Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Books in Binary

When I received a Nook tablet for Christmas in 2011, I wondered if the end times were a-comin'. After all, my Luddite tendencies made me into a late- or non-adopter of new technology. Consider how I argued against my employer buying a fax machine back in 1988.

How useful could a fax machine have been?

Well, turns out it was pretty useful. Surprise!

So let's just say my track record with technology adoption hasn't been good. How in the world could binary and pixels replace paper, ink, boards, and glue?

Imagine my surprise when the Nook became my fiction format of choice. I love reading novels on my Nook. I also love playing sudoku, checking email, and surfing the internet a bit on my Nook. Watching movies on a plane...very cool. Enlarging the print size with a few touches of the screen...huge bonus for my aging eyes.

What I don't like about the Nook, however, is significant. It has a battery, and batteries run out, especially on six-hour airplane trips. No juice, no book, big problem. With practice, my battery management skills have improved, though.

Reading books with pictures, maps, or diagrams is deeply annoying on a Nook. When I read David McCullough's book about Paris, what a pain in the tookus it was trying to match pictures to text...and in a book with as many names and places as that one, pictures and maps help. A lot.

George even had a problem reading an Icelandic murder mystery recently. A map appeared at the end of the book, but he didn't know it was there until he finished reading. "This really would have helped early on," he said. The map was oriented on the tablet page incorrectly so it was sideways. When he rotated the Nook to look at the map, the whole page changed orientation so that the map was sideways and chopped off.


Now, he could fix the orientation problem by disabling the setting that turns the screen, but what a pain. A real book in his hands lends itself to thumbing. He might have found the map earlier if he'd read the table of contents (but does anyone do that?), and the map certainly wouldn't have moved around on the page in a print book.

Magazines are another problem. Some have tablet formatting options, but shrinking pages to see the whole, then enlarging to read the type gets annoying.

Finally, I've noticed an extraordinary number of typos in e-books. I try not to let them bother me, but it sure seems that the publishers...even very respected ones...are getting sloppy when it comes to proofreading e-books. This is particularly appalling in older books that were originally published before the digital age. I read one older novel recently where there was an error--quite literally--on almost every other page. Some were punctuation errors (periods after the next-to-last word in the sentence...really?), some were word-replacement errors (clearly they were using electronic edited...what a nightmare!), some were inconsistencies and misspellings in names of characters. I checked the paperback print version of the book, and the errors were not there.  

My aunt has also noticed that some e-books have added scenes and material not in the print books. While this isn't a crime, it's sloppy. Publishers should note different editions of books and acknowledge when an e-book isn't the same as its older, print self.

Often, e-books are only slightly less expensive than print books, which makes the plethora of errors more annoying and reflects poorly on the publishers. Some older books are still 7.99 in electronic format, while the paperback version costs only 8.99. The McCullough book, which was a new release when I bought it, was almost 20.00 in electronic format, cheaper than the hard cover of course, but not exactly a deal.  When you consider how little the electronic books cost publishers once they are formatted--and how little effort they seem to be putting into that formatting--the cost makes less sense.

Finally, as technology migrates, how will my electronic library hold up? Will I have to back up all my books to a thumb drive or nebulous cloud somewhere when the time comes to upgrade? Will I lose the whole library in a hideous accident? How will I read after the apocalypse when no one has electricity and everyone is taking a break from killing zombies?

These are things I worry about.

So my adoption of e-reading has been enthusiastically partial. I do love buying novels that I wouldn't normally reread (mysteries and popular fiction) on my Nook. This is particularly nice as I can buy fluffy novels or light nonfiction as soon as they are released and feel like I'm getting a deal, rather than wait for the paperback to come out. Books or magazines I read for intellectual stimulation, for interaction between pictures and text, or for repeated reading, I still very much prefer in print.

So imagine my pleasure when I read this article in the Wall Street Journal by Nicholas Carr. He cites the statistics on e-book sales, and draws the conclusion that while paperback reading (mostly light fiction) has migrated well to digital format, serious readers still prefer good ol' books.

