Books and e-books

All my life I have loved books. I was surrounded by them as a child and cannot remember a time when reading was not part of my life. As a child, my ambition was to write a book. When I was 16 I started on a science fiction novel. I wrote about 30,000 words of drivel. I think I still have the MS in my attic. I finally achieved my ambition when I was about 30.

I own lots of books. They take up an inordinate amount of space and just a few in a box make it too heavy to lift. As I am planning to move house, this is an issue that is on my mind just now. In recent years, I have got better at letting them go. Now, once I have finished reading a book, if I am quite sure that I will not refer to it again, I get rid of it – either sell it or donate it to a charity shop. But maybe a better solution is coming along … The demise of conventional paper books has been predicted for many years, as they are replaced by electronic books of some kind. Is that going to happen sometime soon?

Of course, we routinely refer to documents on the screen of desktop computes or laptops, but that is hardly the same thing as reading a whole book. I first tried this about 7 years ago. I was a regular user of Palm devices and got one with a larger screen and wondered what else I could do with it. I read a short novel (Nicholas Sparks, if I recall) using this device. It was easy enough, but did not become a regular habit. Why not? The simple answer is availability. This has two facets. First, the number of e-books available was very limited. Second, the device did not have the power capacity to be used for hours at a stretch.

Things are changing. I have been interested in e-book readers for a while – like the Sony Reader and Amazon Kindle. But I never felt that they got cheap enough for a single function device. They both made significant advances on the availability front, with quite large libraries of material and excellent battery lives. But then along came iPad.

It is not just an e-reader – iPad is many other things as well. So it’s higher price is more readily justified. Battery life is not as good as dedicated devices, but not at all bad either. Availability of material is good too. Apart from Apple’s iBooks offering (which I have yet to be able to sample), the Kindle app gives easy access to Amazon’s products. I am sure that others are available and more will come.

I am currently giving it a try. I have obtained some Kindle books and seeing how comfortable I am with reading on the iPad screen. I have reservations about staring at an illuminated screen just before going to sleep. Only time will tell whether this is a problem. I love the way that I can litter books with notes and bookmarks and automatically keep my place in several books at once.

I have always been a big fan of Douglas Adams, who was so creative and far sighted. Some years ago, he was the keynote speaker at a conference that I was attending. I was too busy to go to his talk, figuring that I would get to see the Great Man on another occasion. I was wrong, as he tragically died a few months later. One of his most original creations was the concept of the interactive e-book, which he called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It is so sad that he did not live to see this concept embodied in iPad.

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0 thoughts about “Books and e-books
  • I read an article a couple of months ago about how looking (staring) at illuminated devices (iPads, TVs, monitors,…) reduces the production of melatonin in the brain. This will cause a person to stay up later, get less sleep, and a lower quality sleep.

    The Kindle e-reader does not use an illuminated screen. (For me, this is the main thing Kindle has over its competitors.)

    But, unless you are the sole reader in you household and close circle of friends, then the inability to “loan and borrow” e-books between family and friends is still a deal breaker on the e-readers for me.

    Since my wife got a Kindle I read about half has much because we no longer share books. I still do share with a number of my e-readerless friends.

  • Steven:
    I don’t seem to be suffering after looking at an illuminated screen, but it is early days.
    Good point about sharing. At least with Kindle you can share a purchase across several devices, which can include iPads and PCs.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at https://blogs.sw.siemens.com/embedded-software/2010/05/13/books-and-e-books/