Dec. 6, 2012
Reading a book is a sacred ritual for people like me. We have our favorite chairs, ways of That favorite chair, the heft of that package in your hand, the crack of the binding and the smell of the paper stir up feelings of warmth, comfort and pleasure. I have a Masters degree in English, so you know I'm snobby about this.
Now that these long-promised eBooks finally bought the house next door and started having kids, people like me are getting uneasy. A library's worth of reading material in my pocket is a dream come true, but my phone can do that and it's more convenient to pack. Problem is, I'm too attached to my ritual. I can't get comfortable reading books from a glowing screen. Will the Age of the eReader threaten my reading experience, complement it, or replace it anew?
With Target's $49 Black Friday deal on the Nook, coupled with the magic of epaper - which does not glow and looks remarkably like tree pulp and ink - I decided to find out for myself, once and for all.
During our return trip from Thanksgiving, we called ahead to a Target in Illinois that still had some in stock. And because I heard you could browse books on your Nook inside any Barnes & Noble bookstore, I made sure we had time to pull over and spend an hour or so trying it out. I dropped Bich off at some girly clothing store and stepped into B&N next door.
Chapter One: The Experiment
Wherein Todd devises an amusing experiment to settle his consternation over the advancement of technology; also, 32 ounces of Caffeine Free Diet Coca Cola will be consumed.
So for the good of humanity I began my experiment. I powered it up and swiped it open. Immediately, a window popped up saying, "Welcome to the Champaign Barnes & Noble." Impressive. None of the "Wi-Fi Connection Detected" or having to choose from local access points. I perused the physical "New Arrivals" shelves at the front of the store before settling on "Every Day Is an Atheist Holiday" by Penn Jillette.
First, I looked up the book using the search feature on the Nook. I now realize I'm in real danger of slipping into Dr. Suessisms here any minute with a hundred alliterations on "book" and "Nook." Rhyming verse is my secret love. I can only promise a "best effort" resistance.
Standard info about the book came up, along with a flag to let me know that it was in the store. Sure, whatever. If it had told me it was in my hand, I would've been impressed. But I was impressed that the eBook version was only 12.99, whereas the brand new hardback I was holding would have set me back 25.95 at the register. Nook-1, Book-0
Chapter Two: The Nook
Wherein our hero utilizes a portable electronic device to read virtual words from a virtual page; also, multiple trips to the restroom will provide much needed relief.
With both book and Nook in-hand, I situated myself in a wooden chair in a place where I wouldn't be bothered. The Performing Arts section would do the trick.
I kicked the Nook on, found the book again, and selected "Read In Store." It let me know that I had one hour to read as much of this book as I wanted while I was on the premises. I partook of one chapter on the Nook, then another on the book to give them both a close look, lest one be forsook.
Sorry. That was actually harder than I thought.
First off, there's absolutely no question how to hold this thing. It's light and natural to grip left- or right-handed. The case is rubberized so it feels substantial and durable without sliding around in your fingers. You could easily rest the corner in your palm, set it on a propped up leg, opt for the two-hand approach, or the old son-holds-it-for-me-while-daughter-fetches-Starbucks-frappucino. Isn't that why we procreate?
Anyway, the sky's the limit. You don't need diagrams.
I opted for the one-handed grip, where the fleshy base of my finger worked nicely against the sharp upper edge to prop it right where I wanted.
Tapping the right or left side of the screen turns the page forward or back. Or you can do the familiar swipe. I found tapping to be easiest, though the thumb buttons on either side of the frame are just as handy. If you need options, you got 'em.
I realize I sound like a corporate shill here, but this thing was a pleasure to read. Did I miss the familiar action of turning the pages? Not in the slightest. In fact, having the page instantly transform under my light tapping was kind of fun. So much more natural than "scrolling" anything.
The epaper screen is identical to reading off a page - a high resolution, crisp black-and-yellowish surface that didn't glow or animate or distract me with the wonders of the internet. For me, it effectively reproduced the feeling the look of a printed page.
