Friday, 31 October 2008

My New Toy

Our household is made up of a librarian/photographer (who is naturally both a rabid collector of photobooks and also unable to part with any book, especially unread ones), an academic, and two children who are both avid readers. As a consequence, we have a book problem. I read somewhere that the average UK household has about 10 books, excluding the phone directory. I estimate that -- despite a massive and traumatising clearout last year -- we still have somewhere nudging 6,000 books. On that statistical basis, our house alone accounts for the entire neighbourhood. Hey, we buy them so that no-one else need feel obliged. It's a social service. They're everywhere.

In an attempt to stem the inward flow of this paper torrent, I decided to buy myself an e-book reader. After the usual consumer speed-dating exercise with potential purchases, I settled on the Cybook from Bookeen, a French company (though it does sound like an Irish company making illicit spirits out of used books). The main advantage seemed to be that the Cybook uses the Mobipocket e-book setup, which -- on the face of it -- seemed to have the widest and best selection of titles. The Sony e-reader is a nice thing, too, and very popular, but sometimes I simply get the urge to be different. The Iliad looks very good, but too expensive for a toe-dipping exercise. Maybe later...

The missing player in the UK, of course, is Amazon's Kindle, which sounds wonderful, but which I suspect may never appear here with quite the same seamless integration it has in the States because of technical differences in the way mobile phone networks work in the UK and Europe. Prove me wrong, Amazon, please!

Le Cybook

The main disappointment so far has been the discovery of how much Mobipocket content is restricted to use in North America. Doh! Penguin, for example, seems to make itself available via Mobipocket in the USA, but via the EPUB format in Britain. (Oh God, not Format Wars again ...) All is not lost, however: it's been a long time since I bought my books in W.H. Smith, but I was very grateful to discover their UK-oriented e-book store, delivering in all formats available.

The plan, obviously, is to buy my "disposable" reading in electronic form. The idea of taking a literal trunkload of books on holiday, for example, is very appealing. Imagine: you could even finally read The bloody Da Vinci Code and no one would know! I can see "indispensable" getting in there, too -- being able to satisfy the urge to read John Donne right now when on a train journey, say.

The problem is going to be availability: Donne, yes, Ted Hughes, no. And there's the question of the screen: so-called e-paper is a brilliant thing, but they've concentrated so hard on making it usable even in bright sunlight! that it's a little dim in a normally lit room. A reading light and glasses will be a necessity (getting old? Who, me?).

I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

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