On eReaders

nook

I had put off buying an eReader for a long time, not because I am a neo-luddite or too sentimentally attached to books made of paper to ever consider that the world of stories could ever be transmitted in any other format, but simply because I was confused. Why do some ebook formats work on some ereaders and not others? Why do you have to pay VAT on ebooks when you don’t on “normal” books? What exactly is “e-ink” and why do the screens of e-readers look so strangely matte?

A long time ago I was a technophobe. I was proud of my old Nokia phone with no camera facility and I loved my record player and I absolutely felt cynical about the spread of the internet and social networking. “Your house looks like my Grandma’s house” was considered a compliment rather than a sign I was behind the times. I wore a lot of floral patterns. I may have resembled a pair of curtains. Eventually, however, I bought a smartphone because it was what they did the hard-sell on in the shop and I, seemingly, am a sucker. After that, I had to concede that my relationship with technology was more complex than I’d initially thought and that, in fact, I did love it. I continued to hate it too. But I loved it. I even learned some html and got a job with “e-learning” in the title.

And so, as soon as ereaders became ubiquitous, I wanted one. I just didn’t know which one. Last year I did a course on ereaders in libraries and felt that the whole world of ereaders, especially in relation to the world of libraries, was such a mess due to daft licensing issues and business models favouring individual consumers as opposed to models that favour lending and borrowing. Kindles, and the way Amazon sold them, seemed particularly at odds with the library model. Ebooks are always connected to their ereader and their owner’s account – they cannot, as with a paper book, go on an adventure into another reader’s hands. This seems to mean that the business can control who reads these books and will use this in a way that means ultimate profit for their company, ergo making each individual reader pay for what they are reading and tying them into that particular company, as is currently the case with Kindles and Amazon. What, I thought, was the point of an ereader if I could never borrow books from my local library on it due to the fact that borrowing books from a library might make poor business sense to Amazon? With this, out went the idea of buying a Kindle. I briefly thought about buying a Kobo due to the fact that they support the more universal ebook format ePub, but still I held back. The entire world of ereaders seemed, and still seems, to be in its infancy, to the point that I didn’t quite want to buy into it until it had taken off its stabilisers.

It was only when I saw that Barnes and Nobles’ ereader model, the Nook, was reduced to £29 that I decided to join the world of ereaders. Nooks support ePub ebooks, meaning that I can take books out from my local library. I am also not tied into the Nook shop; I can download books from anywhere, as long as they are in the ePub format. At the moment, this includes Waterstones and WH Smith.  

Reading an ereader is a different type of reading experience, but it’s one I’ve quickly gotten used to. The first book I read on mine was “The Kite Runner” and I got the sense that I was not truly experiencing the book because I could not see it. Of course, this is nonsense, because what is a book if not a story? And what is a story if not words? The experience of reading on an ereader is, of course, different, and I do still feel like something is lost, but that is probably due to a lifetime of loving books and all the different feelings that are attached to their physical form, rather than anything intrinsic to the stories contained within. I have just finished my second ereading experience and I feel like, this time around, I barely even noticed that I was reading on anything. That’s the thing, isn’t it? When you’re reading something absorbing, you forget everything. That’s why I read; to escape this world for a little while and immerse myself in a different life or a different universe.

That said, I cannot imagine my entire reading life contained within something the size and weight of a Horrid Henry book. I hope that my bookshelves are always full and I always have the dog-eared book that my mother read as a child. If I have children, I hope they can read books with pop-up bits or noisy bits and learn in a tangible way. But if I’m off on a train journey for five hours or on holiday for two weeks by the beach, I’ll give my arms a rest from their years of book-related toil (ever noticed that bookworms have the arms of drummers? No, me neither) or give my baggage allowance space for other things (e.g. holiday wine) and bring my ereader.

One thing though: I found it very frustrating, midway through my last book, that I was unable to read it in the bath. And before anyone says that I should have wrapped it in a polyethylene bag and brought it in with me anyway: I am dangerous with technology and my nickname at work is “clutz”. If anyone figures this problem out, please do let me know.

Also: the VAT thing still bothers me.

Also: I feel kind-of sad when I go into a second-hand bookshop. Because there will never be a second-hand bookshop for ebooks. Will there?

In conclusion: mixed feelings, but it had to happen.

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