For once, I'm right on trend.

How are you using your e-reader or tablet to read? Are you still holding out? Do you still buy print books?


  1. I have a kindle - which I got for my 50th from my mother. I find it great when traveling - saving on weight and I can buy a book no matter where I am (like on Isle of Skye, Scotland). I also have the cover with a light attachment. Great for reading in bed, especially when my husband has gone to sleep! I don't use it for anything but reading books - didn't know I could do those other things - maybe not available on kindle or I'm just not technologically up to date!
    BUT ...
    I still prefer the real thing. Nothing beats a book. Not so easy to find a spot in the kindle when one can so easily flip through a book. And not so easy to lend books after one has read them - and I love sharing books.
    I still belong to a book club and so don't have to buy so many books. (No libraries here)

  2. You nailed the e-book issues on the head, Susan :) I hate the typo's and the cost. I did hear somewhere that there was a law or going to be a law in the works that states e-books could only be X dollars, but have nothing to back it up with. Someone just mentioned it to me. Hope it does happen as it kills me to see an e-book $1 cheaper than a paper back for exactly the reasons you cited.

    As you, if the book is to be a resource book or a good classic, I go with the printed version.

    With my Kindle Fire I store a lot on the cloud and just download as I want to read it, which is wonderful! Saves on tons of memory space and battery issues and love to be able to get a book in seconds :)

    Do love not having piles of books to have to deal with, be it storage or porting them around and it sure makes it easy to take multiple books along on a trip etc. Only real issue I have: too many books too little time LOL!

  3. Oh, Susan! I also worry about what we'll do after the apocalypse when there is no electricity, LOL! I had a small taste of this two years ago when we lost power for three days - what an eye-opener about our dependency on electricity in our lives!

    I don't have an e-reader yet. I have mostly stopped buying books, though. I use the library for now. If I had a spare few hundred dollars, I'd probably buy the e-reader, but then I'd have to start buying books again... Your tales of typo errors worries me - I think reading would become a stressful chore if I had to deal with errors on every second page! For now, I think I'll stick to my print books borrowed from the library and friends, where so far they have kept up with my book-a-week habit.

  4. I am a hold-out too! I use the library often (where I am a volunteer) and hoard my print books both hard and soft-cover! My DGD got a Kindle for Christmas, (not from me)and she is only nine! Phooey! I like that she reads, though.

  5. Your thought processes are always intriguing and I can almost always count on a chuckle (the zombie comment was funny!) I still like holding a book and being able to flip quickly back and forth if need be. I have only had my tablet for a few months and not had any traveling yet, so my opinion might change some when I realize the convenience and space savings of the electronic device.

  6. I tried, without success, to enter a comment earlier today. I wanted to mention the ease with which I was able to make the transition to reading on an electronic device. I attribute that, to a great degree, to Apple's user-friendly interface. Even though I enjoy reading on my iPad, I don't think I'd be as enthusiastic if I attempted it on my phone. I'm really happy that my husband encouraged the purchase of the iPad, as I seem to be securely attached to it at this point. I don't worry about the zombies, but I'm certainly grateful for the massive generator we installed last year. We didn't connect the washing machine and dryer to that behemoth. I figure that I can always scrub the clothes in the sink during a sustained power outage, but I "need" Google reader and my e-bookshelf!

    I also wanted to mention that I enjoyed the typo in your terrific observation regarding typos in e-books. I'm thinking that you planted it there on purpose to see which of your readers spotted it first. Since no other reader who left a comment has mentioned it, I assume that I'm the winner of the Mont Blanc pen (with red-ink cartridge) that you're (presumably) offering as a prize. I'll contact you later with my address!

    In the meantime, I'm offering a gift of sorts. You've probably come across it before, but I find enjoyment each time I read it:

  7. Darn it, I couldn't get the link to work. I may try another time. It's a fun piece by William Safire that you may very well have come across a time or two anyway.


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!