A few professors have decided to create their own electronic versions of casebooks for their classes, which they are willing to share with others at no charge. Eric Johnson just posted the first volume of the Torts casebook that he has created on PrawfsBlawg. Another example of the free electronic casebook, Thomas Field (Intellectual Property). If you are a law professor interested in creating your own electronic casebook, check out CALI's eLangdell Stimulus Project, which includes some small financial incentives for publishing your own electronic casebook with CALI (conditions and restrictions apply).
If your professor assigns a West-published casebook for your class, you may have the option of renting the casebook and saving a bit of money. According to West, you can write and highlight in your rented casebook, and you won't be penalized for doing so. Renting the casebook also gives you access to an electronic version of the casebook for the duration of the semester. BUT you can only access the electronic version on a PC or Mac - no Kindle, iPad, or Nook access exists at this time. To find out more, visit the West FAQ page on the rental program.
We've taken a bit of a blogging hiatus lately due to my shoulder surgery, vacations, and the law librarians' national meeting. I've been catching up on my current awareness reading and saw an interesting article in the NY Times about a defense motion to bar the introduction of a list of books read by the defendant in prison from a homicide trial. The defendant, Steven Hayes, is a "career thief" who was arrested outside the home of the Petit family in Chesire, Connecticut, several years ago. When police entered the Petit home, they discovered that three members of the Petit family had been murdered. Hayes has been charged with the homicides and a number of related felonies. His death penalty trial is scheduled to start this September, and his defense team filed a motion requesting that the books that Hayes checked out of the prison library during his incarceration prior to the killings not be allowed as evidence in the trial. The defense indicated that some of the books contained material that could be considered "criminally malevolent in the extreme" and jurors might be unduly prejudiced if they knew that Hayes had checked these books out of the prison library prior to the alleged homicides.
No one has disclosed which books are on the defendant's prison library checkout record, but the defense motion is now resulting in some scrutiny of CT prison library contents. The article states that State Senator John A. Kissel of the Connecticut
Legislature’s Judiciary Committee was "troubled by the
suggestions about Mr. Hayes’s prison reading." Senator Kissel declared that he would send a
"letter to corrections officials demanding to know what books were
available to inmates."
I was on the fence about getting a Kindle a year ago, but my husband surprised me with one last fall, and I'm glad that he did. I was doing a lot of traveling between California and the East Coast, and the Kindle is truly a godsend for those unfortunate enough to be spending a lot of time in airports and on planes. I've read about 15 books on the Kindle, and I don't experience any eye fatigue from the screen. I've changed the text size to be slightly larger than the standard text size, and while that means that I have to click to turn pages more frequently, it seems to keep eye fatigue at bay. You can read the Kindle in a variety of light settings, including bright, bright sunlight.
The Kindle is pretty hardy. I've dropped it a few times, and it's survived. But my fears of hitting myself in the face with the Kindle when I fall asleep reading have been realized. I have bonked myself in the nose with the Kindle several times when I fell asleep reading, and yes, it hurts worse than having an open book fall on your face.
The battery life is amazing. If I turn the wireless off, I can read for several hours a day for over a week without having to recharge.
Browsing and buying in the Kindle store is extremely easy and fast. For example, I purchased and downloaded Wolf Hall and Matterhorn, two huge tomes, in less than 45 seconds. And there is a ton of classic literature available for free on the Kindle. I have the complete works of Charles Dickens on my Kindle now.
I do miss the ability to easily refer back to earlier pages. Professor James O'Donnell describes the Kindle reading experience perfectly in this Chronicle of Higher Ed article: "The Kindle is great for reading the way ancient Greeks read, on papyrus
scrolls, beginning at the beginning, proceeding linearly, getting to the
end, absorbed in one book, following the author's lead. That makes it
just fine for lots of fiction for entertainment or diversion." But when you're reading a more complex text, it can be really annoying to be unable to flip back quickly to an earlier chapter that contains important reference information. I still can't imagine using the Kindle or any other e-reader when I'm engaged in a complex research project. But would I recommend the Kindle for voracious readers who do a lot of traveling? Absolutely.
Alex Golub discusses how the Kindle performs for academic reading, and concludes that "the Kindle is designed to let you read mystery novels, not academic books." Pluses: compact, lightweight, and "terrific battery life." Minuses: very tough to move back and forth between main text and bibliographies/endnotes; no sophisticated note-taking features. Even with my 100-plus-books-per-year habit, I still haven't purchased a Kindle. But I have reduced the number of books that I purchase by joining the Netflix-for-books service, Bookswim. By subscribing to the three-books-a-month plan, I can use Bookswim to rent the new, popular novels that I really want to read, but don't want to keep. So far, I love it.
The New York Times has a fascinating roundup of expert opinion on whether the brain processes information presented electronically differently than information presented on paper. Most fascinating fact from one of the experts -- "people read more slowly on screen, by as much as 20 to 30 percent."
I read a lot more than the average American. According to this Harris poll, only 37 percent of those surveyed read more than ten books a year. Last year, I read 113 books in one year. Given the volume of reading that I do, a lot of folks ask me if I'm going to get a Kindle 2 now that Amazon has revamped its wireless reader. My husband would be ecstatic if I replaced the stacks of books in our living room with a Kindle. And I have to admit, I'm sort of excited about the idea of being able to store and carry over 1,000 books on one lightweight device.
John Biggs does a nice job of making the case for and against buying the new Kindle, and several of the "don't buy" reasons jumped out at me. First, it's flimsy. Since I am notoriously hard on the electronic devices in my life, I would worry incessantly about breaking the Kindle. Even worse, it's battery-powered. I can't remember to keep my cell phone charged, so I'm dubious about my ability to keep the Kindle charged and ready to read. Third, Biggs notes that the new Kindle is bottom-heavy, which means if you fall asleep reading, it will bonk you on the nose. I'm not so worried about the nose-bonking since I usually end up with a book falling on me when I read in bed, but I worry about what would happen if you fell asleep reading the Kindle, then threw it out of the bed at night or rolled over and smushed it. Books can survive this sort of treatment -- they may get a little bent and bedraggled when you throw them or crush them, but they're still ready to read the next day.
The funniest "anti-purchase" reason supplied by Biggs: "Flight attendants will tell you to turn it off on take-off and landing.
You can’t explain that it’s epaper and uses no current. You just can’t.
It’s like explaining heaven to bears."
And the final reason? There's just something about a print book that I can't give up. Since I read text on a computer screen all day, picking up a print book is a signal to me that I'm reading for pleasure rather than for work, that I'm off-duty. And I like the sheer variety of books, their different sizes, shapes, and smells. I'm not ready to sacrifice those sensual aspects of reading yet, even if it would mean a tidier living room.
The New York Times reported yesterday that American adults are reading more. According to a NEA report, about 50 percent of Americans said that they read at least one novel, short story, poem or play in the previous 12 months. That may not seem like a percentage worth celebrating, but in 2002, just 46.7 percent of Americans reported that they engaged in some form of literary reading. Looking for a good book? Check out NPR's Book Notes, Amazon's book blog, Omnivoracious, or the Seattle Public Library's blog, Shelf Talk.