Sunday, June 12, 2011

E-readers, Part 1: Please don't roll over in your grave, Victor Hugo.

I’m traditional, old-fashioned even. I like words printed on paper bound together in a tangible book that I can hold between my hands, but when you’re reading Les Miserables (at 1,042 pages!), you suddenly think, “There has to be a better way – a more modern way.”

For the first time since e-book readers first appeared in 2004, their commercials turned my head and caused me to stop reading my print book to watch with genuine interest. Losing the ability to dogear my pages was not a deterrent; my father had trained me well to respect the bookmark and to revile dogearring. Gaining the ability to have thousands of books stashed in my purse with a total weigh-in of about ½ pound was intriguing and suddenly desirable.

I am a reader without long, uninterrupted time to read. I’m a spurt reader. I read 5 minutes here; 15, there. To read this way is a challenge. You only make progress if you have a book with you at all times - if you read at Chick-fil-a while the children play, if you read while waiting in the bank drive-through line, if you read when you have to wait anywhere, for any length of time. Sadly, I am also the forgetful mom, the one who forgets to bring her book to all the aforementioned places. So, in the name of reading, I began to consider reshaping my idea of a bibliophile to fit the 21st century. Enter, e-readers.

Question One: Do I need one? Would I really use it if I had one?
When I think of needs, I hear my mother’s voice saying, “All you need are food and water, shelter and clothes.” While this doesn’t fall into those categories, reading definitely satisfies my need for entertainment and knowledge. I need to read, but do I need an e-reader? As I mentioned before, an e-reader would certainly make it more convenient for me to read, therefore, meaning that I will read more, and this wouldn’t benefit me alone. When my son thinks of his mother, among other things I want him to remember me as a reader. Hopefully, through my example, he will become one, too.

The next question I had to settle was “Would I really use it?” I am a great supporter of our local library, and buy very few books. I check out most of my books from the library, and the majority of the books I purchase come from their annual library book sale. When I do purchase books from a bookstore, they are usually on sale and deeply-discounted. I could not justify buying an e-reader, if it would cost me more money than I am currently spending on books. I knew that I simply would not use it if it did.

After some research, I learned that most e-readers are compatible with the Overdrive system which allows you to check out e-books from your local library. The Overdrive system works similarly to checking out traditional books. The library purchases a certain number of e-books and only that number may be checked out at any given time; therefore, their waiting list operates in the same manner for both print books and e-books. Also, like print books, you are only allowed to check out e-books for a certain period of time. At the end of that period, they are removed from your e-reader. In addition to the library, I discovered that there are many free e-books available. Some of these are the classics which have become public domain, and some of them are more current books which are offered free of charge, often for only a short period of time. Then there are the books which are not available through the library or free-of-charge; these I would need to purchase, and the majority of e-books are cheaper than their new print counterparts. Of course, with e-books you do not have the luxury of buying used books or passing the book down a long line of friends. However, some e-books may be loaned once for a short period of time from one e-reader to another.

Also, downloading an e-reader app on my cell phone and using it as my e-reader was not an option. I don’t own (nor am I interested in owning) a smart phone. For those of you who do, however, this is a great option – if you don’t mind reading on a smaller screen - because it doesn’t require you to purchase a separate device.

Part Two in my e-reader series (addressing the question "What do I need and want in an e-reader? Conversely, what don’t I need and want?") coming soon.

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