time to time and ask…did he really just say what *I* think he said?!?!! And so he did. We found this to be a great family project and a very interesting and funny book.   Love to quote him:  “Though man loved his fellow, yet man is a money-making animal, which propensity too often interferes with his benevolence

As it turns out my husband read this book back in college and still has the paperback, a Norton Critical Edition, for which he paid $2.40. And as it turns out I have a Kindle I bought earlier this year $299 and a copy of Moby-Dick on it that I got from Feedbooks $0.  So, if we read downstairs, we used the book; if we did extra reading upstairs in the morning, we used the Kindle. Or if I’m was traveling and had to read on my own to keep up with them (they refused to wait for me to get back), I read the Kindle. This has given me the opportunity to compare the experience of reading a book on the kindle side by side with reading an actual physical book. So I thought I’d share the experience.

First, the physical book (pBook). It’s pretty cool that we still have this book since its been er, um, forty years or so since my husband was in college. That you could buy a book this great for $2.40 (used) at the college bookstore is a nice flashback. The book is A Norton Critical Edition titled Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, edited by Harrison Hayford and Hershel Parker (2nd edition available new from Amazon for $15.19). Nice cover illustration, table of contents, forward, maps, text, text history, variants and emendations, reviews and letters by Melville, Analogues and Sources, Criticisms and Bibliography…along with underlines, circles and margin notes by my husband, the ex-English major. The book which has a copyright of 1967,  weighed 698g (a little over 1.5 lbs) and measured 8″ x 5″ x 1.5″–the font is relatively small but I could not tell you the exact size or font face…see picture below for comparison with Kindle though.

The  eBook I got from Feedbooks at no cost. The ebook itself weighed nothing but the Kindle weighs 294g (about 10.2 ounces) and doesn’t increase in weight as you add books. The dimensions are 8″ x 5.3″ x 1/3″.  I should point out that the screen is 6″ diagonal or 4.5″ x 3.5″ so the screen IS smaller than the page.

However, there are 6 different font sizes available and you can change anytime you want.  I’m usually on size 4 and the book looks to be somewhere between 3 and 4.

The Feedbooks edition of Moby-Dick includes a biography (from Wikipedia), navigable table of contents, links to additional books available (from Feedbooks) by Melville, the text (including the Etymology) and recommendations with links to other books you might like from Feedbooks. Feedbooks does let you download wirelessly a large number of public domain books–books whose copyrights have expired–lots of classics as well as self-published books, newspapers, blogs, etc. Amazon also offers lots of free, public domain books that download wirelessly to your Kindle. The advantage of using Amazon is that it will keep track of your books (even the free ones) and keep them in your archive so you can redownload them if you delete them or you can download them to your Kindle app on the iPhone or PC (and soon Mac and Blackberry).

So what is it like to read Moby-Dick on paper vs ebook? Pretty much the same with some minor differences. I really like the explanatory footnotes in the book; the ebook has a few of those but they are mixed in with the text.  eBooks can do footnotes as links but this particular free book doesn’t do so. I also like the idea of the text and critical essays but found I didn’t read many of them in the pBook. I really liked being able to move my cursor to an unfamiliar word and look it up on the Kindle–not all words were available but many were and often these were ones not explained in the pBook footnotes. The solution I took was to purchase a separate Shmoop Moby-Dick study guide for 99 cents. I would read a chapter or two then open up the study guide for a chapter summary and analysis. Actually the study guide included an overview, discusions on why you should care about this book, what the title and ending mean, literary devices, book summary, plot overview, plot analysis, character analysis, roles, and cues and themes and quote analysis. For me, this was VERY fun indeed–must be the ex-English major in me. I always read the chapter summaries AFTER reading the chapter. It reminded me of what I had read (good if I were studying for school and good because I forget things easily) and sometimes pointed out things I had missed. Occasionally the chapter summaries of some Schmoop guides have seemed to contain errors…but for the most part they are spot on. They actually now have a Moby-Dick: Complete Text with Integrated Study Guide from Shmoop which I prefer so I don’t have to switch back and forth. This is available for the Kindle for $2.39 so that is how Amazon got me to pay money by adding value to something I could have gotten for free.

Other differences are those that people have noted in other locations…the feel and smell of the book; the images with color, maps are more readable vs. weight/size/convenience.  Underlines and notes in physical vs. electronic form (like the look of pBooks better; the convenience of eBooks better) And this morning I was reminded another difference: had to find the physical book this morning so I could take a photo of it–it was lurking in one of many overfull bookcases–and had to find it on my Kindle (page forward til it shows up on my list or I could have searched for it).

