Thursday, February 24, 2011


Barnes & Noble says they sold a million e-books on Christmas Day 2010. If you tried to use your WiFi that day, you probably noticed everything was slow, due to the high traffic volume. Naturally, on the same day, they sold zero regular books, as the stores were all closed. eBooks have been around for many years, so why this sudden leap into eSales?

Many people were waiting for the hardware to become useful, as in affordable, right-sized, and right-weighted. That seems to have finally happened, with the Sony eReader, the Kindle and the Kobo. Or everybody who was interested finally met someone who had an eReader, and got a personal report. Or many baby boomers are finding they need to get something with slightly larger print. Whatever the reason, the stars aligned and the eGods made it so.

We have a friend with a Sony, a Kindle, and an iPad, so we got a tour of the relative merits. After much discussion, we went with the iPad.

I love it. Yes, it was more expensive than a Kindle, but it can do so much more. It is like a stripped down laptop. It can surf the web. It can YouTube. It can bring my mail, and let me answer mail, but it won’t let me create an address book, so I can only reply to messages, or write to people if I know their email by heart. It can deliver books in seconds, and will let me adjust the font size, screen brightness, and choose either white paper or sepia.

Used to be I would have breakfast every morning and then go to my office, boot up, and wait for 5 to 20 minutes for my computer to go through its virus-checking, update pasting, and whatnot. Now I go to the kitchen, put the kettle on, start up the iPad, put the toast in, and before the toast has popped, I am reading my fantasy hockey team score and my email.

And then there are the apps. I immediately downloaded free Sudoku, free crossword puzzles, Freecell, a Tim Hortons finder, a Starbucks finder, a piano, a guitar tuner, several newspapers, a kick-the-can game, and air hockey. There is even an app that will listen to the music playing on your stereo for 10 seconds, tell you what it is, who the artist is, give you the lyrics, the chords, the artist’s bio, and by the way, do you want to buy this from iTunes right now? There is no end to the apps.

My objective was to read a few free books to get the feel of it, see if I liked reading on a screen or if it hurt my eyes, always an issue when you have eyeballs that aren’t lined up properly. There were a heap of books to choose from. Only thing was, they were pretty old and/or boring. Walking by Thoreau. Walden Pond. Moby Dick. Gaak, I read Moby Dick in university and will not read it again. I started reading Winnie the Pooh, but interest soon faded and I found I was having more fun playing crokinole or bowling.

Finally, I downloaded The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan. It’s old, but it’s free. And I started enjoying the story, and totally forgot to notice if I liked the eReading experience or not. So I guess I do.

People who object to eReaders often say either they like the feel of a real book, or the hardware is not up to par, or eBooks are expensive.

The hardware is up to par now, all of the devices currently on sale. eBooks are cheaper than real books, but not dirt cheap. And who among you can deny paying the author for his/her work?

Yes, real books feel nice in your hand, the firmness of the cover, the crisp smoothness of the paper, the sound of the pages turning.

The iPad feels nice, too. It is silky smooth beyond imagining, is gently warm, and it will make page-turning noises for you if you want.

Nobody is asking you to give up real books entirely. Just find a little place in your heart for eBooks.

Vicki Cameron is the author of Clue Mysteries and More Clue Mysteries, each of the 15 short stories based on the board game Clue. Her young adult novel, Shillings, appeared in 2007. Her stories appear in the Ladies' Killing Circle anthology series and Storyteller Magazine. Her young adult novel, That Kind of Money, was nominated for an Edgar and an Arthur Ellis.


  1. I have an Astak. I chose it because, along with the other formats it can read, it can read the LIT (Microsoft Reader) format. I couldn't find another eReader that could handle that format. It has multiple font sizes (who can read the teeny tiny default size font?). I can put my 16 gig memory card into it (although according to the manual it can only read a card up to 8 gigs). I use the reader mostly for travelling (it's much lighter to carry 350 books on the reader than 5 or 6 books in my luggage) and sometimes on my bus commutes across the city.

    But I do enter every contest I can find to win an iPad. :-)

  2. e-readers are the way to go. The brains are working on making books even more interactive so you'll be able to click on a character's name and get a bio or back to a map or a genealogy chart. They are great for fiction but not as great for non fiction where you want to flip back and forth, read charts etc but all that will come.

  3. I'm still dithering about which one to buy so this is all great grist for the mill, Vicki. And who couldn't use a Tim Hortons finder? That might just tip the balance.

  4. I have the Sony eReader and am equally happy with that. But all it does of course is allow you to read books. However, it's small and packable and I find the screen a convenient size and that it has an easy on the eyes backgroung. And the font sizes offered just fine. It's true that once I pick it up and start reading, I don't realize the difference between it and a book.