Monday, May 10, 2010

The future is now

I'd decided to treat myself to an ereader as soon as the Kobo became available in black. I've read all about it, know the specs, etc, but some purchases I want to turn over in my hands before I buy. So this weekend I tried one out in-store.

The Kobo is bigger and lighter than I expected it to be. Page-turning was a little slow, but I hear that's typical of all devices using eInk technology. I went around in circles, navigation-wise, for a bit, but that circle is limited, and though it was taking longer than I wanted to figure things out, I'm sure I would've done so eventually. I left the store determined to have one; if I couldn't convince anyone to get me one for Mother's Day, I would pick one up for myself on Monday.

As it happens, I hardly had time to sing its praises at home before I had in my hands an altogether different ereader (because allegedly, I'm the best mom ever).

The Sony Reader Touch Edition is about twice the price, and I'm not entirely convinced I'm worth it. Undeniably, however, the look and feel of the Kobo is cheap by comparison. The Sony has more weight to it (kind of a negative), but this heft also confers solidity. I can imagine the Kobo being easily cracked, and the buttons not registering your intended actions. The Sony is a quality piece of hardware. (And the eInk seemed to move faster on the Sony in my own home than in-store and under sales pressure.)

Getting started
The Kobo comes preloaded with 100 books, which had had me excited — with it, I could get started straight away. On the other hand, those books are public domain — presumably I could track down and download those public domain titles I'd actually be interested in reading to any ereader I pleased.

(Has the meme propagated yet? What are the 100 books preloaded to the Kobo? How many have you read and how many do you actually intend to someday read? Now I'm kind of curious to know what they are.)

The Sony reader wasn't quite ready to use starting out of the box. First you have to charge it up. Then you have to find something to read.

This reader comes loaded up with about a dozen samples: 5 are in a Germanic language I can't read, and there are 2 fantastic classic novels in French (both of which I've already read (I even read half of one of them in French)). The English samples are all excerpts. I was surprised to find one of these is a selection of 10 recipes, 3 of which I'm eager to try out.

A few hours later I've added to my library some Dickens, some Dumas, PG Wodehouse, and Agatha Christie. None of these are top of list, but they're all books I mean to get around to someday. Also, I find on my hard drive a PDF of Miriam Toews' A Complicated Kindness. Onto the ereader it goes. (Since added: George Gissing, on Susan's recommendation.)

Things to get excited about
The Sony has going for it the ability to take notes. I always figured e-marginalia would be a natural offshoot of this kind of technology, but I'd convinced myself wasn't really necessary. How often do I make notes in books? Not very. But I do add a lot of sticky notes with stars and arrows (mostly as bookmarks). So it is comforting to have the option of extending these habits into the future.

Also a plus: the built-in dictionary. How often do I look up words in the dictionary while reading? Not very. But, I feel that I should (a recent exercise in annotation mde me realize that I understand many words in context but much less precisely than I should). And now I can! Very, very easily! I'm looking forward to putting this to the test when I'm reading the new China MiƩville this summer (though, there's a good chance a lot of his words won't be in the dictionary). Ehh, I'm sure I'll use it with Dickens too.

Some frustrating quirks
Regarding the reader itself, at this early stage, I have little to complain about. I hate that alphabetical by author means by first name, and I appear to be losing this battle against the technological world. But, oh, I hate that a lot.

Regarding the whole business of ereading, well...

I downloaded a PDF (Agatha Christie) only to find it included only the book's odd-numbered pages; all the even-numbered pages were (mostly — except for the occasional oddly placed scrap block of text) blank.

The public domain files are often hit or miss. Many of the ePub books are obviously produced using OCR. One sample (GK Chesterton) was evidently not proofread; headers (the book and chapter titles) and footers (paper page numbers) would appear mid e-page, often interrupting a sentence.

And! Why can't I get (I mean buy, from a store) any JD Salinger stories?

At the end of the day
I went to bed, finally, with a real hardcover book though, because it was the book I happened to be in the middle of. Not because of its format. Format is lost behind a good book. I'd gladly read it electronically if it were at the ready (but now, I wasn't going to buy an ecopy, when I already had paper in front of me).

I've purchased one ebook (The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, by Jan Potocki) and am considering a few more. I think it's a bit funny that my hi-tech reading device is being used to supply me with literature that's old. I feel like I should be using it to read science fiction.

One publisher has already advised me that they do not (cannot?) supply review copies (in Canada) in an electronic format. Not yet anyway.

I'm definitely hoping that the move to the ereader will help me reclaim some wall space, or at least not endanger any more, but the effect will not be immediate. I have two print books ordered a week ago winging their way to me, review copies will continue, and then there are those darn sexy, irresistible NYRB classics.

Advice?
Do you have an ereader? If so, do you read more print or electronic books? Do you find you choose to read certain types of books in one format or another? Where do you like to get your ebooks from? Do you find your ereader lacking in any particular respect? Do you use your ereader one-handed or two-handed? Do you carry it with you everywhere?
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