Tag Archives: eBooks

Update: The “Real” Book Experiment

Well it’s been a few weeks and I thought I’d give you a quick update on how it’s been going reading a physical book.

In short, not terribly well.

I’ve had two trips these past couple of weekends, both of which provided ample time for reading. And I did read. I finished Just a Geek on my Nook, and I made some decent progress on The Falcon at the Portal and read a couple of novel samples on the Kindle.

(Speaking of which, somebody’s going to have to convince me The Bone Season is worth slogging through. I couldn’t get past the first ten pages).

A Morbid Taste for Bones was in my bag on both trips, though the first I considered leaving it behind. But, not once did it leave my bag.

Now it has occurred to me that it’s possible that even though I thought the Cadfael was good it might not be what I’m in the mood for right now. It also is possible that I was determined to finish a book on the Nook in particular to justify its purchase (testing the fractal book was a good initial excuse, but eReaders aren’t cheap).

As it happens, I returned a day early from my trip to a friend’s lake house, which gave me ample time to check out the Labor Day 20% off sale at Half Price Books. This is the sale where I trudge the clearance section to get a little more shaved off, or look deeply in the sections I usually skim.

Along the way I found a copy of Terry Pratchett’s first Discworld series book, The Color Of Magic. This is a book I’ve intended to read for a while, and at only a little over $5 for the Kindle, it’s frankly a little surprising I hadn’t bought it already. At Half Price the book was $3.75 and I was genuinely considering not buying it (saving a dollar is nice, but it still seems to be true the book stands a better chance of being read on the Kindle). But with 20% that $3.75 became $3.00.

What a difference $0.75 makes eh?

I’ve dived right into this one, getting about 30 pages in my first day (10% to the eReader crowd). We’ll see if it keeps up, but for the moment I now have two books in my bag.

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The “Real” Book Experiment

It’s been more than a year since I’ve read (or bought) a physical book for pleasure.

I’m surrounded by them in my office, but the books I actually read are on gray tablets with touch screens and internet access.

This last weekend I decided to break the fast.

I thought I’d start small, with a good old-fashioned mystery, in this case Ellis Peters’ A Morbid Taste For Bones. My choice in part was based on watching some of the Cadfael Masterpiece Mystery specials on Netflix and observing that none of her books were available for the Kindle or Nook.

Ironically after I got home and rechecked Amazon on a whim they had put out the first five or so of the Cadfael series for $4.99 apiece in the couple of weeks since I’d last checked. The last book in this series was published nearly 20 years ago, so I wasn’t really expecting Kindle to change its ways any time soon but there you are.

Prior to this experiment I might have just dropped the $4.99 to read the book on the Kindle, but I was able to buy the first two books for less than $4.00 as thin paperbacks, adding them to the five or six later volumes I’d received from my dad. Mysteries are one of the genres doing best as eBooks, as is other genre fiction like sci-fi and romance, so I thought I’d see which experience was “better” (more cozy, comfortable, satisfying).

From time to time in the next few weeks I thought I’d reflect on the difference between the Ellis Peters mystery I am reading in paperback, and the Elizabeth Peters book I’m reading on the Kindle. I’m really loving the “convenience” of reading on an eReader. But a paperback just a little bit thinner should not be all that more inconvenient, right?

One thing I can tell off the bat is that reading a real book requires two hands. Maybe not for holding the book up and reading what’s on two pages, but page flips with a single hand are nigh-on impossible, whereas with a Nook its ridiculously easy. But I’m not flipping those pages nearly as often, with smaller type and two pages facing me instead of a single screen. And the book is quicker to “boot”.

This used to be the only way I read, and already it’s feeling a little foreign to me. That if nothing else says something about the pace of technology.

The real test will be in my favorite reading spot, or in bed.

Have you ever taken a step back in technology just to remember what it was like? Watched a VHS instead of a DVD? Played a record instead of a CD or MP3? Read a physical newspaper? Leave your comments, and future “real book” suggestions below.



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All the (book) news that’s fit to print

Or whatever you call the rearranging of electrons on hard drives.

About a week ago I was at the thrift store, when I saw something a little chilling. Out front, next to a pile of forlorn $5 TVs was a bin of ten cent books. By bin I mean recycling bin, long and gray and dirty, with the books piled high with no thought or arrangement. Maybe to somebody this was a treasure hunt, provided you didn’t mind standing out in hot muggy weather. For me, it was something to glance at briefly, then retreat to the safety of the air conditioning within.

I appreciate moments like this one, little reminders to take a step back and reassess my feelings about books. The last physical book I bought was less than a few weeks ago and it was, predictably, a fractal book (Even now that the book is done I seem to be gathering materials for volume 2). But the last fiction book I purchased was probably six months ago. The last one I can remember anyway was one of the Scalzi books, and truth be known they are cheap enough as eBooks that I’ll probably go that route anyway.

