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DMV Line? No Sweat, I’ve Got A Book On My Phone

Natalie Roberts (age 5) reads
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Above: Natalie Roberts (age 5) reads "The Little Red Hen" on the iPhone with her grandfather, Russ.

The airport. The oh-so-chic Sunday brunch place. The DMV.

They are the places that try men's (and women's) souls with lines that move slower than a sloth on Xanax.

I haven't found an antidote for the tedium, the sore feet and the in-line oddballs. But at least I've discovered a handy distraction: books on my phone.

While many people don't realize it, you can read Kindle books on your iPhone or Blackberry. Even better, the software is free and it costs nothing to read the first chapters of hundreds of thousands of books.

Here's a quick FAQ about ROP (reading on the phone):

Wait, I can get Kindle on my phone? I thought you had to buy one of their handheld thingies for $150 or whatever.

Nope. Free Kindle software is available for the iPhone, iPod touch, BlackBerry and Android.

Isn't the type really teeny on a phone?

You can adjust the type to make it larger or smaller, a definite plus for people of a certain age (and a certain prescription for reading glasses).

I can't imagine ever getting used to reading on a teeny-tiny screen.

It's not for everybody. But the benefit of reading on a phone is that you can do it just about anywhere -- while you're eating lunch, in line at the grocery store, during an endless conference call at work.

With a backlit mobile phone like the iPhone, you'll even be able to read in bed in the dark without aggravating whoever's next to you. The Kindle device itself doesn't allow that, and some people end up having to attach booklights to the doohickeys.

If you can't handle reading on a phone for more than a few minutes, remember that all of your Kindles -- on phone, laptop, iPad, whatever -- will sync automatically.

That means they know where you left off: If you can manage to get through the fifth chapter of "Eat Pray Love" on your phone while in line at Costco, your Kindle device back home will know that's where you stopped reading.

Unfortunately, the Kindle won't tell you that you've gone far enough in that book, quite frankly.

OK, sounds good. What's this about free samples?

This is my favorite part about reading via Kindle: You can download samples of books for free via Amazon. (Just click on the Kindle link for any book that's available via Kindle and look on the right where it says "Try it free.")

There's no obligation and none of that "you'll be charged unless you opt out" nonsense. You just get the first chapter or two, enough to tell if the book's a stinker or a keeper.

If you like the book, you could even decide to buy it in physical form -- with pages made out of paper and everything. Something to show your grandkids!

Are all Kindle books still $9.99?

They used to virtually all cost that price, but some publishers have jacked up their prices to $12.99 or more That's crazy, considering that new hardback books often cost as little as $16 or $17 with Amazon's hefty discount.

I've refused to pay $12.99 unless it's a new book I have to have right this very instant.

I don't have a smartphone and I don't wanna plunk down $139 for a Kindle device. What should I do?

Get Kindle software for your desktop or laptop computer or your iPad. It's free.

How do you feel about reading books on your phone? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Freelance writer Randy Dotinga is a book critic with The Christian Science Monitor and a regular contributor to He lives in Normal Heights.

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Avatar for user 'Pat Finn'

Pat Finn, KPBS Staff | August 10, 2010 at 8:50 p.m. ― 6 years, 7 months ago

If I had a smart phone, could I read Randy Dotinga's very entertaining prose while on hold for HealthNet? Or BofA? If so, it would be totally worth the $400 or whatever it costs to get a device I will never be able to master and quickly learn to hate.

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Avatar for user 'Seth'

Seth | August 11, 2010 at 7:08 a.m. ― 6 years, 7 months ago

"I don't have a smartphone and I don't want to plunk down $139 for a Kindle device. What should I do?" Uh, buy a book from a human in a store or check one out from the library? Maybe borrow one from a friend - something you can't do with a Kindle.

And really, you're complaining about the $9.99 thing? The publishers, while not perfect by any stretch, haven't "jacked" anything up - it's Amazon under-pricing ebooks. They purchase them at hardback prices - $25 or so - and sell them at a massive loss so that they can corner the market. And uninformed consumers like yourself become convinced that Amazon is the end-all, be-all, savior of the reading public - always looking out for the little guy by setting their prices so low. Wake up.

You should download Gary Shteyngart's new novel, "Super Sad True Love Story" - I wonder if you'll get the underlying message or if you're just part of his functionally illiterate future America, watching videos on their mobile devices and calling paper books "smelly."

This is a disturbing, disappointing piece, I have to say.

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Avatar for user 'rdotinga'

rdotinga | August 11, 2010 at 2:19 p.m. ― 6 years, 7 months ago

Pat: As a public service, I will send you my future very entertaining missives via carrier pigeon.

Seth: The medium is not the message. Book lovers should be thrilled about any new technology that makes reading more accessible. (I'm actually buying more books these days thanks to Kindle, due to the low prices and the ability to read a sample chapter for free and see if I want to buy.)

It's ironic that you're concerned about underpricing of books on one hand but a supporter of libraries and book-borrowing (neither of which does much for an author's bottom line) on the other. (Never mind the fact that libraries in San Diego are only open past 5:30 p.m. twice a week.)

Is $9.99 a fair price for an electronic book? Well, let's consider: the publisher doesn't need to spend money on printing the book, and the seller doesn't need to pay for a physical store with clerks, bookshelves, comfy chairs and a hefty lease.

(Don't worry, brick-and-mortar folks: I'll still be going to Borders to buy books and shoot annoyed glares at comfy-chair hogs.)

Ultimately, e-books are a tool to draw more people to the words, which are what really matter.


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Avatar for user 'crybabysoda'

crybabysoda | August 12, 2010 at 1:55 a.m. ― 6 years, 7 months ago

Any time Randy spends reading means less time writing. Okay? sound good?

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Avatar for user 'Seth'

Seth | August 18, 2010 at 4:50 p.m. ― 6 years, 7 months ago

Randy, I'm a bookseller in an independent bookstore by trade, so the ballooning numbers of ebook sales at Amazon and the fact that you shop at Borders doesn't help the likes of me at all. We can't sell you an ebook for your Kindle, but maybe you should try shopping local once in awhile - you may be surprised at what you find.

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