Fantastic Flying Books

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore from Moonbot Studios on Vimeo. (found via Strand Books).

I think the whole traditional books versus e-books is rather moot. E-books are happening whether Jonathan Franzen likes it or not, although flying Kindles and iPads wouldn’t be as magical.

iPad vs. Books

A couple of months ago, I bought an iPad2. I’d looked at the first iPad when it came out and wasn’t that impressed, mainly due to the challenges of using the onscreen keypad.  Of course, you can add an external keyboard, but what’s the point? Why not just buy a laptop? Instead, I bought a MacBook Air.I love it and it is fantastic for travel or even just popping around to a coffee shop to do some writing. But reading anything lengthy isn’t the comfortable. Let’s face it, it is hard to snuggle up under a blanket and read a book on a laptop.

I was mainly motivated to buy the iPad because I was taking an online course and needed to purchase several books. The eBook versions were all half the cost of the hardcover/paperback versions. Plus, two of the books weren’t available in local stores and would take at least a week to be shipped to me and I didn’t want to wait that long. I chose the iPad over an e-reader because I didn’t want to be limited by the format or store. I needed to order Canadian books available for Kobo and books only available on the Kindle. An iPad gave me complete freedom to buy books from whomever I wanted. Of course, this freedom comes at significant cost. I bought the iPad model without 3G access, since WIFI is available just about everywhere these days (even McDonalds!), so I saved a couple hundred bucks there.

I installed the Kobo app and was immediately disappointed to discover that I couldn’t purchase books within the app (unlike the laptop/desktop version), but was forced to purchase them in Safari. Apple forced this restriction on Kobo, as well as Kindle. This was annoying, but workable.

There are some things I liked about reading a book on my iPad – being able to change the font, font-size, highlight text and being able to get a book in seconds. I also enjoy reading classics and was thrilled to find a huge number of literary classics available free of charge.

But within two days of installing Kobo, I discovered some of the drawbacks. While I was on the subway – and far away from a WIFI signal – the app suddenly shut down and logged me out of my account. This meant that the book I was reading had disappeared. I was able to download it again from my account at no extra charge the next time I was in WIFI range, but it meant that I suddenly didn’t have my book to read during a long subway ride. This happened twice and each time, my notes and highlights also disappeared. This was very annoying and just doesn’t happen to paper books. The Kobo app also has a notification system that sends pop up messages at weird times related to the time of day or how far I’d gotten in my book. It took me a little clicking to figure out how to shut this off.

The latest version of Kobo also allows for more integration with Facebook, Twitter and the Kobo online community. While reading, I can see what others are saying about the same book. Some people might find this exciting, but I don’t. For me, reading has always been a solitary pursuit. I dive into a book to leave the world I’m living in to discover a new world. I don’t want to be interrupted.

This also related to the biggest drawback of the iPad – it can do everything. I find it easy to be distracted by checking my email, Twitter or Facebook accounts. Reading on an iPad just isn’t relaxing in the same way as reading a traditional book. Plus, I’d freak out if I dropped it into the bathtub!

I’m finding I’m using my iPad more for checking my Twitter stream and reading/bookmarking blog posts and articles. The Dropbox app has made is easy to read my files, especially works in progress, and the Instapaper app makes web articles I book mark accessible even when I’m offline. I hate the clutter caused by stacks of magazines, so I think the Newstand add will be useful too.

But, I have to say I still enjoy reading an old-fashioned book more than I enjoy reading on a screen. I love the solidity of a book and being able to see how far along I am in a book. Reaching the last couple of pages of a book just doesn’t have the same thrill on a device like it does in a paper book. Plus, I love being able to open a book at a random spot and flip through the pages until an image or passage catches my attention. This isn’t as easy to do in an e-book. Plus, there is compelling evident that being able to pay close attention to a book and read deeply improves your brain.

I’m not a complete luddite and I am aware that in the not-to-distant future, most books and other media will only be available electronically. Eventually, I’ll get used to reading on electronic devices, but paper books will continue to be a very important part of my life.

The Future of Reading?

A couple of weeks ago when I was flying back from San Francisco, I saw a man reading from a Kindle. You know, that fancy new reading device sold exclusively by Amazon (in the US). I was rather intrigued about the possibilities of this device. What avid reader wouldn’t be excited about being able to download any book desired at any time of the day or night? Think about it – no more waiting for the bookstore or library to open, or your package to arrive from some online retailer. Click a few keys and presto! One, or many, books.

Well, not quite. Since the Kindle isn’t available in Canada, I can’t check it out for myself so instead I read Nicolas Barker’s article in The New Yorker. Turns out there are lots of books available for the Kindle, but many notable titles, including those by well-known contemporary authors like Lorrie Moore, Tim O’Brien and Vladimir Nabakov are not available. Then there is the limitation that the Kindle will only handle files downloaded from the Amazon website (newer generations of the Kindle will handle PDF files). This means that you can’t read e-books designed by other companies or for other devices, such as one by Sony. You also can’t transfer Kindle e-books to another Kindle or read them on your computer. The Kindle is the end of giving away or trading books.

On top of all this, the Kindle has a grey screen and displays text in a slightly darker shade of grey – doesn’t sound particularly good for the peepers. It also has trouble displaying pictures or graphics with any real clarity. The old-fashioned paper book still trumps in this regard.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for technology. I can’t imagine doing my job without e-mail and the Internet, and I love my iPhone, but I still love my paper books. The book just works – it doesn’t crash, the batteries don’t die, it doesn’t have “synch” problems or gives you error messages. You can highlight passages, fold over the corner and leave it open over the arm of a chair when you need a drink. You can keep treasured volumes on your shelf for years and not have to worry that the device on which to read them will become obsolete (unlike the 3.5″ floppy disks I found at the back of the closet the other day). I get pleasure out of holding a book that was designed with care, including a cover design carefully chosen to reflect the content. I especially like books printed by the Porcupine’s Quill because the paper is gorgeous and the fonts are beautiful.

So, until technology can surpass the design of the book – not just try to match it – I’ll continue to lick my index finger and turn pages instead of scrolling.