Five years ago, or maybe even less, a bin full of 10 cent books would have been a treasure, something I would have dug through every inch (and with the dirt there may have been some actual digging). I’d come out with my stack of 10 books and happily hand over my dollar, knowing that if even one of the books was any good it’d be worth it.

It’s certainly not about the money. If anything I’m spending more on books than I ever was. And as much as I work with machines I don’t really trust them to be my permanent archive. But well, shocking as it may seem, most books I read I will only read once, and will probably never look at again.

This has always been true for me, if I really think about it. I can probably count all the books I’ve re-read on my fingers and toes, whereas the books I’ve read for the first time might not be accurately counted by the hairs on my body. Reading a book is a time consuming, and somewhat exhausting experience, and I want to read as many as I can while I’m still on this earth. I’m not saying I don’t have favorites, but few seem worth coming back to, even if I as a person have changed since my last reading. Maybe that says more about my reading, but it is what it is.

But nonetheless I used to love being surrounded by books, of feeling the weight of them (I’m not a book sniffer but I do love the look and feel). Now it’s all just “media” a delivery mechanism without importance one way or another. I feel like I’ve lost something, even as I’m reading more than I ever did before.

Maybe I need to take some time and read a real (and by real I mean physical) book again, one for pleasure and not research. And maybe in six months I’ll come to the same conclusion again. Gotta love cyclical thinking.

What’s the last physical book you ever purchased? How about read?


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10 Formatting Tips for the Nook (EPUB)

Well, in the span of a week or so I now have two Nooks, a Nook Simple Touch (the current generation cheapest Nook), and a first generation Nook, generously donated by a friend at church. Even though I’ve spent a considerable amount of time formatting the MOBI (Kindle) version of the fractal book, the Nook presented some unique challenges which required different solutions. Below are my initial findings:

1. Use a different file: The Nook version is a little different than the Kindle version of an eBook, particularly one like mine with graphics, figures and equations. For a text eBook you may be able to get away with a single Word file, but in my case you need two, one for your MOBI draft, and one for your EPUB.

2. Size is everything: The Nook, especially the Nook android app, is not always the best at resizing graphics. On the Kindle, if an image is 8″ wide, beyond the physical extents of the device, it is auto-shrunk and centered. This is not the case with the Nook. Above 5″ or so you run the risk of the edges of your picture being cut off (more than 6″ on the eReader Nook).

3. Simplify Math: Probably the worst place where the Nook cuts off graphics is equations. The equation editor in Word produces a graphic file for each equation (usually PNG). Since the equation is not treated as a graphic in Word, however, it is not easy to adjust its width and the edge of the equation can be cut off if it’s too long. Reducing the font or changing from display to inline can both help, but the solution I’ve found best is to shorten words. Instead of maximum use max, instead of number use num, iteration is iter, etc. Creating a multi-line equation may help in some circumstances as well. The eReader version of the Nook is better (but not perfect) at handling this problem.

4. Eliminate Transparency: And while we’re on the subject, equations will be unreadable in the first place because of the transparency in PNG. The Kindle format (MOBI) handles transparency without difficulty (at least the newer generation Touch, Fire and app do). On the Nook it’s a different story. The first time I converted directly to EPUB from the “web page filtered” file all of my equations were black rectangles. The simplest solution I found was to first convert the book to MOBI, then convert this MOBI file to EPUB. The conversion process to MOBI must eliminate transparency so the EPUB doesn’t encounter it. (This is using Calibre).

5. Header in the right direction: The older generation Nooks (and possibly Kindles) do not have the same range of fonts as newer eReaders. In particular headers or section titles that were bold and a little larger do not render correctly. This can affect the flow of pages. No specific fix, just something to be aware of.

6. Spell out fractions: The EPUB format does not seem to recognize fraction characters like ½. Invalid characters are replaced with a rectangle. My suggestion is to spell fractions out, for example one-half or (1/2).

7. PDF behavior: PDFs can often be a great solution for solving some of the inconsistencies of an eBook format, but a PDF does not look the same on every eReader. The Kindle auto-centers each page, vertically and horizontally. This can be annoying if a page has only a single paragraph though you can eliminate vertical centering by adding page numbers at the bottom of each page. On the Nook PDFs are left oriented, meaning there is often a lot of white space on the right hand side. A possible solution is a PDF sized specifically for the Nook, using pages that match its dimensions.

8. A Page is not a page: My book is 430 or so pages on the Nook, 500ish in Word, and 300ish on the Kindle. Don’t sweat the page numbers too much, they’ll never match.

9. Use Helevetica Nueue as your font: Pretty self explanatory. This gives the most consistent look across all generations of the Nook and Kindle. Some apps may not support this, but they’ll support something similar. Your Word Doc doesn’t need to be in this font, so long as your reader is set to it. Many computers may not actually have this font installed (and its not free).

10. Webpage links may not work: The Nook Simple touch does not have a web browser so none of my URLs work in the eBook for getting to reference websites and software. Make sure to spell out URLs so your readers can type them, or possibly make them available on your blog or website.

That’s all for now, may have more later.


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