[Note: Parental advisory for obscene file format extensions.]
When Amazon first launched the Kindle in 2007, I was skeptical about the idea of e-book devices. I did a lot of reading, both on computer screens and on paper, and I had definite opinions about comfort and function. I'm also not made of money and had definite opinions on price - at $399, I had a message Amazon could read, all right, though I'm not sure the Kindle could read .fuq file formats. "Let people with more disposable income do the Beta testing," I thought.
This weekend, I walked into a Barnes and Nobles. There was the Nook display. Tantalizing, tiny, slender Nooks. Only $149 in store. "Still too much," I muttered. I'm a $29.99 kind of girl, and I've got the patience to wait for Hell to freeze over.
Thirty minutes later, my husband and my daughter are conferring over a stack of paperbacks eighteen inches high. Quick price calculation: $100. Book shelf capacity at home: Maxed. "Do you want to get anything?" John asks me.
"Yes," I blurt.
Thirty minutes later again, we are driving home, minus the paperbacks, plus a Nook. A tiny, slim little nook in a demure black leather case.
First let me say that we did not get out the door for $149 plus tax. There were accessories and warranties and a pre-loaded gift card so we could buy books. But had we been in a Spartan mood, we COULD have walked out, ready to read, for only $149 plus tax. There are no hidden fees, only tempting bells and whistles.
Once I was alone to get to know my Nook, my Spartan mood kicked back in with a vengeance. My first priority was to learn how to use the Nook. My second priority was to explore what all I could read for free. My third priority was to learn what all I could do with my Nook.
For ease of use, I was delighted. I was reading and downloading content almost immediately, without referring to the user manual. I did end up using the manual once to confirm a quick suspicion about supported file types, and read a few snippets that caught my eye from the table of contents, but the Nook is set up to be fairly self-explanatory. Files are loaded into it in almost an identical manner as a flash drive. And you can use your Nook while it charges.
Next step: free (or ridiculously cheap) material. Barnes and Nobles provides many classics for free, as does Google Books. Bronte, Wodehouse, Herodotus and many other staples of classic literature no longer protected by copyright are readily available. So are many classic texts of philosophy and science. Modern entertainments are a different story. I was scandalized to see a recent release with an e-book price tag of $12.99! I'll admit, I'm a stingy beast. I expect my daughter's college education to cost less than $12.99. What to do?
For popular modern titles, with an e-book you must apply the same strategy as with regular print books. Shop for sales. I'm not impressed with this feature. My price range for an e-book is $2, maybe $3-5 for a new release I'm really eager to read. I'm hoping the market balances out soon.
There are a number of ways to access free, modern e-books. Just this weekend, a bit of poking around on my Nook's "The Daily" button and an advertisement under the "Shop" tab, I was able to pick up three free novels. As an editor for an e-zine, I'm really never at a loss for things to read, but these are three novels edited by someone else! Two teen/young adult mystery novels - a genre I enjoy - and what seems like a trashy romance novel - something that was missing from my lofty free repertoire. Next week, The Daily promises at least one more free novel. Between those and the classics I've missed, I'll have more than enough free reading material to last me the foreseeable future.
BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE.
Did I mention my Nook reads two file formats? .ebook formats and .pdf files. Let that sink in for a moment.
Sorry for the caps. It's not that I'm worried you weren't listening. It's that I can't restrain my excitement.
Anyone can make .pdf files. (http://www.cutepdf.com/)
I CAN finally download that slush pile of Piker Press submissions or a draft of one of my own works in progress to take to the park and read while my kid frolics. Or to and from work easily. Or anywhere a smallish paperback could accompany me.
I CAN switch books instantly as mood and circumstances require. Curl up with my book in a chair, read a story aloud that interests John in the car (we are a family that reads aloud to one another often), switch to one of Lillian's stories if she wants to take turns reading, too. (There is a huge collection of children's classics available for free.) All this without having the conversation: "Well, where IS the book we were reading?" (For that alone, I am so very, very grateful.)
I CAN keep useful documents with me, such as sheet music, my guide to praying the Rosary, a grocery list, or a comic script I'm illustrating.
I CAN take large blocks of text from the Internet, print them to .pdf, download and then read them on my Nook at leisure without being glued to my damn monitor all day.
I CAN - at the risk of distracting you with my devastating geekiness - put entire role-playing game sessions into my Nook so that if John and I are waiting in a doctor's office or doing some other chore, I can whip out the Nook, pull some dice from my pocket and provide instant game.
Did I mention the Nook plays audio books and .mp3 music files? (Competently without headphones, flawlessly with.)
Did I mention it handles black and white illustrations, .jpgs and .gifs perfectly? I loaded one of my comics onto it for my wallpaper. I'm delighted with the quality of the image.
Did I mention it has Internet access? Although admittedly, the screen is tiny; this will not be my preferred method for surfing. But in a pinch - I can.
What about comfort? I can read a two-hundred page novel on paper in 2-3 hours, depending on how hard the content makes me work. I've never been able to get that kind of speed reading from a computer. It's just not comfy enough, even slouched with my laptop on a sofa. This weekend, I popped in a biography of a saint written in 1855 that I've been trying to read piece by piece online for a year. On the Nook, I was done in three hours. No eyestrain, perfectly immersed, perfectly comfy. The text size can be made huge or minuscule - very useful for my daughter as she transitions into reading chapter books with me, or for me to prevent eye fatigue. The Nook has a nice feel to the hands, especially with the leather cover.
Drawbacks? I am not happy with the prices publishers are charging for modern e-books. Every so often the Nook gets confused (usually when I'm racing madly between functions and asking it to deal with gnarly .pdf files), and has to shut itself down. It labors under .pdfs with lots of graphics or advanced formatting.
Do I care? No. You can take my Nook when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers. If I were considering an e-book device solely to purchase and read books, I would stick to my library card and dead trees. E-books are not yet a cost-effective way to purchase mainstream published titles. But I don't need access to things to read - I swim in text and tales all day long. I just needed a better way to read them. And with that in mind, the question isn't whether I like my Nook - the question is how did I survive so long without it?