Our digital era

The advent of the e-reader has brought the world of books to an interesting place. I’ve gone back and forth myself, though I was never firmly in one camp or another. I enjoy the convenience of the e-reader: I can carry a series, better yet an entire library, in my bag with minimal bulk and weight. I can download new titles anywhere, their size makes it painless to set up a wifi hotspot on my phone and use my cellular data plan. I get recommendations directly on my home screen.

That said, nothing beats the feel of a paper book. There’s something reassuring about its heft, the feel as you turn pages, the smell of a new book or that more usual scent that comes with time. They look nicer lined up on a bookshelf, they add personality to your home. When you get excited after finishing something new, you can pass it on to a friend without considering whether their device is compatible with yours, or how to transfer the file.

In younger days, I foolishly got rid of a substantial portion of my physical collection because I was enamored with my Kobo. Don’t get me wrong, I still love it, but now that I’m no longer commuting two hours or more a day, I’ve mostly gone back to paper copies. I find myself in the position of purchasing copies of novels I’ve given away, taking particular care to dig through precarious stacks in used bookstores. My bookshelf is starting to look a bit disheveled, and I don’t really have space in my current home to get a second one, but I’m not letting that stop me.

The e-reader still has certain advantages. I expect when I finally have money to travel, I’ll want to load my Kobo up with enough reading material to keep me busy. I’ll just have to make sure to bring the appropriate cable to charge it; I’ve upgraded my cell phone, so it’s no longer the same USB plug. Maybe a few paperbacks and a graphic novel or two aren’t too heavy for my luggage, after all.

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The move to ebooks

Just over two years ago, in the beginning of my last fall semester at university, I made the decision to invest in an ereader. I hadn’t been reading as much as I used to, largely due to the limited selection in the English section of my local library, and thought that by going digital I would gain access to a much greater repertoire of books. I went into Chapters to take a look at their stock and fell in love with a Kobo Touch.

My absolute favorite thing about it was the ability to browse the bookstore from my home, either on the device itself or on the computer. I quickly began to learn the advantages and limitations of the ereader; I had a few unpleasant encounters with lying in bed reading and the screen blanking to a “Please charge ereader” message. Then I learned that I should check regularly to see the battery’s charge level and plug it in before it gets too far below 50%. That usually gives me a good week or two of reading.

I am often in public transit. Back in those days, it was getting to classes and back; now, to my job in an office downtown. I would often end up standing in the bus, making it impossible to read a hardcover book and uncomfortable to do the same with a paperback. My Kobo is light and easy to read one-handed. I also enjoy being able to highlight passages I enjoy, though the precision is not the same as I get on my smartphone. I would never dare highlight anything in any of my books, and libraries generally frown on patrons doing so in books they lend out.

A feature I adored in my early days of the Kobo is a count of total hours read. I would check it from time to time, watching the number mount higher and higher, feeling that my purchase of the device was well justified. The count is no longer accurate as I’ve had to factory reset the device once or twice, and I have already established that I read much more now than ever before. I wore out my first case within a year and went looking to eBay for a cheaper alternative to the $35 ones sold in Chapters.

In the beginning, I was saddened to be leaving physical books behind. While I realize that I do not have to read exclusively on my ereader, I would much prefer to. If I am reading a series, I can ensure to have the next book loaded to the device without making my bag heavier; I can keep old favorites with me at all times, complete with memorable phrases bookmarked; I can get the definition of an unfamiliar or uncomfortable word by tapping on it whether I have cell service or not.

I still receive physical books as gifts from time to time, and they usually end up on my nightstand as before-bed reading. I have no choice but to go physical for graphic novels and the like, the Kobo Touch doesn’t display in color and is too small for comfort for graphic content. Ideally, more books would be packaged like DVDs or Blu-rays and have a code for downloading a digital copy come with them. Of course, given the way books are generally packaged, it would be all-too-easy for dishonest folk to lift the codes out of the pages without ever approaching the till. Perhaps if some kind of code were printed on the receipt, then.

From time to time, I have considered replacing my ereader with a tablet, but that doesn’t work for me for a number of reasons. My ereader’s screen looks good even in full daylight, the battery lasts way longer than that of any tablet I’ve heard of, and I read enough to justify having a separate device for that purpose (generally 1-2 hours a day, often more).

Since I started writing with Scrivener, I can also create an ePub of my work that I can read on my Kobo. It’s really motivating to see my writing on my device like a proper ebook.