Monday, May 6, 2013

Reluctant convert to e-readers

Normally it's hot and sunny in the part of the world where I live, but for the past few days it's done little but blow chilly gusts of rain. So Saturday I allowed myself a treat in which I haven't indulged for far too long: I actually spent the entire day reading—bliss! I finished a YA fantasy by Cornelia Funke entitled Reckless. It's the first in a trilogy; the second installment, Fearless, was just released. And I also read a book for lay readers by philosopher Stephen Cave called Immortality.

Both were library books; I am so grateful for the wonderful inter-library loan system in my state. I can sit at my computer, order books, and then walk the four blocks down to the local library to pick them up when they arrive. And did I mention this is free?

Three versions of The Hobbit: Hardcover (l), iPad Mini, and Kindle Paperwhite

But slowly over the past eighteen months I have shifted more of my reading to the digital realm. My neck surgery last Halloween accelerated that process. When I was recovering from the operation on my cervical spine last fall, I wasn't allowed to bend my neck forward for even five minutes to read a paper book. So I started buying e-books, loading them on my iPad Mini, and propping that up at eye level so I could keep reading. And to my surprise, I actually liked the experience.

Why did that shock me? Because all my previous experiments with e-readers had failed miserably. Despite being a consummate geek, I didn't like the digital reading experience. I missed the heft and smell of a real book in my hands, especially a beautifully-designed and bound hardcover one. I felt disconnected from digital books, as if they weren't real. 

I had tried three different Kindle models—the Kindle 3 with keyboard, the so-called Kindle Lite, and the Kindle Touch—and returned them all within 30 days. The screens were hard to read in the dim light of my 1880s-era Victorian house, and it was awkward and difficult to do simple things like turn pages. I also tried the full-sized iPad, but it was too big and heavy to hold for my marathon reading sessions.

But then I got my iPad Mini, with a leather cover that makes it look and handle like a book, and my resistance to digital books faded. I love the backlit screen, which allows me to read anywhere, anytime—even outside in the shade. All other reports to the contrary, the LCD screen doesn't tire my eyes at all, and the contrast and clarity far outstrip anything that e-ink readers like Kindle or Nook have on offer. I also like that the Mini displays books in color: far more like the "real thing."

So over the past seven months since I got my Franken-neck, I'm now doing about half my reading digitally. I was so inspired I even wrote my first Kindle book: Spontaneous Combustion. And last week I welcomed the Kindle Paperwhite into my home. I was prepared to send it right back, given my previous experience, but this one is a keeper. Though I still prefer the iPad Mini, the Paperwhite's backlit screen finally has enough light and contrast to be readable by my LASIK-ed eyes: and it's a joy to read in the bright sunshine. Since I do a lot of my reading outside in the backyard—when it isn't raining, that is—this is essential. Amazon got the software right this time, too; I find the Paperwhite much more intuitive to use than its older siblings, though still nowhere near as easy as iBooks on the iPad Mini.

Though of course no digital device is going to make reading as straightforward as it is on a paper book. What could be easier than simply turning the pages?

Besides, to me, a physical book is a treasure, something to cherish. That's why I own four different hardcover versions of The Hobbit, for example; I do that with many books. I'm never going to feel that way about a digital book file on an e-reader. So I'll continue to download books to my Mini and Paperwhite to read, but when I find a title that I love, I'm still going to buy a hardcover version, the more elegantly-bound the better.

Time to get another bookshelf!

1 comment:

Vijaya said...

I love my new kindle paperwhite too ... not so much the kindle fire because of eye strain. But yeah, I'll never give up real books either ... though with the bookshelves overflowing, I'm not sure what to do ...