I was kind of excited when I got my Kindle a few weeks ago. I liked the idea of having lots of books in one place, not having to haul the usual load around. I liked the idea of searching a book easily, of highlighting text and copying it out. Other features, like mailing in my own papers, also sounded intriguing. Unfortunately, the Kindle doesn’t deliver particularly well for Mormon studies.
Start with the good points. The device is light and portable. The book prices are nicely low (though I ordered a few books that I already had, since I wanted them readily available, so there was an extra cost there). And the searchability of the e-book is really, really cool. Let me say that again — searchability is extremely nice. It also allows text highlighting which you can access later from the computer — really cool.
Many other features are also good. The add-your-own-papers feature works wonderfully. The Kindle reads Word documents very well, and its basic-internet is functional, if not pretty. The Kindle also has a nice catalog of free public-domain books. I know they’re free elsewhere and not hard to find. Still, it’s nice to be able to load up Heart of Darkness and Pride and Prejudice and The Scarlet Letter.
Unfortunately, there are major problems.
First, there are still major, massive gaps in the book catalog. Rough Stone Rolling is available on Kindle. So is By the Hand of Mormon. The not-available list is embarrasingly long and dwarfs the available list: Magic World View; Brodie; Mormon Enigma; all Nibley; Prince’s McKay bio; Mormonism in Transition; Shipps; the list goes on and on and on. (Oddly enough, Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge is not available, but Red is.) Until Kindle has a better catalog of Mormon studies books, it’s going to be of very limited utility.
A second, major, non-negotiable down side: Endnotes. As in, they don’t exist. Or rather, they exist, but in many books, they’re not coded, and so you can’t access them from the text. This is the case for Rough Stone Rolling, for instance. There is no way to read along with the endnotes as you read the text. This makes the endnotes mostly useless.
I checked with customer service, and was told that the problem was “relatively uncommon.” This was not borne out by my experience — RSR, plus the two legal texts that I ordered, all had uncoded endnotes. After an hour with customer service, I learned that my only option was to e-mail the publisher (in Amazon’s “feedback” box) and ask them to please, pretty please, release a properly coded version of the book. Here’s hoping.
To make it worse, there is apparently no way to tell, ahead of time, whether a book’s endnotes will be coded. The only way to find out is to buy the title.
And finally, at least some of the books don’t allow nifty features. The Kindle has a book-on-tape function that reads any book to you (very cool), but that functionality is disabled for RSR. You can’t tell whether that feature is enabled for a book ahead of time, either.
(And yes, I know, Amazon zapped purchased copies of books which turned out the be unauthorized, and that was very bad. That doesn’t bug me as much as these other problems.)
So overall, the Kindle is a pretty, searchable, expensive device that doesn’t have many of the books I want, and doesn’t let me see the endnotes in the books it has. Until they address these issues, it’s not going to be a useful tool in Mormon studies.