I don't think I would've felt the same with one of the fancier LCD screen models. Even the Glowlight version (although I can see the benefits) creeps far too close to the "screen" experience. I keep book lights scattered around the house and car, so I still need to justify my hoarding.
However, though the surface is matted to prevent reflections, you still need to carefully angle it against your light source to keep glares at bay. If the B&N engineers could nail this and survive one night in my house with six strangers and a random assortment of weapons, they would inherit my estate.
Chapter Three: The Book
Wherein our hero, by means of comparison, peruses the pages of the same volume in hardback format, causing much consternation; also, a small child becomes lost and then found again in the children's section.
Now to crack open Old Faithful. I set the Nook down and hefted its heavier and thicker brother, riffling open the hitherto unopened pages to chapter two, smelling the ink, sliding into my familiar book-reading posture. Welcome, old friend.
I instantly saw where this was going.
The book was heavy. Heavy. For the first time, I became conscious of the effort required to just hold the thing open without putting creases in the spine. I found myself regularly shifting position to uncramp my hand. Eventually I shifted to two hands.
And did you realize you need two hands to turn a page? One to hold the whole thing and the other to flip the paper? I hadn't until now. Again, constant readjustments that I never considered before.
The biggest shocker: Reading the book was more frustrating. The Nook is about the size of a paperback, yet defaults to the larger font of a hardback, which means you get your text in smaller chunks. One book page equaled about 3-4 Nook pages. Working my way across two open pages full of text now seemed like a chore. Lightly tapping my way through smaller chunks on the Nook had fooled me into thinking that I was reading faster - and somehow, I think I actually was.
I set it down. I didn't have a bookmark, so I had to spread it face-down on the floor. Being a hardback, I also could have folded the flap of the dust jacket into my spot. Decisions, decisions.
I picked up the Nook and swiped it on. The last page I read instantly appeared.
I hate to admit this. At precisely that moment, I felt I was standing at a crossroads of my own personal history, bearing witness to the death and rebirth of a sacred ceremony. I realize this sounds dramatic. So does baking a pie. But from that moment on, I understood that I would be doing the majority of my reading on this little device and
keep baking pies. It wasn't a conscious decision. My mind, body and soul decided for me.
By now I think I've adequately justified my impulse purchase - waaaay better than last year's Snuggie debacle. Time to wrap this sucker up so my wife can read it.
Chapter Four: Conclusion
Wherein Todd finds his conclusions of a surprising nature; also, feeling peckish, he satiates his hunger at an ethnic restaurant of mediocre quality
As I ran across books in the store I thought were interesting, I added them to my online wish-list - a handy way to amass a really long list of books I'm never going to read, exactly like my bookshelf at home, only cheaper and easier to handle on moving day.
Also, although I'm only 34, I considered that need for reading glasses is fast approaching. Because I can adjust the Nook text size, I'll never need to buy an expensive large print edition of anything.
And forget moving: How much space in my luggage has been wasted by packing two or three books for the trip? Why not bring my whole library instead?
Did I mention the epaper screen only uses energy when it's changing the picture, which means it can go months without recharging?
Once you've decided you actually enjoy reading on this thing, the benefits pile up.
I reflected back on the heresy of my conclusion. I still love books. But maybe now a little less. Because I now understand that what I really love is the act of reading. Should I really be so surprised? In the age of books, I'd roll my eyes if you handed me a scroll. Why would this be any different?
I don't want these neighborhood bookstores to go under because I'm buying everything from the online Nook store. They're still too much fun. So I asked a helpful B&N employee if there was a way for the physical store to get credit for my ebook purchase.
"Oh yes, they just came out with a new process," the sales guy said, obviously excited. "You just go to the Customer Service desk and tell them you want the latest Hunger Games book. They'll give you a slip which you take to the register and pay. Then they'll give you an access code, and you go to barnesandnoble.com on your computer at home, sign in and enter the code. Then it'll be available to download to your Nook. Unfortunately, there's no way yet for you to enter that code directly on your Nook."
The dude had to be pulling my leg.
"Can't they just tie it to your store if I buy it through the Nook while I'm connected to your wi-fi here? It already knows where I am. It told me so."
"Yeah, that would be better," he said.