I know that some people will find it horrifying, but I very rarely read printed books these days. The large majority of my books are consumed in e-book format using my e-reader.
It wasn’t actually a conscious decision. It just kind of happened as the convenience of e-books and e-readers crept up on me. The last physical book that I bought was a recipe book for my halogen oven. That was over a year ago now.
I’ve had an e-reader for about five years now. I think that in that period I have bought about five physical books. One was the recipe book mentioned above, another was a book by one of my favorite authors that I had pre-ordered on Amazon before I got my reader. The other three were all Terry Pratchett books.
Why buy Terry Pratchett books (and only Terry Pratchett books) in physical format? Well, he uses a great many footnotes – to extremely good effect. They really are an integral part of many of his Discworld novels, a series that I have been reading and enjoying for many years.
The trouble is that my original reader, a Kindle 2.0, didn’t handle footnotes that well. They did work, but it was a bit clunky to be frank. I quite often found my way to the footnote and then struggled to get back to the point in the novel where I had left off. Some of that may have been my own fault of course. Operator error is always a possibility I suppose.
Today’s readers, like the Paperwhite from Amazon and the Glo from Kobo, have touchscreens, which means that they handle footnotes a lot more slickly. You just tap the footnote number and a pop up window opens with the relevant information. Once your finished, just close the pop up window and start reading again from where you left off. It couldn’t really be any easier.
So, with the footnote issue solved my consumption of printed books has shrunk even further. Five books in five years means that, at a book a week, I am consuming, roughly speaking, 98% e-books and 2% printed books.
In reality, I think it’s even more tilted towards e-books. Now that the late great Sir Terry has been digitized, in my own personal library at least, I don’t suppose I’ll be buying any more physical books until it’s time for another recipe book. Unless I make any more accidental orders on Amazon, I suspect I’m going to be sitting at around about 99% e-books, or even higher, going forward.
As mentioned, this isn’t something that came about as a result of a conscious decision. It was more evolution than revolution. I suppose it’s possible that things could change, but I doubt it somehow.
Although I certainly knew of Colleen Mcullough, I had never read any of her novels. To be honest, I suppose I associated her with the “Thorn Birds” TV mini-series, something which I didn’t much care for. It’s always a mistake to judge any author by a film or TV adaptation of their work of course, and I didn’t do this consciously.
Anyway, on an extended business trip to India, I found myself without anything to read (and no English TV channels in my accommodation). Fortunately I managed to get hold of a much used and somewhat tatty copy of Colleen McCullough’s “The First Man In Rome” – and I’m glad that I did. Not only did it help me to pass the time on a boring business trip, but it made me realise the mistake I had made in ignoring Ms McCullough’s writing.
I went on to read all of the books in “The Masters of Rome” series, but not before I got hold of a copy of “The Song of Troy”, which I also enjoyed hugely. I recently re-read it on my Kindle (which I wish had existed when I was travelling around in India) and enjoyed it every bit as much the second time around.
Originally recounted by Homer in “The Iliad”, the tale of Troy is thousands of years old. It’s a story which has been told and retold by countless authors over the years, and it has had the Hollywood treatment on several occasions as well. Everyone knows, or thinks they know, the story of the wooden horse and those cunning Greeks who bore gifts.
Colleen McCullough elects to tell the tale in the first person, but she switches from one character to another from chapter to chapter. All of the key characters; Helen, Achilles, Paris, Odysseus, Hector, Agamemnon etc. get the chance to tell things from their point of view, with most of the important players getting more than one chapter to strut their stuff.
It’s a clever approach; the first person perspective lets the story flow along at a nice pace, but different facets of the tale are still examined, from the perspective of the different characters. With such a stellar cast of leading characters, it would be difficult to single out one main protagonist. Ms McCullough’s technique gets over that problem very neatly and provides the reader with a very readable and enjoyable novel which examines the tale of Troy in the depth which it merits.
It’s a historical novel rather than a history book – whether the original tale of Troy is history or fiction is open to debate of course – but Ms Mcullough has clearly done her research and knows her subject very well. It’s unlikely to offend the sensibilities of any classical scholars who are looking for a good read.
It’s probably worth noting that historical research seems to be something Colleen McCullough enjoys, and has more than a little aptitude for. The depth of her historical research carried out for her “Masters of Rome” series led to her receiving a Doctor of Letters degree from Macquarie University in 1993.
However, the extensive research is used to make the book more believable and Ms McCullough doesn’t feel the need to flaunt her knowledge or force it clumsily upon her readers. It is expertly woven into the fabric of a very well written tale.
