Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bewitched e-Reader

I finally bought an e-Reader -- the Kobo, which is Indigo/Chapter (the Canadian answer to Amazon)'s answer to Kindle. Besides acknowledging that it might be really useful on holidays, especially given that we travel with carry-ons only, I felt that I'd better get to know the way so many of my students will soon be experiencing books.

And I do like the sleek, lightweight design. You already know that I try to carry a book with me always, and with the Kobo, especially since I can have numerous want-to-reads loaded up at a time, this is easier than ever. The surface is just as readable as the pages of any book, and I can even adjust the print to a size that suits my eyes. Because I'm a fast reader, I worried at first that I'd be irritated by the micro-second hesitation of an electronic page change, but that's turned out not to be the case. And sometimes, as when eating or knitting, the flat surface is welcome, freeing my hands to do something besides holding the book open.

BUT. . . unless there are tricks I haven't yet learned, in this version of the eReader, at least, there are all the limitations I suspected. Several times, I've wanted to comparing what I'm reading with something on an earlier page, and this is much more tediously achieved than with a real book. As well, there is no way to comment in the margins -- not in the Kobo as I know it -- nor even to highlight and save passages. Having to carry along a separate notebook and copy out such passages negates much of the reader's convenience, and it will direct my students away from the kind of deep-reading habits I'm hoping to instil.

Similarly, pagination (the numbering of the pages) is unstable in the eReader -- a side-effect of being able to change the print size.  Once I'd copied out the quotations I wanted to save, or at least enough to let me find them again, I was stymied when I tried to note the corresponding page number: instead, I'd have to write "Chapter 18 -- 1 of 20" or "Chapter 18 -- 1 of 24" or "Chapter 18 -- 1 of 17" -- all to refer to the same quotation!

If any of my readers have e-solutions to any of these problems, I'd love to hear. Does your Reader allow you to highlight, save, and even transport quotations? Could my Kobo, if I were a better Techie? Of course, even if I learn to use the eReader more fully, it will never record for me the inestimable layers of metadata that my books can. No ticket stub from a play seen on a London stage three years ago will ever flutter from its pages, nor will it hold its author's inked signature any more than be marked by the tea I spilled when my granddaughter bumped me. I can't compare my current impressions with those I'd jotted on the inside cover pages the last time I prepared to teach the book and, before that, when I read it for the first time. My students will no longer marvel to see how old my copy looks, how it's been loved like a Velveteen Rabbit, nor do they get to note that my cover has a different illustration than theirs.

What an ironic coincidence that the first book I loaded up to read on my Kobo should be Deborah Harkness' much-hyped Discovery of Witches. Not my usual fare, but I thought this book would be a great diversion while travelling, a juicy beach book, if you will, and I wasn't wrong. I'm not a fan of the supernatural; although I'm a huge Buffy and Angel follower, that's due to elements beyond the thrall of vampirism. But I got the impression from several reviews that this book would hit some of the same spots as Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian did several years ago. It does, although in an even lighter register. Perfect, as I say, for airplane or beach reading. There's a love story, family dynamics, intrigue, history, wealth, murder -- all set in contemporary Oxford where a young professor divides her time between poring over books in the library and rowing a racing scull down the river. Well, except for when it moves to rural estates in France and England, beautifully described, richly furnished old homes -- wonderful to be wandering through in one's imagination when the body's trapped in an airplane seat trying to carve a recalcitrant piece of chicken with a flimsy plastic knife.

Where's the irony, you ask? Well, the young professor is very concerned with real books and their metadata, as are the witches, vampires, and other demons who converge at the eponymous discovery.  Those of us who love books will sigh at the libraries described, the "shush"-ing by librarians, the systems of book retrieval, the beautifully carved wooden shelves and the rolling ladders -- never mind the books themselves, their illustrations, their leather or board-and-cloth covers, even their missing pages. Especially, in the case of Discovery, their missing pages. The novel gets at the rich, historied, depth of a book, the specificity of an individual copy of a particular edition. It reminds us that one copy of a book is not the same as another -- a reality that may be disappearing in the levelling electronic environment of the eReader.

I'm going to keep using my Kobo, and will focus on the advantages of convenience that it offers. But I've got ten or twelve recently-purchased paper books to get through in the next few months as well. I hope that this transitional terrain we readers are treading now will not, eventually, mean an either/or situation which inevitably sees the analog book replaced by the digital. But I'm troubled . . . what about you? Still resisting? or are you a complete convert?


  1. Wow, we must have got our readers at almost exactly the same time. Spouse bought me a Kindle, which I do like very much. You can highlight on it, and bookmark spots, but I have to confess I haven't done any of that. Kid 2 commented that she likes to know her page number rather than that she's 68% through and I agree. I will never stop buying books, but the Kindle is ideal for the type that I will read rapidly (crime fiction) and don't feel the need to have one my shelves. It's a much cheaper option than buying paperbacks, and it's great to be able to stash the Kindle in my bag ...

  2. I have a Kindle, which does allow me to highlight and bookmark spots and I sometimes use this feature. Basically however, like Tiffany, I find it best for reading the type of fiction I read rapidly, and don't feel the need to keep on the shelves. I have also used mine for newspapers as they are portable and I have to at least scan every headline, which I find, rather than being a burden, forces me to read more and this is good.

    Otherwise I can't give up books, and I find the system of locating things impossible, whereas I can pick up a physical book and usually find what I am looking for quickly, even if I did not mark it in some way.

    I cannot imagine not having physical books in my life, although at the moment I am already chafing at the lack of space book space and I am not allowing myself any more for the moment.

  3. Tiffany/ Mardel: Sounds as if we're on the same wavelength (or would that be Wifi?!)

    I'm probably going to keep my reading on the Kindle to the sort of books I don't need/want to keep a copy of -- of course, these are often mysteries, and I would normally pass it along to Paul before moving it out. Not sure whether I'll let him borrow my Kobo to read it, or get him one and download a second tune from my computer. It does seem to be cheaper to get the e-copy, and it's so light in my purse, reading material always available.
    I agree with Kid2, Tiffany, I like to feel and see how many pages I've read, what fraction of the book I'm at, rather than just seeing a number and percentage sign.
    btw, have either of you heard about or thought of reading Discovery of Witches? I'll admit it's very light, not for everyone, but I thought it was fun.

  4. I downloaded Discovery of Witches after your review! But I've got a stack of (real) books to get through first - my bedside table is getting hideously overladen ...

  5. Well, I put it on my list as well, although I haven't downloaded it or checked if it is available at the library yet. I have towering stacks, both physically, and electronically, to attack.

  6. Tiffany: It's getting ridiculous here as well: books, books, books stacked everywhere!
    Mardel: Warning, though -- this is apparently going to the be the first of several . . .