This is a new feature here at O Mangue: reviews of products which make gringo life that much easier.
When I first came to Brazil in 1984, I hit a wall I hadn't anticipated. I am a book worm. A serious bookworm. I go through two or three books a week. Not all these books are high-minded texts: in fact, most of them are pulp fiction. But if I don't have reading material of some sort on me all the time, I start getting jumpy.
So back in 1984, when I didn't yet know how to read Portuguese, I rapidly ran through all the books I had brought with me. At the time, I was living in Riberão Preto and this was long before anyone had invented the term "globalization". There was one English-language book outlet in Riberão - at the mall - and it had about 50 books, all on sale for the equivalent of 6 times their American price. Even so, I was desperate. By the time a year had passed in Ribeirão (and I had learned enough Portuguese to read stuff like Feliz Ano Velho and A Queda para o Alto), I had bought pretty much everything in that store that I could stomach and had read through The Rise and Fall of The Third Reich four or five times. Things got so bad that every time I left Ribeirão to visit another city, I'd spend my first day searching for English-language book stores.
When I came back to Brazil in 1990, things hadn't changed much. In fact, I got my first job in Brazil, working for Devir Livraria, as a direct result of an all-weekend English book quest in São Paulo. One of the best perks at Devir was being allowed to order my own reading material (and getting a 20% discount to boot).
A pity that Amazon.com's Kindle didn't exist back then. God knows how my life would have been different.
As most Americans reading this probably know, the Kindle is Amazon.com's e-book reader. I was an early adaptor, buying my first one back in early 2008. I'm now on my third.
There are several book readers on the market and the Kindle is the only one I've used so far. I have no wish to change to something else for two reasons: the device's electronic paper screen and the fact that it's backed up by Amazon.com's distribution empire.
For those who've not yet seen a Kindle, it's a plastic device about the size and weight of a large paperback. You read books on a grey and black electronic paper screen. This is crucial: electronic paper emits no light and the words are physically present. This means that the experience of reading is exactly as if one were reading printed text: no headaches from looking at LEDs for hours on end.
You turn pages by pressing on buttons at the side of the device. Pages flip slightly slower than with a regular book, but not enough to bother me - and I'm a fast reader. The Kindle also allows you to turn the corner of virtual pages to mark places in the text as well as write notes in virtual "margins". Text can also be highlighted. Both notes and highlights go to a .txt file where they can later be downloaded directly to your computer. The Kindle also allows you to search text - not only in a book, but in your whole virtual library. The device comes with a built-in 3G system that allows you to buy and download books from Amazon.com at will. In the first editions of the Kindle, this feature was blocked in Brazil. In my new second edition machine, however, it's fully operative. Last Friday, in fact, I sat down next to the Pará River in Belém, at the mouth of the Amazon, and downloaded three books while waiting for my breaded filhote. Sure, Belém's not the middle of the rainforest, but when I recall scrambling to find English-language reading material in 1980s Brazil... Well, the Kindle's nothing short of miraculous to me.
Though the Kindle supposedly only reads proprietor-format Amazon.com texts, there are now plenty of programs on the 'net which allow you to freely transcribe texts back and forth between various other formats. I now routinely translate colleagues' Word and PDF papers into Kindle format and read them virtually. It saves time and paper.
The best thing about the Kindle, however, is that it allows you to port virtual libraries with no effort at all. Last winter, Ana and I took over 50 books along with us on our vacation to Visconde de Mauá.
The Kindle does have a few downsides, however...
In the first place, it isn't very good for academic work where one needs to be constantly zipping back and forth in a text. It has no page numbers (only location markers) and this also makes attributing quotes difficult. Finally, of course, not all texts have been digitalized (though this is something that's rapidly going to change with the growing popularity of digital reading devices), so you might find that what you need isn't available.
For light and entertainment-based reading - as well as a portable reference library - the Kindle is fantastic. For serious academics, I think we're probbly never going to get completely away from paper.
If you're a gringo or an immigrant far from home, however, and you love reading, investing in a device of this sort is an absolute must.