Still Undecided About E-Books?


A couple of days ago the author Jake Arnott and I hung out for the day, to talk about books in more depth; most of us bump into each other at events in the UK and don’t get a chance to properly chew the fat. He surprised me by mentioning that he doesn’t read e-books. I think his last novel, a rollicking take on the London lowlife depicted in John Gay’s ‘The Beggar’s Opera’, which comes complete with a language glossary, would benefit from being on an electronic device.

I’d tried a couple of non-Kindle brands, both of which were ugly and terrible to use. I switched to Kindle which, although it would never win any design awards, had good functionality. I’ve stayed with Kindle over the years (I’m now on the Oasis). They’ve come a long way – they now feel like specialist devices for serious readers – and have massively improved:

Price – you save a fortune, especially when you read an awful lot, and even bestsellers are wildly discounted for short periods of time. Keep an eye on what’s being offered and you’ll find yourself with some real bargains (this week for a brief time ‘London’s Glory’ is on sale in the US for $1.99! Wow!).

Choice – a huge number of rare books have turned up as exclusive e-reads, priced according to demand. Many of these have been digitised by volunteers. As I’d rather read ‘Greek Postage Stamps and their Cancellation Numbers’ than ‘The Girl on the Train’, I end up paying very little for books which I wouldn’t be able to afford as rare hardbacks.

Reading range – because the books are priced according to demand, I end up buy a far wider range of books than I would have done through a shop. What I demand isn’t, it seems, what Joe Public demands.

Combination reading – I mix purchased print books with Kindle copies for a fuller reading experience. I usually buy print books with illustrations, maps and photos but e-purchase certain novels. I’ll sometimes buy both, the cheaper e-book to read while travelling, the print book as a keeper.

Cloud storage – I’m terrible at losing devices, but the books remain ready to download again, along with all my notes.

I’m an inveterate note-taker and annotator, so I either use little notebooks (I collect ones from around the world) or mark up the Kindle copies, and those notes transfer themselves automatically to my laptop.

Look-up features – I love being able to reading a demanding work and highlighting any words I don’t understand. Kindle’s vocabulary is far ahead of, say, Apple, so you get accurate explanations for even the most obscure terms.

Simultaneous reading – I usually read 2 or 3 books at once on the Kindle because you can flip so easily between them.

Battery life – the new models last well over a week between charges. The Oasis is waterproof and ergonomically weighted to fit your hand. The ambient light is lower than that of a laptop, and less harmful to the eyes. Type is changeable in style, point-size and spacing to make a more pleasurable experience.

Of course, a Kindle will never replace a print book, but as a brilliant ancillary to them it is now indispensable.

14 comments on “Still Undecided About E-Books?”

  1. Orna Kustow says:

    And…..and… and – I would have never discovered Bryant and May and writers of your generation – Philip Pullman and Roger Zelazny were my last paper book obsessions. And then God (blasphemy, I know) created the Kindle and I rule the world with hundreds of books at my beck and call. Incidentally, I’m still stuck with Voyage. Is Oasis worth the change?

  2. DC says:

    There is another advantage ebooks have over printed copy. Ubiquity of access. If you get stuck unexpectedly, then the Kindle app on your phone can access the very same ebook as on your ereader. So when “Pick me up at 6” becomes 6:45 you can dip into Girl on a Train, whilst waiting 4:50 from Paddington to finally arrive. No planning required, since I always have my phone…

  3. Martin Tolley says:

    And Kindle can open worlds to folk who’d otherwise be locked inside their own heads. I have a partially sighted friend with very poor vision who can have text at a readable size and contrast which suits him. I also know a dyslexic child who has learned to decipher text and read more fluently by using the text to speech option, and it has transformed her life. She can now share the magic of Harry Potter with her friends and her confidence and joy are just wonderful to see.

  4. Eva Balogh says:

    A friend of mine bought me a Kindle recently because I retired from my Uni lecturing job and said I would now have time to read ‘fiction’. I am currently binge reading Bryant and May books (as from last night, now on book 11) in digital format. I especially like being able to instantly look up the meaning of words like heliotrope, quisling, tontine and ecdysiast…

  5. Brooke says:

    Thanks to your amazon deal, I now have London’s Glory hard copy and digital. Will BOFA arrive in US bookstores anytime soon?

