Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review of Kindle Paperwhite with Case, Stand or Cover

Amazon Kindle Case, Duragadget Stand, Verso Marbled Blue Cover
When my 2010 Kindle died on the beach, I replaced it with the new Kindle Paperwhite ($139 with wifi and without advertising). This time I got a 2-year warranty to protect the fragile screen. Although I prefer reading real books at home, I like the Kindle for reading on the go and for digital galleys. I missed not having one when I was waiting for the new model to be released in October.

Low setting in Amazon case folded back
The Kindle Paperwhite has some good new features. The reader still uses e-ink, but it has added a built in light for night time reading. The sharper text is illuminated sideways to avoid the eye fatigue of backlit screens. The lit screen appears bright white like paper, but you can adjust the lighting so the screen looks more like newsprint or the old Kindle. Unlit is easiest on the eye, but it's nice to have options. I thought I'd miss the old physical keyboard, but the new touch screen one is easy to use and the menu simple to navigate. The Kindle Paperwhite is also smaller and thinner without losing any screen size.

High setting on Home Page in Amazon case open
Not all of the new features are improvements. I miss the old page turner buttons as it's too easy to skip a page accidentally with a touch screen. Another feature I dislike is the promotion of Amazon books on the home page (even in the "no advertising" models), but you can hide it by selecting to display "list view" instead of "cover view." All-in-all the pluses outweigh the negatives, but I wouldn't rush out and replace your old reader before it breaks. It bothers me that these ereader screens are so fragile. A book can last centuries.

Because the Paperwhite is smaller than the Kindle 3 with keyboard, I needed to purchase a new case. If you had the later generation Kindle touch model, you might be able to reuse your old case. I tested three covers which would suit different reading needs.

Amazon case is 1/2 inch; Durgadget stand and Verso cover are 1 inch thick approximately.
The least bulky, lightest weight and most protective cover is the Amazon Kindle one ($39.99 available in 7 colors). It has the added feature of a magnet closure that automatically turns the reader on and off. This is a big plus as the on-off botton is tiny and hard to use. The rigid edges protect the Kindle on all sides while leaving an opening for the charger. The design is nice but a bit corporate in feel with good quality leather. The cover bends back for easy hand held reading but doesn't work as a stand. There is one major design flaw: it's really difficult to get the device in and out of the case.

Adjustable Duragadget Stand
Since I like hands free reading, my personal favorite was the Duragadget Cover with Stand ($30.59 in 4 colors). It's adjustable and sturdy enough to sit in your lap while still providing good protection. Of all the cases I tested it was easiest to get the reader in and out of the case. It was also the cheapest. However the functional design and cheap leather were not especially attractive. I'm going to ask my daughter to decorate it with silver ink as a Christmas gift.

Verso cover folded back
For pure beauty I fell in love with Verso Marbled Blue cover ($39.99). The fake leather looks and feels real. The gorgeous Italian marbled paper design reminiscent of a journal bought in Florence. Even the spine has nice old book detailing. The biggest downside is the cover has no closure. Also it's extra bulky and awkward to hold when you bend the cover back (photo at right). It's best when held like a book in two hands. I'm tempted to keep this cover to dress up my Kindle just for fun.

The Kindle Paperwhite is only two months old so I suspect more cases will be designed to fit the new dimensions better, but these three were the best options I found so far. When I ordered a Kindle Paperwhite for my mom earlier this week, it was on backorder until December 19th. No wait for books at our local independent bookstore, and they shall outlast the Kindle by decades.

Reviewer's Disclaimer: all cases and the Kindle were purchased by me without compensation. I returned the cases I didn't like for a refund.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Life online: can you be over-connected?

Offline painting on Bailey Island earlier this autumn.

Although I can be quite social and outgoing, by nature I'm a hermit. When I write fiction, I disconnect from the internet and only answer phone calls from my children. The places where I paint my watercolors often lack cellphone reception, but that is a plus. Solitude allows me to slip into a meditative state of creative concentration. Still, as much as I need isolation to work, I crave social connection too. Face time is best, but the internet is useful for one who lives in a remote location.

