My first e-reading device was a Palm Pilot. I had an early Palm III for a short while, a cast-off as I recall, and then I got one through work and it was the Tungsten. A beautiful device, and I tried everything on it, including reading an ebook. Something old, free, likely from the Gutenberg Project. It was neat, but not something to write home about. I killed my Tungsten in a freak accident at a hockey game involving a folding guest chair, a coat pocket, and a crunching sound as I sat back down after cheering for a goal. I still remember the feeling later that night when I went to put the Tungsten on charge and saw the destroyed screen. I eventually moved on somewhat reluctantly to a combined Palm Pilot / phone (a rudimentary smart phone) called the Treo, but it was far too small to read on and I never tried.
I was still a purist. I liked paper and I have the basement full of books to prove it. Successive moves in 1997 and 1998 didn’t kill that purity but three more in 2004, 2007, and 2011 did put a damper on my paper enthusiasm. I love my books, and if I had a place to put them out all on nice shelves, I would. But I don’t have a library like that, and honestly, I don’t want to use up the space in the house to do that. It’s just not worth it considering many tend to be “read once, shelve forever”. They are on storage shelves in the basement now, and my wife was mildly concerned about the previous rate of accumulation, but the real motivator for me to change showed up around the time of the last move.
I bought a Kindle 3 — not touchscreen, just side buttons and a keyboard, and only monochrome. Very much like the early Palm III if I’m honest. But the e-ink is glorious to read. I boost the font size a bit, not quite “large print”, but I’m getting older and I quite like the reduced strain. I confess that some print books have had such small type, I tossed them quickly back on the shelf and bought an e-version instead.
Since the K3, I have become a device-agnostic e-whore. I’ll read on anything, anywhere, anytime. A couple of times when I’ve wondered if I would like a series or not, I’ve even downloaded the first volume onto my desktop, particularly when there are sales or promos, and then read the entire thing on my main computer just because I got engrossed or my other devices were charging. Not often, but 2 or 3 times. I’ve read on the Tungsten, the K3, three different tablets, at least three different phones, a laptop and a netbook.
I know, I know, many of you might say, “Never! Paper or die!”. But that’s not the test for me, because I am all about the content. I like to lose myself in the story, and if the story is good, I don’t care what format it is. Podcast, TV show, movie, animated, live theatre, magazines, I don’t care. I want to get lost in the story.
In my most arrogant days, I think the e-book partially appeals to me because it is faster. I don’t just mean that I can order a book and download in seconds, which is a factor, but that I also can read faster. I can turn pages faster. You might not think that is significant, physically, but mentally for me it seems a lot like experiences with old typewriters and early word processors. The QWERTY layout that is popular for typing was designed to prevent people from going too fast — the keys would hit each other. So it had to be fast enough to make it worthwhile, but not too fast and crash. Early wordprocessing had the opposite challenge. If it took longer than about half a second (can’t remember the actual threshold now) for the character to appear on the screen after the key was pressed, typists would stop to see if it had gone through. Their brain processed the key press and needed to see the character appear right afterward or it would stop and wait for it to appear. For me, the K3 was perfect…I could turn the page fast enough that there was no chance of me “leaving the story”.
I have left a story many times with books, particularly at the end of chapters, simply from the time it takes to manually turn the page, complete with all the sensory input that goes with it. I can feel myself stopping even for a split-second and pulling myself briefly out of the story. With the e-ink, the refresh is almost instantaneous. I am a very fast reader, and that matters to me because I read so fast.
For example, one time I was reading the novelization of one of the Spiderman movies. I finished it in just under 2 hours, about the same length of time as the movie runs. It was like watching it spool on the screen before me, just like a movie, only it was just my imagination. A totally immersive experience. Oddly enough though, that one was on paper.
But I’ve had it happen while reading e-books a lot more often — I just zip along at lightning speed. Which makes up for an odd fact — I can’t skim read on my Kindle. If I’m trying to digest some non-fiction stuff really fast for work, for example, I know how to skim read / almost-speed-read to get through the salient facts. Relax my eyes, focus on the top half of the text line, skip words that are often long adjectives, focus on verbs and nouns. I can’t do it for long texts, maybe a few pages before I start to gloss over.
But sometimes when I’m reading a novel in paper, and the author for some reason decides to drop two pages of exposition or description into an active scene, my brain goes on auto-pilot skimming forward a paragraph or two until the action starts again. It happens, particularly with new release debut authors. Yet I can’t do it on the e-ink devices or even tablets or phones. Just not the right font, I think, or maybe I just don’t see enough of the text before I have to skip to the next screen. Either way, it doesn’t work. But the speed of screen refreshes is way faster than turning pages in a paper book and keeps me reading.
The last six years with the Kindle match the statistical profile of many an e-book reader with a new device. It starts off hot and heavy — one of Amazon’s busiest download days in recent years has been Christmas day itself or Boxing Day…people with new Kindles or other devices have them all charged and ready to go, and they start downloading books for the first time.
In 2011, one of the biggest “unique features” of Amazon was the daily deals on e-books. Lots of authors putting books on promo for four or five days at a time, often for 99 cents, or just as often, many giving away book 1 of a series for free. Kind of like drug dealers giving samples to hook clients. And there was a cottage industry that was born with it…e-zines that advertised the deals. Now the market is flooded, which might sound like a good thing, but really is just info overload.