In Conclusion

Which one do I prefer? Books! In any form they are fabulous and I am glad to have them in physical or electronic form or both. There really is no contest here, I hope both will continue to prosper.


The Savvy Traveler: What’s in my wallet?

The savvy traveler empties her purse of all unnecessary credit and department store cards but DOESN’T lose her drivers license before going through security.

On a recent trip from Denver to Boston, *I* was THAT savvy traveler. I travel a lot. With people who are also savvy travelers. I carefully packed everything I could possibly need(1). I carefully moved only the most essential items to my “travel purse(2).” The thinking is why take that Costco card when I’m not GOING to Costco on this business trip. Or any other card when I really don’t want to lose it and have to try and figure out how to replace it.

For a domestic trip, all you need for a picture ID is your driver’s license, so that is all I had. When traveling internationally I bring my passport, plus many copies of my passport strewn throughout my purse, luggage and laptop bag–just in case. I also bring my driver’s license because I need it to, well, DRIVE to the airport. But for domestic travel, having efficiently unpacked my travel purse, just the driver’s license.

I got to the airport in plenty of time, making sure I had no pressure that might tempt me to speed(3), and cleverly took out my preprinted (at home) boarding pass and my drivers license in preparation for a quick trip through security via the premier passenger line (told you I traveled a lot). But then…I saw the travel gadget store I’ve always been interested in but never taken the time to stop into…just before security. Since I was so early, I popped over there and browsed and found some awesome cool travel gadgets I felt I must buy and so I did. But when I picked up my boarding pass from the counter…there was NO DRIVERS LICENSE to be seen.

I immediately searched my person, my purse, my surroundings… zero nada zilch. Then to the airport information counter where they could call lost and found…ditto. Panic and sweat. They wont let you through security without a picture ID and my home and passport were a 140 mile roundtrip away and my flight in less than two hours. But I was advised to go through security line anyway and ask the nice TSA people if anyone had turned it in there. Amazingly the line monitor let me in so I could talk to TSA. The nice TSA lady called over a nice TSA guy. No, no one had turned in the license but if I could just step over here…. At a nice little desk they asked me repeatedly if I had ANY other picture ID with me…a Costco card, a student ID, a work ID…nope nothing says I–little Miss Efficiency. So they had me fill out an affidavit swearing who I was and where I lived. They called someone–who? I don’t know–the FBI, Homeland Security? They answered a lot of questions about how no, I really didn’t have any other form of picture ID (they weren’t impressed with my credit cards, insurance cards, or business cards. They asked for the last four digits of….my home phone number. That surprised me. They asked if I’d lived at any other addresses in my current neighborhood. I had! And I remembered the address, amazingly. And…eventually they stamped my boarding pass and let me in. I did not know they could do that.

Although they explained that I could get on the plane coming back the same way, luckily Mr. savvy traveler was joining me later in the week and I called home sheepishly to ask if he would bring my passport. I wonder if I had had my photocopy of my passport if it would have worked as an alternate picture ID? Repeated called to the airport lost and found yielded no joy, but midway through my trip, my husband called me to tell me the airport had called and they had found my license. I never learned where but…HOORAY! I was told I could pick it on my return trip. The return flight arrived after the normal business hours of the lost and found department but I arranged to call the people on duty and have them come down and hand it to me after a small wait. Thanks much to whoever found it and turned it in and to the lost and found folks and other airport personnel who rescued me.

Of course this did put a bite into my model of efficiency, carry-on bag only, everything arranged in advance savvy travelerness. But then that stuff never seems to be without its Murphy’s Law moments. About which, more later.

1) The myth of packing perfectly is one that falls apart easily. I can, and may, chronicle things I forgot to pack and things I packed but did not use.  But a savvy traveler’s grasp should exceed their reach, or that’s what check-in is for.

2) Travel purse is a black vertical microfiber security purse kind of like this one at Magellan’s. Slings over body under a jacket and masquerades as NOT a third item besides my rolling luggage and laptop backpack.

3) Thanks police guys for ticketing me for speeding because the speed limit drops abruptly from 65 to 35 just before parking and yes, I was a bit rushed to make my flight. This has made my life hell since my travel schedule has prevented me from appearing in court….argh!