Category Archives: books

Amazon Kindle: Oasis or New Paperwhite?

NOTE: I’ve had this post in the holster for a while. I wanted to make sure I used the Oasis enough to give it a fair review. Then those clowns over at Amazon went and released a Paperwhite-Oasis hybrid this week for half the price. What the hell! Why do I keep giving those jerks my dollars?

Here is the post anyway.

I like to read. I spend a lot of time doing it. It is a big part of my aesthetic.

I got a regular Kindle – no bells or whistles – as a birthday gift a few years ago. I was incredibly touched by the thoughtfulness of it; someone essentially provided me access to infinite books. I had never owned an e-reader before and I have to admit I was a little bit of a stuck-up purist when it came to reading. Physical books only! Gotta smell that good binding glue.

But the idea of reading all of the Game of Thrones books without having to lug around massive tomes was pretty appealing. I decided I would use the Kindle just for the big and cumbersome books, especially on the ship where personal space was limited. A compromise, right?

I ended up liking the Kindle a lot, especially after learning how to use the library’s e-book system. Unlimited power! It hasn’t replaced physical books, but at this point I almost wish that it would: my book hoarding is starting to get a little out of control and I live in less than 600 sq/ft of apartment space.

Anyway.

The Kindle, as a basic e-reader, is excellent. The battery life is unbelievable, especially if you keep it on airplane mode (which, if you get digital books from your library, you should, so you can keep your loans after they expire! STREET SMARTS!). It is inexpensive and durable; mine has a few scratches but, for all that I put it through, it is in great condition. It fit perfectly in the back pocket of my shipboard coveralls, even in a protective case. With no LEDs, it is very easy on the eyes, especially at bedtime.

So over the summer I found myself post-deployment rich and wanted to buy something nice. Why not a new e-reader – a quality e-reader? Perhaps the Gucci of digitized text? Even though I use my Kindle almost as much as I use my phone, I still felt a little guilty buying a new one, since the old one still works just fine, so many years later.

There are a few things about the regular Kindle (not Paperwhite) that I don’t like.

  1. It is tough to read one-handed. This is not something you would guess just by looking at it. The symmetry of the Kindle is visually pleasing but it requires the reader to pinch the corner or side of the device to keep it in hand. It doesn’t have page-turn buttons, and tapping the screen one-handed demands uncomfortable contortions – not unlike reading one-handed with a physical book when it comes to the position of the little finger.
  2. It doesn’t have a backlight. This isn’t a dealbreaker for me; I don’t mind using a book light or switching to my phone if I need illumination. I think my eyes are getting worse, though, and lately I have been having a harder time reading without the extra light on the screen. A backlight would be convenient, but only if it doesn’t keep me awake after reading in bed at night.
  3. The operating system is insultingly slow. It takes ages to recognize a wifi network. Sometimes I have to reset the device before it syncs up with my Amazon account and downloads new book purchases. Also, I can’t purchase books directly from the Kindle device. In fact, I can’t purchase them through the Amazon app on my phone, either. I have to use my internet browser to navigate to Amazon’s webpage to buy the book, then wait for it to get sent to my Kindle. This is incredibly short-sighted; I’ll reach the end of a sample of a book and think, I’d like to read more! But I have to go on a choose-your-own-adventure style quest to get the rest of the book. Amazon, for real, what the hell?
  4. The screen is framed by the device’s plastic body. Unlike a tablet, for example, which has one smooth, continuous surface, there is a gap in between the screen and the body of the e-reader. Dust and sand love to get up in there and hang out. It is really hard to clean that stuff out once it’s in there. And it’s always in there. It lives there now, perhaps forever. There is little bits of every place that I’ve ever been, still lodged in the corners of my Kindle. That would be kinda nice if it wasn’t so gross.

Which e-reader would correct these issues? Specifically, which Amazon brand of e-reader would correct these issues, because I’m a brand-slave due to my Kindle library?

The Paperwhite has backlighting, but shares the same physical structure of the original Kindle (ie, nooks and crannies for dirt to hide). The Voyage solves that issue and has page-turning buttons on the sides so the reader doesn’t have to swipe the screen. But I was curious about the asymmetry of the Oasis. It doesn’t appear intuitive, but after some thought, I could see how the imbalanced grip would actually be more comfortable, if a little strange-looking, for one-handed reading.

It’s definitely not cheap. For $300, I got one without ads. What a treat.

But is the price tag worth being able to dunk your Kindle in the bathtub like a teabag?

Here are the pros:

  1. Reading one-handed is a lot easier – if holding the device relatively flat. If I’m sitting upright on the couch or at a table, it feels very comfortable. My thumb rests along the page-turn buttons and I don’t have to move my hand at all to turn the page. This is wonderful.