Yet myself, like many an avid reader, couldn’t say no to free books. A free guidebook for Web HTML? Sure, I’ll take that. I do webpages. A new mystery novel with a librarian as the detective? Sign me up and I’ll download right now. Cool. A new series of basic guides to a variety of topics from property law to biology, from world history to a Korean cookbook? Sure, it’s free, I’ll DL it. And I did. Over the last five years, about 850 books from Amazon. I estimate I probably bought maybe 50-75 of those, almost all except 2 or 3 were deeply discounted, and the rest were freebies. Why did I download them? Cuz they were free, and it was like crack to a reader. And they don’t take up space in my house. If I don’t want it, I’ll delete it. Maybe it will be good, and I am a voracious reader for any subject matter.
I also made the mistake of reading about the Gutenberg Project. For those who haven’t heard of it, it is basically an old book preservation project run as crowd-sourcing for books that are past their copyright period and long out of print. Lots of countries have different copyright periods, so one country might have 25 years, another 50, another 75, etc. Beyond that period, except where copyrights have been extended by other legal means, the books are now in the public domain. Of course, they didn’t have e-books 50 years ago, which means someone scans the old book and uploads it. Often they have sophisticated scanners that can scan whole books at once, even turning pages, and save as a PDF-like file.
Then the crowdsourcing comes in — anyone can join, read a page of some book, and “fix” the optical character recognition. Because of font issues, the computer might read a “the” as “be”…so you see on your screen the JPG or PDF version side-by-side with a raw text box that shows what the computer thinks is the right text. You read the image, adjust any of the text that needs to be adjusted (like a copy-editor or proofer) and say “save”. That puts that page into a larger quality control process where a Level 2 editor looks at the page and reads your text and approves it or not. Once you have “proven” reliable in your edits, you too can become a Level 2 editor or be given a harder book or your edits might even bypass Level 2 and go straight to Level 3. Level 3 looks at things like a compiled text where your page 1 and someone else’s page 2, and someone else’s page 3 are all merged together into pages 1-3. Depending on the project in each country, there may be one person at the end who reads the whole book and makes sure there are no obvious errors. Just reading it, not comparing it to the original text. Some of the edits are consistency issues…for example, did you capitalize a word that the book didn’t because you think it should be capitalized whereas someone else was literal? And when it is done and added to the inventory, any user who finds an error can flag it for an update.
You don’t have to be an editor to look at completed books though, it was just how I got sucked in. I loved the idea, partly as I worked in a library when I was in university, and the idea of books being lost to the ages is somewhat horrifying, matched with the beautiful, low-cost, crowd-sourcing of preservation by simple readers instead of a large bureaucracy. Even if you do get involved, it isn’t necessarily time-consuming. Sure, like any “hobby”, there are dedicated nutjobs where it becomes their life. But you can edit for a few minutes any time you have free space in your calendar.
And then the unthinkable happened. I discovered that they had their ENTIRE collection downloadable as DVD copies. 1000s of books on disk with a simple download. I resisted for awhile. Browsing. Being selective. There’s a lot of stuff in there I’ll never read. And then one day, for no apparent trigger, I cracked. I just downloaded the whole collection and put it in Calibre.
You would think that was enough. And it generally has been. An e-book overdose to scare me straight. But it’s been made worse by bad cyber management on my desktop. Because of some computer problems over the years, a lot of files that I have on my machine have gotten duplicated into multiple directories. For example, a collection of photos from a trip might have been saved as 2012 – Newfoundland and another copy, backed up on another disk, said Newfoundland – 2012. Not knowing which was the “good” set, I saved both for future “clean-up” and rationalization.
E-book files suffered the same fate. Multiple times. Plus I didn’t exactly know how to organize my library very well in Calibre (an e-book library management program). So I would import collection X into one library with a separate library in another. But I’d only get so far and then get sidetracked with other priorities. Which would mean I had a partially sorted library, often with 2 or 3 copies of the same file. Add in multiple e-book formats one time where I stupidly told it to create a PDF, EPUB and a MOBI copy of everything, and my library went crazy. Keeping them all as separate entries in the library.
As part of my goals for the year, I decided I wanted to read more and part of that required me to create a better set-up for Calibre with my libraries. And I discovered the clean-up problem was far worse than I imagined:
- 67,293 files
- 53.5 GB of space
- 25,469 titles
I suspect that at least 75% of the 25K titles are actually duplicates or format variations under separate listings, so that leaves me with 6000 or so actual titles. Deleting Gutenberg stuff takes me down at least two thirds of that, so 2000 or so titles of itnerest, with about 1200 being non-fiction titles that are possibly throw-aways. Call it 800 titles to actually process, of which about half are ones that are basically free replacements for titles I have in paper.
So I have about 400 titles to be read that are half-way decent, possibly in three formats – EPUB, Mobi, PDF, and possibly, AZW (Amazon format).
Okay, that’s still quite the addiction. Not rehab country just yet, but still. 🙂 My goal is to have the library vastly cleaned up by June. I just have to find ways within Calibre to better eliminate duplicate titles that just happen to have separate formats or even the same file.