Confessions of an Avid E-Reader

Confessions of an Avid E-reader

By Gene Wilburn

“When I was young, I was reading anything and anything I could lay my hands on. I was a veracious-to-the-point-of-insane reader” ~ Neil Gaiman

Whether you became a reader type of person right off, starting with the Dick and Jane books at school, or developed into a reader later in life, as I did in my teens when I discovered science fiction and fantasy, once in, never out. Becoming an avid reader is one of the blessings the universe can bestow upon the receptive mind. Reading is a gateway drug into imagination, knowledge, philosophy, and the great narrative stories of the past and present.

Some readers prefer factual narratives, in the form of history and biography or science, while others prefer to dive into imaginary adventures of literature, sleuthing, romance, space travel, or imaginary landscapes where the rules of the universe are different. To travel with Hobbits, to visit aliens, to enter magical woods where coyotes talk to you, to share Woolf’s pleasure in a room with a view, to madly hunt a great white whale, to fit into respectable 18th-Century society while grinning at its foibles, or to bandy words with Socrates. There is no limit.

One thing many readers prefer is a physical book, hardback or paperback, and I’d never argue with this point of view. The texture, the smell, the feel of a book in hand — these are all wonderful things. But, for some of us, an electronic book, read in a dedicated ereader or ereader app, serves just fine, thanks, especially for books with few illustrations.

What I like about ebooks in general is their convenience, plus the ability to adjust font size, and margins to my liking. That they’re searchable is a bonus, not to mention being able to mark passages and copy them if desired. The latest readers and apps allow you to choose the kind of background you prefer, from white to sepia to inverted black and white.

The other major thing I like about them is that I can borrow ebooks from the public library from the comfort of my home — in the middle of the night, quite often. Although I purchase a fair number of ebooks, especially from authors I try to support, I rely on the library for casual fare such as murder mysteries and police procedurals, or to try out new authors.

And then there’s portability. My main library goes with me everywhere. It’s on my Kobo Aura One, my iPad Mini, and my iPhone, and I frequently read from them if I’m on the commuter train or waiting in a medical office. I have significantly reduced the amount of shelf space needed to house my remaining paper books. By now I’ve replaced most of my favourite reads with e-editions.

The physical form factor of the ereading device is important. It’s tedious to read a book on a PC or Mac screen. Dedicated ereaders from Kobo and Amazon (Kindle) are a good hand-holding size, fairly close in size to a paperback novel. Small tablets, such as the iPad Mini or Kindle Fire are also easy devices to hold. The full-size tablets make good ereaders, but are more tiring to hold, though their larger size makes them better for reading PDFs.

And then there’s the ereader secret weapon: the ability to read a book in the dark. This makes them ideal for reading in bed. If you fall asleep while reading, the device will simply shut itself off in fifteen minutes or so of inactivity.

Different e-readers and e-reader apps have different personalities. The dedicated e-readers, such as the Kobo Aura One or the Kindle Paperwhite, that use e-ink technology are notable for being easy to read in bright light or sunlight. Because they’re reflective rather backlit, like a tablet, many people find them easier on the eyes. All the current models of dedicated readers have lamps built in that illuminate the page of reading in dim light, but they shine on the surface rather than lighting the device from behind the words.

Dedicated e-readers are linked to online bookstores where you can purchase books and have them delivered to the device in seconds via built-in wi-fi. The Kindle devices are linked to Amazon while the Kobo devices are linked to the Kobo Store, which, as near as I can determine, is associated with Indigo-Chapters in Canada. The dedicated readers include a sizeable selection of reading fonts in both serif and sans serif styles. I’m partial to the Kobo readers because Kobo began as a Canadian company before being bought out by Rakuten, a Japanese firm.

Most people, however, prefer to use e-reader apps on their tablets rather than adding a separate device to their collection of electronics. The Overdrive Media application used to obtain library ebooks is a singularly fine reader with only one major drawback: you can’t copy text or mark passages with it. This limits its use for academic work, though it’s fine for reading a murder mystery.

The Kindle app is, in my opinion, the best overall ereader app. It not only allows you to highlight or copy text, but is flexible enough to allow you to select text that flows over to the next page, something that Apple’s iBooks app can’t do. Moreover, it saves your highlights in the cloud so you can access them from the web at the Amazon site. This is useful if you’re researching a topic or want to access your highlights for inclusion in, say, a Word document.

The iBooks app, for iPads, is a solid ereader app and has the advantage that it can read .epub format, the industry standard for ebooks. (Kindles read .azw and .mobi formats.) Apple has included a fine feature in the iPad Safari app that lets you convert long webpage articles into a PDF which are sent to iBooks.

The Kobo app on the iPad is a little disappointing, but is serviceable. One thing it’s very good at, though, is making suggestions for other ebooks based on the ones you’ve been reading. Available from the Kobo Store, natch. And Kobo also uses .epub format.

Anyone getting into an ereader for the first time should first visit the Project Gutenberg site where you can download hundreds of out-of-copyright classics for free, and in either Epub or Mobi format. Think Plato, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, or Shakespeare and you get the idea.

Between Gutenberg, the public library, and the ebook stores, you’re set for life. And as a bonus, you’ll need no more Ikea bookshelves.

Happy reading!