Nicholson Baker on the Kindle

One of my favorite authors, Nicholson Baker, reviewed the Kindle 2 in the latest issue of The New Yorker.

Within, lying face up in a white-lined casket, was the device itself. It was pale, about the size of a hardcover novel, but much thinner, and it had a smallish screen and a QWERTY keyboard at the bottom made of tiny round pleasure-dot keys that resisted pressing. I gazed at the keys for a moment and thought of a restaurant accordion.

The plug, which was combined with the USB connector, was extremely well designed, in the best post-Apple style. It was a very, very good plug. I turned the Kindle on and pressed the Home key. Home gives you the list of what you've got in your Kindle. There were some books that I'd already ordered waiting for me–that was nice–and there was also a letter of greeting from Jeff Bezos. "Kindle is an entirely new type of device, and we're excited to have you as an early customer!" Bezos wrote. I read the letter and some of "His Majesty's Dragon" (a dragon fantasy by Naomi Novick set during the Napoleonic Wars, given away free), "Gulliver's Travels," and "Slow Hands," a freebie Harlequin Blaze novel by Leslie Kelly. I changed the type size. I searched for a text string. I tussled with a sense of anticlimax.

The problem was not that the screen was in black-and-white; if it had really been black-and-white, that would have been fine. The problem was that the screen was gray. And it wasn't just gray; it was a greenish, sickly gray. A postmortem gray. The resizable typeface, Monotype Caecilia, appeared as a darker gray. Dark gray on paler greenish gray was the palette of the Amazon Kindle.

This was what they were calling e-paper? This four-by-five window onto an overcast afternoon? Where was paper white, or paper cream? Forget RGB or CMYK. Where were sharp black letters laid out like lacquered chopsticks on a clean tablecloth?

Like Baker, I prefer reading Kindle books on my iPhone. He said switching from reading on an iPhone to reading on a Kindle was "like going from a Mini Cooper to a white 1982 Impala with blown shocks."

Can the Kindle really improve on the book?