E-Readers: Do Androids Dream of Electric Books?

20:12, Sep 19 2012

A few weeks ago, I was all geared up to post about David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest before finding to my horror that Nelson Mail tech blogger Adam Roberts had beaten me to the jump.

How did this geeky cross-pollination happen? E-books.

At first I wondered whether Adam turned to e-book format out of desperation. I’ve been a bit suspicious of e-books up until recently but I can see their value if, for example, some inconsiderate person (me) kept hold of the region’s only library copy of a really good book for nearly a month and a half.

There might have been other reasons as well- Takaka Library’s copy of Infinite Jest probably represents about 10% of my total body weight. On top of its sheer size, the whole thing is riddled with footnotes, which mean you need to maintain a two-bookmark system at all times. As Adam pointed out, it’s a stunningly inconvenient book to cart around and not the only one of its kind.

E-books also have the advantage of being very easy to beg, borrow and steal. I casually acquired a library of nearly 1400 volumes from a workmate at the pub the other month, and it’s amazing - there are books I’ve been trying to acquire in the real world for years there, wedged in amongst all the latest young adult sensations and most of Lee Child’s lifetime output.

I started out cynical, but after finding things I needed to read right now like Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita and Bret Easton Ellis’ Imperial Bedrooms, I decided it’d be fun to convert my iPhone to access all these treasures.

If you’re not quite ready to take the plunge and get a dedicated e-reader gadget, configuring your smartphone to hold book files is a nice halfway mark. It lets you play with the setup and have a quick read without actually costing you money or adding another item to your bag.

Plus, if your phone has a little leather cover like mine, you can pretend you’re reading an actual tiny book.

There are some decent guides for how to do this through a free program called Calibre - I used the “over the air” method which you can find about halfway down the page. There’s also a guide for Android gadgets immediately below the iPhone section.

Calibre was created to sort e-book files and it’s a good, simple program. It can convert the format for you, help you search, let you read the files on your computer and create a miniature server on your home broadband so you can easily download books from your library onto your phone.

I used a free app called Stanza to read the books and have had no trouble with it so far.

You’ll need to have your wireless internet password handy, and Google will tell you your IP address if you ask it nicely. It’s also worth noting that clicking the two >> arrows at the top right corner will bring up the hidden “Preferences” tab in Calibre, which you will need to access.

At this point, I’m still on the fence about getting a whole separate e-reader purely because of portability and breakage issues, but I have to admit, the tiny electric book has been great for lunch breaks and unscheduled delays.

What do you think about e-books? Do you have one and love it, are you a staunch opponent, or did you drop yours in the bath?