    (Holding flat – comfortable, balanced, and ergonomic! Holding upright – say, in bed, laying on my back – the corner gets a little stabby into the palm after prolonged reading.)

  2. Fingers curl quite naturally along the lip on the back.
  3. I can buy books directly from the device! What should have been a default feature (and smart business tactic) now feels like a luxury. So, thanks, I guess?
  4. It is waterproof – or so they say. I’ve taken it in the bath a few times and haven’t had any accidental (or deliberate) dunks yet. I don’t feel nervous about ruining it with my wet hands and I can read by candlelight thanks to the backlighting. This is actually very nice, but backlighting is certainly not unique to the Oasis. (And now the waterproofing isn’t, either! I died and went to hell.) img_6814
  5. The operating system and page refresh are much faster, noticeably so.
  6. The battery life is comparable to the ordinary Kindle, but only if you leave it on airplane mode. I read a lot of complaints about this before purchasing, but so far it seems fine to me.
  7. The screen is one smooth, continuous surface – no gaps or crevasses for the entirety of the desert or beach to hide in when I travel.

All in all, what I like about the Oasis is that it’s much easier to hold, it’s nice on the eyes for both device design and actual reading, and it corrected a lot of the software issues from previous iterations of the Kindle.

If I could go back in time, would I hold off on buying the Oasis in order to wait for the improved, waterproof Paperwhite?

Probably not. My biggest complaint about the regular Kindle/Paperwhite is how uncomfortable it is to hold one-handed. That is still true; the physical design is unchanged. The asymmetry of the Oasis fixes this problem, at least to my satisfaction.

But should you buy it? Would I recommend it to others?

Honestly, if you have a few hundred bucks to piss away, sure. I don’t really have any huge complaints about the Oasis – but I’m not sure that I have effusive praise, either. All in all, it’s not so different from the much cheaper, earlier Kindle that I own. There are tons of other non-Amazon, more affordable e-readers out there, too. I would probably recommend one of those.

Or I can give you my old Kindle as a gift, just as it had been given as a gift to me. It still works great! Given the choice between the two, though, I do always reach for the Oasis. That’s worth something.

Just probably not $300.

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Making Time for Yourself

Someone asked me recently what I would be doing to entertain myself if I was back home. I didn’t have an answer. This is, I think, for two reasons:

  1. I haven’t lived in Hawaii for long enough to carve out a familiar, comforting routine. Of the past nine months (whoa) since coming to Hawaii, I’ve been away for almost six of them, and the others were seeped in an overwhelmingly liminal feeling.
  2. Almost all of the things that make me happiest are portable.

Think about it: if you were to leave home for a while – a few weeks, or many months – what is it that you would miss? If you have a family or spouse or even a pet, they have to stay behind. That’s rough, but this is about you. Who are you, apart from everyone else? What entertains you? What activities make you feel like you are fully yourself?

I like to ask people what they look forward to doing when they get home from work and all the chores and errands are finished. My dad would never let us pick up an activity if there was work left to be done; it made really appreciate my leisure time and, more importantly, live fully inside of it, free from to-do lists nagging at the edge of my attention. So when it is time for you to put your feet up and relax, what do you reach for? If it’s something you can carry with you, then, I think, you’ll always have a little bit of home with you wherever you go.

I’m sure I have a biased perspective. It took a long time, but now I am used to living away from my family and friends, and I had to learn how to make myself happy without them around for support, filling up my time and space. And I guess I’ve always been a quiet, introverted nerd. Outdoorsy and athletic, too, but my parents wanted me to be, and I’m not sure how many of those impulses are inherent and how many are the result of habit and upbringing. In fact, even those physical activities are, for me, solitudinous – running, swimming, hiking: all alone.

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Illustration by Chris Buzelli (from a great essay, titled “At Home in the Liminal World“)

When your principle form of diversion is depends on you alone – your creativity or motivation – almost any hobby can be carried along with you. I do things alone. I associate solitude with home. In a way, then, I can bring a little bit of home with me wherever I go.

Even amidst the roar of propeller blades and the chatter of the crew on the headsets, when I open up a book, I am transported to a different place, any place of my choosing. I can play my Nintendo Switch in a crowded, noisy lounge and forget that anyone else is there. Even writing this post, or any creative writing – I keep a notebook in my backpack, ready to seize the opportunity when inspiration strikes, and my phones “notes” app is filled with scraps of ideas and descriptions that I want to remember or revisit. When I run, it’s just me and the music (and suffering). I’m getting back into video editing, which requires a surprising amount of concentration and a challenging learning curve and a lot more invested time than I remember from before. All of these things bring me the most joy, and I can do all of them whether I’m at home or on the road.

