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E-Libris: My First e-Reader Was Not an e-Reader

Ok, let’s start this one with a universal truth: nobody (at least until now – from 2011 on things might be a lot different) has ever started reading e-books on an e-reader.

I’m counting, naturally, PDF files – after all, most e-ARCs these days still come in this time-honored, God-forsaken format (more on that later).

However, you can’t take a desktop computer to bed – and that’s, my dear readers, that’s the precise point where necessity arises, and necessity, as all of us knows (Frank Zappa’s band included) is the mother of invention.

So, after quite a while reading PDFs and .txt files (these last ones classic books from the Gutenberg Project – and, if you still don’t know the Gutenberg, then you’ve been on cryo for more than you should), I decided to purchase a netbook. I already had a notebook, but it was too heavy for me to take to bed. Besides (that was the white lie I told myself), I can always use it to write my stories or to do my translations whenever I’m traveling. I even used it to do those things, but, really?

I. Bought. A. Netbook. To. Read. E-books.

That was two years ago. I found a good model on discount on a DELL store and acquired it, and that was that. (All those justifications don’t make me less of a maniac, but that’s the nature of obsession.) I started reading lots of e-ARCs on it, and I was finally happier than before because now I could read in bed.

Note that I wrote happier, not happy.

Because a netbook is much lighter and better than a notebook, but it’s not a portable device made for reading e-books. (Meaning: it still bonked in my forehead every frakking time I started to fall asleep.)

Then, in the second half of 2009, I purchased an iPhone – and I found out that there was an app called Stanza, just to read e-books in other format, the ePub.

Now, what do I think about the ePub?

It’s a much better format than a .txt file, no question about that. (A .txt file, or whatever format compatible with Microsoft Word, is editable, for crying out loud – it doesn’t make me feel as if I’m reading the manuscript of the author: it make me feel as if I’m reading any possible stuff anyone could have written in the place of the novel I was looking for! How that’s for a comforting thought, huh?)

It’s also better than a PDF, but just because of the fonts it uses in its formatting. A PDF is basically a virtual copy of the physical galley of the book you will have in your hands if you choose to buy it in hardcover or paperback. If said PDF is formatted in, say, Times New Roman, then it’s no big deal to read it in a compatible device (like Kindle, but let’s delve deeper into that on a later column, ok?). But if the PDF file is formatted in a finer font like Garamond, then it becomes virtually unreadable, and it doesn’t matter if you can zoom in 100, 200 or a gazillion per cent.

I read a lot of books on Stanza, and, even though I didn’t find their formatting much to my liking (when you zoom the text in, it blurs slightly in the edges, so the better you can do is to keep it in the fit-to-screen size, which is very readable when the book is converted correctly), but I became quickly used to it. The first book I read on it was Kevin J Anderson’s Hidden Empire, and the best one was Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl.

I currently have 66 books on this format in my iPhone, among which Paul McAuley’s The Quiet War (I read the sequel, Garden of the Sun, in PDF – I read the first novel faster, because at that time I still could only read PDFs in my netbook, and the ePubs could be read anywhere, thanks to my iPhone).

I’m currently reading two books on Stanza – K.W. Jeter’s Morlock Night and Infernal Devices (e-ARCs to review here soon). In the past two years, though, the iPhone has gotten a bunch of apps just to read e-books and e-documents, as PDFReader (yes, and it’s a quite good app – I’m finishing Lavie Tidhar’s Osama on it – expect a review here soon too), iBooks (it was created for the iPad, but there is also an iPhone version), the eReader (which allowed me for a few months to read, via sites like Fictionwise, to buy issues of Analog, Asimov’s, and Lightspeed Magazine) and finally the Kindle for iPhone. But that’s another story, which I’ll tell here in two weeks.

(Just an aside – recently the Gutenberg started to offer e-books for Kindle, iPad, iPhone, Android and other portable devices. Way to go!)

About Fabio Fernandes (21 Articles)
Fabio Fernandes is an SFF writer living in São Paulo, Brazil. He has several stories published in online venues in the US, the UK, New Zealand, Portugal, Romenia, and Brazil. He also contributed to Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's Steampunk II:Steampunk Reloaded, Southern Weirdo: Reconstruction, and The Apex Book of World SF Vol. 2.
Contact: Website

15 Comments on E-Libris: My First e-Reader Was Not an e-Reader

  1. Guy Plunkett III // June 21, 2011 at 10:33 am //

    I don’t know … I am reading a book (Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars) on my iPod Touch, essentially the same experience as on an iPhone, and I find it too damn small a “page” for extended reading. An actual paperback would be much better, but I thought I’d give it a go. Each to his/her own, I guess.

  2. Guy, I think this is essentially a matter of creating the habit. I still haven`t mentioned how my reading improved since my first ebook on iPhone, but the first was rather slow if compared to a paperback (almost the same speed, I should say, but I considered it slow).

    Anyway, I’m not disputing taste here. As I said in the first installment of this column, I’m an avid reader of paper books myself, and I love paperbacks. But who said you can’t have the cake and eat it too?

  3. A friend of mine was skeptical about reading books on his phone, until he tried it.  He likes it, a lot.  (Although he is never, ever going to give up print for it).


  4. I almost put the lie to the opening statement.  I didn’t start on an e-reader, but I did start on a portable device purchased for the express purpose of being an e-reader. 

    About 10 years ago, I thought it would be great to be able to read in bed without having to keep the lights on (and thereby keep my significant other awake), and to that end bought a Philips Nino, a very low end pda, to use chiefly as a reading device.  Using the application Starbuck, I was able to read .txt, .html and several other formats, modifying the font and size, and found that I could read a book about twice as fast as I do on paper…mainly from the expedient of always having a book in my pocket.

