Look, up in a book!
No, the answer isn’t \S/uperman, but it might be “superbook”.
Since e-books first started to become more widely used by serious readers (let’s say late 2007, when the Kindle was introduced), there has been a debate about the advantages and disadvantages of e-books versus p-books (paperbooks).
Certainly, p-books have some advantages, and continue to have adherents (many people use both formats). I’d say that some of the most cited ones are the sensory experience (feel, and oddly to me, smell), availability of titles (although that’s beginning to shift…there are starting to be many titles that are only available in e-book form), and the ability to sell/lend/giveaway your copy.
On the e-book side, there is convenience, certainly, and free books.
However, there are also some experiential elements that I see frequently cited for e-books.
One is the ability to increase the text size. I benefit from that personally, and many other people mention it.
Another is the dictionary.
I don’t think I would have picked that as being seen as a much of a core function as it is.
I didn’t commonly stop reading something and go find a dictionary to check a word. Part of that might be because I read a large dictionary cover to cover when I was a kid, and I’d say I have an above average vocabulary. Honestly, though, I was encountering words (often older terms from the 1800s, perhaps), which I didn’t know. When I was reading, I tended to just let the context confer the meaning…and I could remember the words to look them up later, if I wanted. I didn’t need to know how many wheels were on a “dogcart” to understand that someone had come up in a horse-drawn conveyance.
Is that connected to the fact that I don’t normally visualize when I read? Perhaps. Maybe if you are trying to visualize a scene, you need more of those details. I probably shouldn’t say “trying”…I know it happens for the majority of people without effort.
So, while I loved having big dictionaries and encyclopedias in the house, I was much more likely to read them just for their own use, rather than in the midst of reading a book.
Since the first Kindle, though, people have talked about loving the onboard dictionary…and I use it much more than I ever did a paper dictionary (while reading).
I suspect the internet has something to do with the quick adoption of the technology.
We are used to, on a website, being able to click something to find out more about it. It’s not a new muscle concept to learn, especially with a touchscreen…you see a word you don’t know, you touch it, and a definition appears…like clicking a hyperlink.
I thought I’d use this post to take a look at that functionality. I’m going to use the Kindle Paperwhite to explore this. It is what Amazon considers the top of the line RSK (Reflective Screen Kindle…anything but a Kindle Fire at this point). The abilities in other Kindle devices may vary somewhat…the original, 2007 Kindle didn’t have nearly the options, although you could still look up words.
I opened my “go to” book for testing…Alice in Wonderland. I like using that partially because it is public domain (so I don’t have to worry about infringing on copyright as I experiment with all sorts of things), and partially because it is so familiar to so many people.
I “long pressed” the word “Dormouse”. Long pressing is one of the key skills in using any touchscreen device. You hold your fingertip or stylus on something for about a second, and options will appear. It’s similar to right-clicking in a Windows program.
In this case, I got a nice scientific definition from The New Oxford American Dictionary. I could have had a different dictionary as my default, but that’s the one that comes with the Kindle for USA English, and I’m fine with it.
It’s interesting to note for me that the one I long pressed was capitalized (Carroll is treating it like a name), but that didn’t affect the look-up.
The definition gives me a pronunciation for it, and then lets me know that it is “an agile mouselike rodent…” I don’t want to quote too much of the definition: Alice is in the public domain, the dictionary is not.
It also gives me info, letting me know that it is in the Family Gliridae.
I can then tap “Show Full Definition”.
Doing that takes me into the actual dictionary itself. I could, for example, see additional definitions on the page (doronicum and dorp). The first definition screen doesn’t limit it to the word you chose, but it is much smaller. I could “page”through it just like through any book. It included an origin, and more of the info. There was also a “linked entry” for “mouse”.
Because I am in a book, I can tap the menu (horizontal lines in my top right corner) and “Add Bookmark”. I can also long press here, which would allow me to add a highlight. That’s a nice thing; I’ve had people ask me before about creating a list of “vocabulary words” they can review later. That’s a way to do it. First, go to the full definition, then highlight the word in the dictionary. Later, in the dictionary, you can “View Notes & Marks” to see those words, and includes enough context to give you the definition of it.
I then used the Back arrow “<” to check the other options.
Long pressing Dormouse again, I had a choice for “More” in addition to “Highlight” and “Show Full Definition”.
“More” lets me do several things:
- Add Note
- Search (which has sub-options of This Book, My Items, Kindle Store)
- Wikipedia (which would require a wireless connection)
- Report Content Error
Translation was surprisingly robust, in that it gave me more languages than we have options to use as the interface on our devices. It also auto-detected the language of the word I long-pressed (correctly, as English). The “to” languages were
- Chinese Simplified
- Chinese Traditional
So, I now know that “syvsovere” is Norwegian for “dormouse”…believe me, at some point in my life, I’m going to work that into a conversation.
It’s also worth noting that you can start with more than one word. I highlighted “March Hare”, and got the same sorts of options. That allowed me to search Wikipedia, for example, and it had nice information specifically about the character in Alice. It did that without leaving the book, just in a box. It gave me the choice to launch Wikipedia, but I didn’t need to do that.
I wrote recently about why we read, and hypothesized that it’s because it is the purest intersection between us and another’s thoughts. Things that immerse us more in the words are good…things that distance us are bad (as far as reading goes). If you were someone who kept a paper dictionary on the nightstand when you read (and I think that was not uncommon), or even had a giant dictionary on its own stand, this is much more fluid. Understanding aids immersion, and the in situ look-up is less disrupting than going to another source.
How about you? Do you use a dictionary more, now that one is available in your book? Would you like more dictionary options (for example, would you pay a hundred dollars to have the complete Oxford English Dictionary available to your Kindle book)? I think I may poll separately on where the dictionary ranks among favorite features of e-books, but feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.