Thursday, September 23, 2010

Book, eBooks, eReader, and iPads

     I am a reader.  I am also a bibliophile.  I love books; I love the feel of books and I love the look of books.  I also have a Kindle e-reader.  I have had one since they first came out and I have recently added the new Kindle WiFi to the family.  There are some who believe or hope that e-books will replace paper books.  Then there are some that think that e-books are a passing fad.  I belong to neither camp.

     A paper book, since the invention of the codex (the present form of most books, a clear advance from the scroll), is a perfect marriage of form and function.  You can open a book anywhere; you can flip through to find a favorite place; and you write all over it.  You can leave one book open while you consult another.  Books can be stacked or shelved; they can be used to hold other things down.  And a book is sustainable.  Paper comes from forests grown for such purposes.
     E-books have there own virtues to commend them.  They take up minimal space.  They are light.  They can be accessed through the internet on a variety of devices.  An e-book can be searched for words or phrases (try that with a concordance) and are often read on devices that provide instant dictionary services.  They can be hidden away in a directory file; out of the prying eyes of friends and family.
     Some books are just not designed for optimal use in an electronic format.  I like having two or three books open on my desk at one time.  Most of the books I use in work and study I use by flipping through them.  I also like having paper copies of books I love just so I can turn to a favorite passage or see it on the bookshelf.  I have bought books for the shelf that I read first on an e-reader.
     On the other hand, there are some books that are best experienced in an e-book format.  Generally theses are books that you read from cover to cover.  I find that I read these books much faster on an e-reader than I do in a paper book.  I think it focuses the reader on the forward flow of the book or something.  Others have experienced this; just read any e-reader forum.  E-books are also a lot more portable and handy.  And, much to my wife's chagrin, have purchased e-books that I already own in a paper copy.  There is no better format for a book you might only read once and will not boost your ego by sitting on the book shelf for everyone to see.
     As you can see, both paper books and e-books find a place in my reading life.  In fact, I read more fiction since I got an e-reader than I did before.  The above considerations play into the decision to go either paper book or e-book or both.
     When one decides to go with an e-book another question presents itself:  How does one read it?  One can read an e-book on a cell phone, a computer screen, a tablet device (think iPad, iPod touch, iPhone), or a dedicated e-reader.  Having choices is one of the great things about e-books.  However, I do think that an e-book reader should have a dedicated e-reader.  It best mimics the advantages of paper books without some of the disadvantages.  The e-ink screen used by most e-readers is like paper and does not tire the eyes for sustained reading.  Most e-readers are light and ergonomically designed to facilitate one handed reading.  The problem with the multi-purpose devices are their backlit screen that can tire the eyes and the distraction of a billion other things.  The iPad is a beautiful device and great to use, but it is a better internet interface than a e-reader (though the Kindle app on it is great for a quick read).  I like my e-reader to feel like a book, and my computer to feel like a tri-quarter.

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