    Over the years, I’ve “upgraded” from my Nino to a couple of models of Cassipeia, through a Dell Axim to the iPod Touch…where I found my formats locked down to to .epub.  That took some of the joy out of reading ebooks, as I would have to put them through a conversion process first.  I’ve got a lot of old stuff on disc (e.g. the Blackmask archive from before it was called Munseys) that would require time and storage to convert, so I’ve lately been limiting myself to purchases from Smashwords and Fictionwise.

    Recently, I upgraded again to an Android-based phone, and found the app “CoolReader”…which gave me back mobile access to all my formats, and re-opened my library, if you will.  Now I’m finally back to having the flexibility I started with 10 years ago.  The font and size are still configurable, as are screen and text colors, and I don’t seem to have the traditional hangups with reading on a digital device.

    Along the way, I’ve converted several other people to reading on mobile devices, mainly by passing off my old pda’s to them.  As for me…I’m hooked on ebooks.  As I said before, I read about twice as fast as I do on paper.  I read several books at a time, and like being able to switch them between chapters, so it’s nice to have all of them in my pocket at once.  Best of all, I like never being without a book.  It makes lineups and “command performance” functions so much more enjoyable.  Also, I prefer the open formats whenever possible, as that makes it much easier to share my library with friends. 

    I’m so much a convert that I’ve recently started telling spouse and friends not to send me any more books as gifts or loans, as I don’t have time to read paper, having such a long reading list on my portable device.

    I agree with your comment that it’s “essentially a matter of creating the habit”…I know from experience that many dubious but avid readers readers really only need to give the format a fair shake to see the benefits.

  5. If I ever wanted to read one of the Dozois’s ‘Best of’ anthologies, I’ll definitely go to ebook.  The font in print is too small for my tired aging eyes.


  6. My first ereader was a Palm Pilot! Peanut Press (since renamed, bought  by Fictionwise, who is now owned by Barnes and Noble, yadda yadda) puts out ebooks in .pdb (Palm Database) format. The original Nook can still read them, and also the eReader app for iPhone, but it’s a dying format. My first ebook purchase was 11 years ago.


    I knew it would catch on 🙂

  7. Paul NYC // June 21, 2011 at 7:37 pm //

    Years ago I tried reading on a Palm device but gave up on it — not to my liking. Now I have an Android phone with Nook, Kindle and Adobe apps and I find I’m enjoying the experience a lot more (although the Adobe Reader does not let me bookmark).

  8. Many good points in this column.

    The only items I consider to be e-book that I’ve read on “non-e-readers” have been a few .lit novels on various computers (mostly Norton and Heinlein) and a few .txt novels on my PSP.  Neither proved satisfactory.  Reading fiction on a computer is tiresome at best and although the PSP worked very well, Sony in its typical crusade/jihad against customer satisfaction, requires firmware updates to play new games, which killed the homebrew e-reader.

    I seriously considered the netbook option, but was afraid of the eye-fatigue problems of computer reading.

    Now I have two very different e-readers (reading is very important to me). A true e-reader, the Libre, and an android smart phone.  Reading on he Libre is usually as pleasant an experience as reading a physical book (even many PDFs are indistinguishable from epub). The smart phone is a compromise. It falls about halfway between the Libre and a computer (but is more convenient, with its backlight and always being handy).

    What is the minimum size for an e-document to be an e-book? No one would consider a five-page pamphlet to be a book but does converting it to epub or PDF make it an e-book? Many people have read short documents or magazines on their computer, but I strongly suspect that the number who have actually read a novel on their computer is quite small (especially at sites less literate than SF Signal).

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but any e-book format that doesn’t have DRM, including epub is easily edited. Just use a free program like calibre to convert it to an editable format (RTF), make whatever changes you like, then convert it back. [A note to the PDF haters. You can use this same free program to convert some PDFs to epubs or mobi – any that aren’t heavily illustrated, multi-column should convert well.]

  9. Hm, I don’t know… What about Palm Pilots, as someone mentioned over there? And lots of people bought netbooks to read ebooks, I guess. I did that a couple of years ago and so did some friends of mine.

  10. First eBook gadget was a Swiss Army Knife: the Apple Newton. Then an Mac laptop, the first Palm, several other Palms, the Handspring Visor, the Sony Clie, the Bookeen Cybook was the first dedicated eBook gadget…in 2007? Maybe a bit earlier. Still ticking: a couple of the Handspring’s, two of the Clie’s, the Cybook. Newton long gone.

    Also use my desktop and netbook, but neither worked “in bed”. Forthcoming: a somewhat more intelligent phone. Maybe a Nook or Kindle or iPad, but further down the road.

    Formats used? Mobipocket, Peanut Press (eventually eReader), TomeRaider, CSpotRun, EPUB and about a dozen more, easily. Format standards? Hah.

  11. Dominic, to me it depends on the book. In some times my reading time simply tripled, in others stayed pretty much the same as in the paper book – but I attribute this last case to sheer lack of time on my part.

    The hard truth is – e-books are really the simplest option if you want portability and fast reading.

  12. Paul: Marshal McLuhan was right: the medium is the message. A good reading really depends on the device, after all. 😉

  13. David, I agree with you re: firmware, especially about Sony.

    Regarding netbooks: I love them, but not to read e-books. I did that on a whim, but seriously? I wouldn’t do that today. It’s not worth it.

    The conversion matter: I already knew about that, but thank you bringing it up. It definitely merits a whole column dedicated to it.

  14. Myrtes: but would you agree that we are a bunch of wackos, wouldn’t you? (in a good way, that is.)  🙂

  15. tam: definitely agree with you re: Dozois anthos. I’m getting rid of all of them in paper and buying them again in Kindle.

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