Thursday, November 20, 2014

Eating Crow and Reading E-books

I'm an unapologetic technophobe.  I don't own a cellphone and my computer is more than ten years old.  I'm also a bibliophile, and by this I don't just mean that I like to read.  I love books.  I love the smell of them, the feel of them, the weight of them, and I consider a well-bound book to be a treasured possession, not just to be read but to be displayed on a bookshelf, like a painting in a gallery.  Such was my disdain for e-books that it was only reluctantly that I decided to publish the Libram Mysterium anthology series in digital as well as print formats.

These things considered, you'd think I'd be the last person to buy an e-reader.  I certainly thought so.  Turns out I was wrong.  My unwholesome dalliance with digital books was initiated by the alarming groans of my overladen bookshelves and the realization that I was quickly running out of places to install more.  My bedside table has become the permanent repository for a stack of books I'm no longer reading for lack of anywhere better to put them, and leaning towers of literature are stacked precariously about the house just waiting to topple over and crush the cat.

Simultaneously, about a year ago I started experiencing chronic eye pain every evening, which made reading a grueling ordeal instead of a relaxing escape.  I went to the optometrist for a check up and he assured me that my date of birth was to blame.  To put it simply: reading bring pain.  Great; yet another reason to pine for the '80's, as if rugby pants and ZZ Top weren't reasons enough.

So week by week, month by month, the idea of an e-reader festered in my brain like a cancerous tumour.  E-readers use e-ink technology that makes the screen look just like a printed page, which can be read even in direct sunlight, and you can adjust font size.  Also, with gigabites of memory I could store an entire library on one device without any threat to the cat.  The tumour reached critical mass last week when a coupon for $40 off the Kobo Aura arrived in my in-box, and I decided to take the plunge.

So here's my take on the Kobo reader for anyone who, like I was, is on the fence and/or deeply suspicious of new technologies like horseless carriages and such:

After a few days to get used to it, I am completely enamoured with my Kobo; it is the single solution to all of my problems.  It has 4 GB of memory - enough to store a very large library, and if that's still not enough, there is an SD card slot for extra storage.  I was initially concerned that a mishap might destroy my entire library, but there are several levels of redundancy to keep your collection safe.  Any books bought from Kobo can be permanently archived on their cloud and accessed at any time - you can even move books off your reader and onto their cloud if you need to free up space.  Furthermore, you can store books on your computer, using Adobe Digital Editions to manage your collection.  Also, most sellers of e-books, such as Smashwords, will allow unlimited downloads of previously purchased books so if you do drop your reader in the toilet you can easily replace your library.

Reading with the Aura is a real pleasure.  I find it easier on the eyes than a printed book, and I can read for much longer without needing to take a break.  One of the great features of this model is the adjustable back-lit screen, which allows you to read comfortably at any lighting level so I can keep reading in bed long after my wife has turned off the lights and gone to sleep - something I've been wanting to do for twenty years.

Another neat feature of the Kobo readers is their compatibility with Pocket, a browser add-on that allows you to save web pages to your reader.  I like reading blogs, but reading at the computer makes me bleed out of my eyes until my head explodes.  Now I can save blog posts to my reader and peruse them in comfort and ease, which will make for a much pleasanter experience.

Kindle vs. Kobo?
These are the two main readers in Canada (Nook isn't available here), aside from third party readers like Sony.  You can get equivalent models of each, but the difference lies in their supported formats.  Kindles only read Amazon's proprietary Kindle format, which means you can only use their reader to read books purchased from Amazon.  They are supposed to be able to read PDFs, but most users report difficulty doing so.  Because Kindles only read their proprietary format they cannot be used to read library books, which are in epub format.  Kobo, on the other hand supports epub, mobi, pdf, rtf, etc so you can borrow books from the library, and buy books from anywhere except Amazon.  The only real disadvantage of the Kobo is that you cannot buy books from Amazon, which cuts you off from a pretty large seller.  Nonetheless, being able to borrow books from the library without ever leaving the house or worrying about late fees (the books automatically delete themselves from your reader after the loan period) offsets any possible advantage the Kindle might offer.

E-reader vs. Tablet?
Tablets are another popular device for reading electronic documents and both Amazon and Kobo make tablets as well as e-readers.  Tablets have the advantage of a colour display, which is better for reading magazines and newspapers.  But they do not have the e-ink technology used by readers, so reading for long periods of time on a tablet will be just like reading on a computer (ocular hemorrhaging  and wall splattered with grey-matter) and glare makes them difficult to read outdoors.  So if you plan to read books, then the e-reader is the device of choice.

So there we have it: I love my Kobo reader and I've taken my first tentative steps into the digital age.  But I'm still not buying a cellphone.