Five years of blogging have lead me to new friends, who share my passion for books, nature and art. The view from my small town in Maine has broadened to foreign horizons. I've been introduced to new authors and toured beautiful gardens. A blog post is long enough to delve into a topic in depth and also allows interactive comments. Blogging is not the soapbox I feared it would be but an enlightened conversation. By meeting new people, whose paths wouldn't usually cross ours, we are forced to think outside the box and to consider different perspectives.

For years, blogging and email sufficed to maintain distant connections, but after Sandy struck, I lost contact even without losing power myself. I worried about friends and family in NYC and others in neighboring states. When emails remained unanswered, I joined Facebook and twitter to track down loved ones and blog buddies. Borrowed internet provided time for only a quick tweet or Facebook update, but it was enough to let me know they were okay. Technology is a marvel, a virtual campfire, as others have said. It warms our souls.

In the process of checking in with Sandy victims, I also reconnected with old friends, who had scattered all over the world. Many were now married with adorable children. As much as I dislike the needlessly complicated interface of Facebook and all the advertising, I now understand why people find it so addictive and forgo reading books. Limits will be key.

In some ways, I prefer the simplicity of twitter, but due to the public nature of tweets, it's better suited for work connections like my Linkedin account.

So now this Maine hermit is:

updating on Facebook
and linking on Linkedin.
It's a 5-ring circus if you add
my website as a virtual art gallery.

Some have managed online multiplicity by posting simultaneously to all forums, but I don't think that approach usually works. Disconnect and redundancy happens. It looks unprofessional to whine about your kid's fever to business associates.

I'm concerned by how much personal information is out there for all to read. My guiding principle is to assume the last person I'd want to read my update will share it with a thousand clients. Think before posting.

Question: how do you manage this online cacophony and still find time for life offline?

Scout at Popham Beach last year.
Note: I'll be on blog vacation next week. Happy Thanksgiving! Next post on November 28th.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

In the opening of Flight Behavior, Dellarobia climbs a mountain to escape her disappointing life when a vision halts her. The forrest appears to be burning but without heat. Unable to see clearly without her glasses, the young mother of two takes it as a sign to turn back. She returns to her unhappy marriage on a sheep farm where "her every possession was either unbreakable or broken." 

Only later is the miracle revealed to be a wayward flock of butterflies. Monarch Butterflies usually over-winter in Mexico, but in this novel, global warming has destroyed their old roost. Feathertown, Tennessee claims the visitation as a divine blessing, but scientist Ovid Byron sees the shift in migration as a symptom of a sick ecosystem. Barbara Kingsolver's imagery cleverly reflects her message:

"Dellarobia couldn't remember a sadder-looking November. The trees had lost their leaves early in the unrelenting rain. After a brief fling with coloration they dropped their tresses in clumps like a chemo patient losing her hair."

The media seizes the opportunity and poses redheaded Dellarobia as the Venus of the Butterflies. Hoping to rescue the Monarchs, Dellarobia applies for a job as Ovid's research assistant. His Caribbean background makes him exotic, but even more enticing is his faith in her intelligence. The savior in this tale is education; the villain is ignorance. The writing is so beautiful it soars:

"At dusk she and Ovid would climb together to the barn loft. They would stand in the open door of the haymow and take these butterflies in hand, one at a time, and toss them into the air. Some would crash. And some would fly."

Flight Behavior flutters with metaphors but is grounded in science. Earthy descriptions of sheep sheering, child rearing and field biology draw the reader into a real world ravaged by climate change. Scarily, this novel isn't set in a future dystopia but in Southern Appalachia right now. The November 6th release date follows eerily in the flooded wake of Sandy. At times the narrative is nearly overwhelmed by polemic or digresses into discount shopping centers, but the wonderful characters and gorgeous writing kept me turning the pages eagerly. The resolution was deeply satisfying.

Flight Behavior reminds me of Kingsolver's earlier novel Prodigal Summer in setting and in theme but with more heart and sympathy for the male characters. It also has better focus than her last novel, The Lacuna, which had disappointed me. This new book will please Kingsolver fans and make many new ones too.

Disclosure: I borrowed an ARC from a friend, but I'd like a hardcover copy for Christmas (kids: hint, hint.)

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@Barrie Summy