  6. diana says:

    I agree so wholeheartedly with all you said but doubly so re choice and reading range!

  7. Ian Luck says:

    Still not convinced. Part of the pleasure of being a bibliophile is searching out obscure books – finding them in a pile in a tiny shop in Wales, for instance, or in one case, in a Dentist’s waiting room whilst I sat waiting for a friend who was undergoing some emergency repair work. Just being able to pluck obscurities from the ether just isn’t cricket. Also, you can’t pass e-books on when you’re done with them. Every six months or so at work, I fill a large box or bag to the brim with books, which goes to the Seamen’s Mission on the docks. You can’t do that with a burst of data, can you?

  8. Trace Turner says:

    I have an e-reader that I get very little use out of – I spend so much of my work day at a computer that I want to feel the paper of the page and the smell of the binding. Besides, I don’t need the reproach of all the as yet unread books that I have accumulated. I bought all those volumes of Dornford Yates and I’m going to read them. Eventually….

  9. I think there’s a place for physical and ebooks. I love perusing bookstores for new finds, and when I’m at home I like a physical book, but I love to take my kindle paperwhite on holiday. I tend to read at least 6 books when on holiday and you can’t beat a kindle for saving space.

  10. Peter Tromans says:

    With so much respected opinion going in one direction, I’m going to have to dip a toe in the e-water.

  11. SteveB says:

    I find in general that for non fiction where I need to jump backwards and forwards and hold my fingers in three places at once, I need a real book.

    For fiction and non fiction like biography or current affairs, which I read linearly, I read exclusively ebooks. Normal books are just clutter.

    I use Kobo Aura One though not Kindle. I keep all my books in my own cloud.

  12. Ben Morris says:

    I use a Kobo Aura, I consider a bit of competition for Amazon’s Kindle is healthy and I can read various formats on my Kobo that aren’t available on the Kindle.

    I started using e-books whilst on holiday and I unexpectedly read faster than I anticipated I would. A quick download of a kindle app was all that was needed to open the door to a very large book shop. I too especially like the promotions, although this does backfire sometimes. I bought a 99p copy of Lissa Evans ‘Crooked Heart’ but found myself buying the paperback copy for my mother to read, so it cost me more in the long term.

    There’s certainly some people out there who are uncomfortable using an e-reader or just don’t want to. A previous discussion mentioned that you may just publish some books in e-book form, this may alienate some of your readers, I expect there is a catch 22 situation with committing to a printed version.

    I will remain using both printed form and electronic. I like the browsing around a bookshop in an old chapel for a copy of something obscure and paper books are always a favourite gift at Christmas or birthdays. The e-reader is very good for travelling, but it does have the downside that you can’t ‘reserve’ a seat in a cafe or train by the casual placement of the book as it will probably be gone when you get back!

  13. Helen Martin says:

    I agree with Steve B about reading footnoted books. You really need the fingers to refer to the notes, the bibliography, and the text itself. I still don’t have an e-reader but I do understand the convenience. I haven’t become adjusted to the need to keep devices charged up. I haven’t got a simple cell phone yet because I really do forget to charge things every night. I couldn’t possibly charge things during the day.

  14. Ollie says:

    I’m totally blind, and I’ve been thgough all the ordeal of huge braille books. In Italy we don’t use contracted braille, so books were (and are) even bigger and heavier than English books. In the ’70’s I got a fantastic reading device called Optacon. It allows blind people toread printed books, magazines, and any other printed materials. It has a small camera and a cable (the Retina module), which transfers the imagethe camera picks up to the body of the machine. There’s an array with little piezoelectric rods that move up and down to form characters, a bit like modern pixels, but tactile. It was heaven on earth, because I could access anything I wanted, in any language I know (I know eight). Unfortunately the thing was superexpensive, and was discontinued at the end of the ’90’s. Mine still works, but it’s hard to have it repaired if something happens, for lack of spareparts. E-books changed my life. I read from a computer or a smartphone, with a braille display, because I don’t like audio. But e-books are so inclusive! I also love paper though, and I have a house full of them. Thanks for bringing up this subject.

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