I would certainly recommend both “The Song of Troy” and the “Masters of Rome” series to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. I must confess, I still haven’t got around to reading “The Thorn Birds” though. Maybe the next time I’m in India.
E-readers have had a short, but exciting, life to date. The first e-reader is usually accepted to be the Franklin eBookMan, which was launched as far back as 1999. Low level marketing, poor battery life and a lack of books meant that it wasn’t a great commercial success. Production was halted in 2002, although it was subsequently produced by a third party for a while. The eBookMan wasn’t actually a bad product, but it may have been a little ahead of its time.
It wasn’t until 2006, when Sony released its PRS reader, that the modern, dedicated e-reader with an e-ink display became commercially available. A year later, Amazon followed up with its original Kindle, which was a bit of an odd looking device, full of funky angles and sporting a strange, angular QWERTY keypad.
It was, quite frankly, a bit of an ugly duckling, but Amazon’s association with books gave it a firm advantage and the Kindle was picked up on by early adopters and gadget lovers. The Kindle, priced at $399, sold out in less than five and a half hours and remained out of stock for several months.
Even so, it was really the introduction of the Kindle 2.0 in February of 2009 that saw the e-reader market really take off. The hardware had been significantly improved, but just as importantly, the number of books available for use with the Kindle had grown enormously. You could now get just about any book you wanted to read on your e-reader, which made these gadgets a mainstream device rather than something for geeks to drool over.
Stephen King wrote a special novella (Ur) to mark the launch. Arnold Schwarzenegger pondered on how best to use Kindles in education. Hilary Clinton was part of a senatorial think tank which produced a white paper entitled “A Kindle In Every Backpack”.
In short, e-readers, and the Kindle in particular, were in the news. E-readers were very much the hot gadget – even Oprah Winfrey declared her Kindle to be her “new favorite thing in the world”. The Kindle 2.0 quickly went on to become Amazon’s best selling product and, whether you think that the Kindle was/is the best e-reader on the market or not, it became the benchmark against which all other readers are judged.
And there was certainly no shortage of competition. The e-reader market was hot and there were plenty of manufacturers competing to get their slice of the pie. There were plenty of e-readers released, and every one of them was a putative “Kindle Killer”.
Since then, most of the competition have fallen by the wayside and the Kindle is still the market leader in the e-reader market. Some of the readers which have failed to live up to their regicidal billing were actually very nice pieces of hardware. However, Amazon’s association with books seems to have given it an advantage over some of the manufacturers who were “just” electronics experts.
The fact that Amazon were clearly in the book market for the long haul seemed to give customers more confidence that their readers would be developed and maintained going forward. For a while, Barnes and Noble looked set to put up a fight with their Nook reader – which was (and still is) a very nice reader indeed. They have many of the advantages of Amazon and certainly have their own loyal customers to promote to.
However, after some disappointing sales results, B&N seem to have been discouraged – to the point where they have been exiting the e-reader market for some time now. At the moment, Kobo seems to have emerged as the main competition to Amazon. They have a huge range of e-readers, all very well made and well designed. Whether or not any of them are genuine Kindle killers remains to be seen.
Just recently, there has been a lot of speculation that tablet computers will spell the death of the e-reader. Tablet computers are certainly extremely popular right now, and you can read e-books on them. The trouble is that their lovely LCD color screens, whilst being great for surfing the web, watching video and playing games, aren’t that great for reading.
The displays are back-lit, which puts a bit of a strain on your peepers if you read on one for too long. It’s like trying to read with a light shining in your eyes. Tablets are also much hungrier when it comes to battery power, so you just might find yourself staring at a blank screen when you want to be reading the climax of your latest novel.
The e-ink displays used by readers are much more pleasant to read on. They have sharper text and a battery life measured in weeks rather than hours.
Even so, it’s not out of the question that dedicated e-readers could be coming to the end of what seems to have been a very short life. Higher quality is no guarantee of commercial viability, otherwise CDs would never have replaced vinyl records. People will put up with a great deal in the name of convenience and multi-tasking these days.
Personally speaking, I believe that dedicated e-readers will be around for the foreseeable future. The reading experience is just so much better than that delivered by a tablet computer that there will be a market for these devices – until there is a change in display technology at least.
However, being yesterday’s “hot gadget” is absolutely no guarantee of continuing success. How many people would buy an iPod these days?
Of course, what is really important is not e-reader hardware, but the e-books that are read using it. The e-book genie is well and truly out of the bottle. Regardless of which device you choose to access them, e-books are here to stay. The message is, in this case at least, more important than the medium.