Friday, September 2, 2011

On Books, Nooks, Kindles, iThings and Free Shit

Digital books. I don't know why they bother me as much as they do.

I made the transition from eight track to vinyl to cassette to CD to mp3 fairly seamlessly. Having about forty million... er, a few thousand mp3's (15.5 gigs, actually) at my fingertips to listen to whenever I get the urge without having to drag out a dusty box of CD's that I haven't touched in months to find that one goddamned Sophie B. Hawkins CD that I just HAD TO LISTEN TO... well, I'm sure you see my point. The only suckage is that my laptop speakers suck donkey dick and if I want to listen to music without my demonically possessed, soul sucking Dell piece of shit precious pink laptop, I'm basically fucked. So for the last couple of months I've been on the hunt for an mp3 player.

I have no idea why so don't ask me to explain, but I have an aversion to iAnything. It's so bad I don't even want to EAT apples anymore. I asked my Face Book friends if anyone could steer me in the direction of a non-Apple player, and the two names that popped up were the Sony Walkman and the Creative mp3 players. I think I've narrowed it down to the red Sony Walkman NWZ-S545 16GB. Now I just have to budget the hundred bucks to get it.

That whole process seems so painless (except for the hundred bucks part) that I don't understand why I've been so resistant to getting a digital book reader. I'm a quasi techie. Sort of. We won't talk about how I can't turn the oven in this house on or the fact that my DVR seems to hate me. Why is it so damned hard for me to get it together on the whole e-reader thing?

Part of it is my unwillingness to break with the physical (and possibly emotional) comfort that I get from reading a paper book. Yeah, I know I killed half of the Ethiopian rain forest off (kidding) just to read my copy of The Da Vinci Code, but it's what I know. I've always had books. They were my escape from the cold, harsh reality of the little nowhere town where I grew up and the small minded people that generally inhabited it. Another part is that if I bend to the next new thing, I won't have the pleasure of walking into the great Church of Barnes & Noble and randomly picking up things that might interest me. I've found some awesome writers that way, and books that I may not have found otherwise.

There is a good point to be made that (with Amazon, anyway) suggestions are made for you related to the selections you've chosen to investigate. Such as the page for Robert Rankin's The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse turned me on to Christopher Moore. (Read both, you won't be sorry.) And it's a lot easier to look up chronological order for series' of books without having to hunt down physical copies of the books in the store or library to check their copyright dates.

So there are some pluses.

But, seriously. Going into a bookstore and spending quality time among the tomes used to be so important to me and I love libraries just as much. If I start reading books exclusively on my computer or I give in and buy a digital book reader, am I going to end up sitting in a Starbucks somewhere sipping some ridiculously named and equally ridiculously overpriced coffee concoction nodding my head to whatever indie-niceness that might be piped into the aromatic atmosphere of yuppie heaven? If so, please kill me. Now.

But on to the readers... there are lots of decisions you get to make right along with me if you decide to walk the road well traveled too. Just follow the stampeding herd of techies wielding iThings and carrying eco-friendly coffee shop branded gear.

It seems as if the three biggest retailers dealing with e-readers and digital media are Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Apple. There are other readers, such as the Sony Reader and the Kobo E-Reader. Google "e-reader comparison" if you want to get a little more informed on the different readers, their specs and capabilities and what's available for them.

The Church of Barnes & Noble's e-reader is called the Nook, and you can find information about it here on their website. Though I am very familiar with their physical stores, I can't help you much at all with their online shrine. I will say to read product and user reviews, and consider your storage and social/internet needs. I read on their website that the Nook can connect you with your friends as well as allow you to borrow books from participating local libraries. The high-end version does some of the same stuff a regular touch pad or tablet PC can do, like e-mail and apps. (The most popular brand of these would be, you guessed it, an iPad. Though I think I'm politically incorrect calling an Apple product a PC. Fuck it, I like to live dangerously.)

Amazon's e-reader is called the Kindle, and I have no problem admitting that this will be my platform of choice should I decide on an e-reader instead of a tablet PC, or just reading the damned things on the spawn of Cthulu laptop. There are several Kindle choices, involving storage, size and connectivity. The small size, the  six inch, comes in four flavors: 3G, 3G with promotional offers, WiFi and WiFi with promotional offers. The high-end comes in holy-shit-that's-a-lot-of-money. The honking huge one has no promotional offer price downsize just yet.

Apple does not have e-reader specific gadgetry. Users with iPads can buy and download iBooks with the app that's included with your machine.

Both Barnes & Noble and Amazon also have free software that you can download to your PC to enable you to read digital media in their branded formats without having to shell out the big bucks for a Nook or Kindle. Barnes & Noble's Nook for PC page is here, and Amazon's Kindle for PC page is here. I should note that the iBooks can be read on a PC, though I think it's a pretty confusing process involving open source software. iBooks for Macs involves the simple installation of an (i?)app. Some iPhones can handle iBooks, also. iThink. iDunno. iMgettingirritatednow.

I know that Barnes & Noble offers free or bargain digital books, but I do not use their site at all, so I can't speak on it. Amazon, however, has a wealth of classics available for free on the Kindle as well as limited time promotional offers. Word of advice: Be very careful, especially when choosing the "Buy now with 1-Click" option when "purchasing" free books. Amazon does slide paid books into the free section, though it could be an effect of specially timed pricing and updating, or something sneakier. I've gotten bitten a couple of times.

Two awesome sites that send out frequent e-mail updates to let their subscribers know about free or low-cost digital books are Pixel of Ink and Ereader News Today. POI gives links for Kindle and Nook downloads. Don't forget small digital presses, though. My personal favorite is Black Label Books, but investigate Lyrical Press and Smash Words as well. Take a trip through a Google search of "digital publishers" and investigate some unexplored (to you) territory.

Some friendly advice specifically with free e-books: you could end up with something substandard if you're not careful because some writers are starting to abandon the idea of traditional publishing to self-publish their work through Amazon or the like. This does not guarantee that the book you're considering reading is going to be crap (I've read many books and short stories that were self-published by talented and competent writers that were freaking awesome. *coughcough*Adam Slade*coughcough*). Often a writer will bypass an agent or an editor to self-publish and that can affect the quality of the finished product. Do take some time to read the reviews on the books point-of-sale pages, or whatever they're calling them now. If they're mostly negative and in agreement about it, this might be a book you want to avoid, especially if grammatical and spelling errors ruin the reading experience for a majority of the reviewers. I've also downloaded and thoroughly gotten into "books" that were actually teasers in the form of prequels trying to get me to buy the next installment. Not really happy about that.

Well, I hope you're a little more informed. I know I am. I'm also fucking tired from typing all this. I think I'll go  to bed now.

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