I would have been astonished if Nicholson Baker, author of Double Fold and long-time library critic, had been a fan of Amazon's Kindle reader. Thus, his somewhat nasty article in the August 3 issue of The New Yorker reviewing the Kindle 2 e-book reader contained few surprises. Entitled "A New Page: Can the Kindle really improve on the book?", Baker's piece dissects the Kindle and presents a catalog of its shortcomings, starting with its name, which is "cute and sinister at the same time." It strikes me the same way, as a matter of fact--whenever I hear the word "Kindle," I see libraries going up in flames in my mind's eye. Nicholson also dislikes the Kindle's screen, which he characterizes as being of a "greenish, sickly gray. A postmortem gray." Even the typeface is criticized by Baker, who says that "[d]ark gray on paler greenish gray was the palette of the Amazon Kindle." The typeface, Monotype Caecilia, was "grim and Calvinist; it had a way of reducing everything to arbitrary heaps of words." Baker is unhappy with the currently limited catalog of titles available on Kindle, but acknowledges, however, that the number of books offered over Kindle will grow as time goes on. Baker doesn't discuss the recent controversy about 1984's removal from Kindle. He seems particularly bothered by Kindle's poor display of graphics. "Photographs, charts, diagrams, foreign characters, and tables don't fare so well on the little gray screen. Page numbers are gone, so indexes sometimes don't work. Trailing endnotes are difficult to manage. If you want to quote from a book you've bought, you have to quote by location range ..." There are problems with the display fading when the device is used outdoors. And he is outraged by the fact that when
[Y]ou buy a Kindle book[,] [y]ou buy the right to display a grouping of words in front of your eyes for your private use with the aid of an electronic display device approved by Amazon. ... [Y]ou can't read your Kindle books on your computer, or on an e-book reader that competes with the Kindle. ... Kindle books aren't transferrable. You can't give them away or lend them or sell them. You can't print them. They are closed clumps of digital code that only one purchaser can own. A copy of a Kindle book dies with its possessor.
I have no personal experience with the Kindle, but if Baker's observations about the quality of the display and of the graphics are correct, the design needs to be tweaked if the Kindle is going to gain widespread acceptance.