Sometimes people get their “me” time, some comfort of home, from being around other people – group activities, team sports, spending time together. They could feel comfortable wherever they go. That is wonderful, a truly enviable characteristic. But this post is not about that.

I am deeply interested in people who make it a priority to carve out time for themselves, who have some quiet interest that draws them away from the company of others. Now, more than ever, it is so easy to waste time. (I’m guilty of this just as much as everyone else my age; I spend a truly appalling amount of time scrolling through memes and watching the same youtube videos over and over.) I’m fascinated by people who have clear priorities, who set boundaries on the time they’re willing to give to others and the time they insist on keeping for themselves. It takes some bravery and focus, and sometimes awkward explanations, to detach from the world around you and turn the focus inward instead, to be wholly and authentically yourself. I have a lot of respect for people who make it look natural and effortless, especially since I’m pretty firmly entrenched in the “antisocial weirdo” camp.

So if you have some secret hobby or passion, something that you do for you alone when no one else is watching, I’d like to hear about it sometime. I think I understand you a little bit already, and I’d like to know more.

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ABANDONED BOOKS, 2017

For someone who starts and abandons projects all the time, I have a very hard time quitting a book once I’ve started, even if I don’t like it. Especially if I don’t like it. Part of me feels like I can’t criticize a thing that I’ve given up on. Part of me is afraid of missing out on something beloved by others. And, of course, part of me is a sucker for a challenge.

It only ends up hurting me, though. It puts a huge roadblock on all of my productivity. I feel like I can’t do other leisurely activities until I’ve first dedicated time to this task. But reading shouldn’t feel like a job at all – it should make me happy. I’m trying to get better at putting books aside that I’m not enthusiastic about. Here are the books that didn’t maintain my interest this year.

 

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
austen

I want to be the sort of person who reads and enjoys Jane Austen. I’m not. This book bored me to tears. Sorry! I’ll try again in another few years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Eye of the World, Robert Jordan
jordanFantasy nerds rave about this book! There was an entire episode of Judge John Hodgman dedicated to it. So when I saw it in a bookstore in Whidbey Island, I thought it was a great opportunity to see what all the hype was about.

I really wanted to become immersed in an expansive fantasy series again, and the Wheel of Time series is certainly qualifies as huge: 14+ books with an average page count surpassing 800. But I only managed about 150 pages in the first book before I had to put it aside. The writing was too stiff, the characters too one-dimensional, the portrayal of women too… well, let’s say the Male Gaze is strong with this one. I’ve heard that the story and the system of magic in particular makes this series worthwhile, though, so someday I’d like to pick it up again.

 

 

Believe Me, Eddie Izzard
izzardEddie Izzard is one of my favorite comedians. Every time I mention him, I end up falling down a YouTube rabbit hole, watching video after video of his stand-up comedy. I didn’t get a chance to see his documentary, so when I saw his autobiography at the library, I grabbed it immediately.

I have the same complaint for this book that I had with the collection of stories published by The Moth this year (All These Wonders): sometimes stories spoken aloud don’t translate well to the page. Believe Me is written just as Izzard speaks. To do it justice, I think this story deserves to be heard in his own voice, with his characteristic tone and cadence. I will listen to this book on audio instead.

 

 

 

The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
whiteheadI put it off and put it off until suddenly it was due back to the library. I returned it. There is a good chance I will give this book another go in the future, but this year was not the right time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Attack on Titan (series)
attackI consider this abandoned because I lost interest after reading three of the ten manga available at the library. It was very exciting at first and a lot scarier than I was expecting. But the plot became very transparent by the second manga, and I felt like it was positively dragging along by the third. Those two – the obvious and the slow – really diminished the horror aspect of the story. I will probably pass on the anime, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some books I completed which I should have abandoned:
The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., Neal Stephenson
I love Neal Stephenson, but at 750 pages, that is many hours of my life I will never get back, and this story was not engrossing or memorable.

Georgia, Dawn Tripp
A romance novel thinly veiled as historical fiction. No shade on romance as a genre, I was just expecting to learn more about Georgia O’Keeffe as an artist and a person, and I didn’t.

Finally, some books that I almost abandoned and was glad I didn’t:
A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
What started off as slow and meandering quickly became incredibly charming, especially the voice of the narrator. This story about the rapidly changing Russian social and political structures across one aristocrat’s life was filled with some of the best characters I’ve read in a while.

The Stars Are Legion, Kameron Hurley
This story is one of a kind: an all-woman space opera. It was a little hard to follow at the start, and it deals with some very gorey and gritty subject matter, but was an incredibly fun ride and rewarding in the end.

 

You can follow all of my reading on my Goodreads page here!

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