On the shelf or in the Aether?

KoboLogoNot so many years ago, I was at home watching the local breakfast news show on TV, as was my habit then before running off to work. I was watching a segment about the best “tech toys” to pick up for the holidays–and one of them was a new-fangled technology that promised to revolutionize the way people read: electronic ink. Yes, it was one of the early e-readers that was commercially available to a wide market. I chuckled through the segment, saying to myself “that will never work.”

You see, I’ve always been a heavy reader. I can’t remember the last time I left the house without a book or two, and that’s not an exaggeration.I love books; there’s just something about living vicariously through another character or learning about something I didn’t know before that captivates me. But a big part of that experience is holding a physical book–the smell, the turning of pages, watching your bookmark migrate towards the end. Why would anyone give that up?

And so I was strongly seated in the “dead tree” camp, and never thought I’d make the transition to e-books. I’m still not sure what made me want to take the plunge last December when I bought my first e-reader–curiosity, mostly, I suppose, and the fact that my local library had started their e-book program. At any rate, I tried it…and I’ve never looked back.

Oh, I’ll still buy paper books. They’re not something I’ll ever want to rid myself of. But my Kobo is one of the best electronics purchases I’ve ever made–it’s by far the most used piece of electronics in our house. As of today I’ve spent the equivalent of 18 consecutive days reading on my Kobo.

So what made me a convert? For anyone who’s still sitting on the fence as to why you should bother with an e-reader, here’s my top five reasons:


Using an e-reader is simple. There are things that annoy me about the Kobo–it used to be terribly slow going back to the home screen before their latest software update, it crashes occasionally–but when I look at what I’m getting out of it in the end, it’s a no brainer. Having the ability to read almost whatever I want, whenever I want is an incredible boon for someone like me. I finished a book last night, and was deciding what one I wanted to start next; usually this would entail spending an hour in the library or going over my To-Read list and seeking out a particular title; with the Kobo my library is diverse enough for any mood I’m in. I have several hundred books at my fingertips–a few million if I turn on my wifi. All of it from my comfortable spot on the couch with a dog in my lap.

It’s also simple to switch between books. I started reading an esoteric text on Kabbalah last night, in researching my Tapestry Project; I wasn’t in the mood, so I switched to Brak the Barbarian. When I finished a story there, I went to a sci-fi tale by Sam Best. My bookmarks in all of them ensure that I’ll never lose my place, even if I don’t get back to it for another few months. So easy.


When I was in University, I was accustomed to spending an arm and a leg for textbooks. Fortunately, I was an English/Theatre major, so most of my texts were books I’d read over and over again, and still have in my library. Still, I spent a lot of money. Now that I’m all grown up, I can’t afford to drop a hundred dollars on books.
Ebooks, though, are cheap. Generally. At the very least, most popular titles are several dollars below the cost of a paperback–and a huge number of titles are priced at $2 or under. You can find almost any book published before 1900 for free, and an increasingly larger group of people are publishing current works for free as well. You don’t have to spend a lot of money for great books, and with the way the self-publishing world is going, I have a feeling that the Big Four are going to start lowering their prices as well. Having a decent sized library can carry an incredibly small cost. This is great news for anyone who loves to read. Of course, the initial investment can vary from $80-500, depending on what kind of e-reader/tablet you buy, but it’s a very worthwhile investment.
On top of all the free ebooks out there, most public libraries have jumped on the bandwagon. This is something that will become even more accessible soon–currently, it costs libraries a ridiculous amount to purchase ebooks, but it’s changing.


When I read, it’s not just fiction. I love to study–anything from quantum mechanics to religious texts to history books. Some of my favourite memories at school was hunkering down in the library with dozens of books and doing research all day (and not always because I had a paper to write). Nerdy, yes–but delightful.
With the Kobo, research is incredibly simple. I no longer have to bring a notebook–I can make annotations right in the text from my device. I can highlight passages, bookmark specific pages, and cross reference footnotes. Best of all, I can organize my current research into bookshelves so relevant topics are in the same accessible group–and I can compare versions of a text by going between them in seconds.
One of the best examples of this is my ongoing study of the Tao te Ching. It’s an ancient Chinese spiritual text–but because it’s 2500+ years old, there are many different versions. I have several of them on my Kobo (most of them were free, see above) and can go from version to version to study each verse. Looking at other people’s interpretations of a text is the best way to draw your own conclusions. Now, if i could only link the annotations from one version to the others…


I said it before, and I’ll say it again: I have several hundred books at my fingertips. All in one little device that weighs less than a pound. It’s not even close to full–and if I were to add an optional mini SD card, I could pack it with another couple dozen gigabytes of storage. An ebook is generally a few hundred kilobytes at the most–you can do the math. For a bibilophile like me, it’s a dream come true.
E-readers are also getting smaller, to an extent. Mine doesn’t fit into a pocket, though it’s just larger than a typical paperback. It’s the right size for me, and it’s easy to take with me anywhere I go. I take public transit a lot, so it’s wonderful to be able to have all of my books in one place. When I travel, I don’t have to agonize over which books I’m going to bring, or how many can fit into my suitcase (I once had to unpack in the middle of an airport because I had so many books that my luggage was over the weight limit). If someone had told me ten years ago that this was possible, I’d have thought they were crazy. Now I don’t want to be without an e-reader.


This is the biggest one for me. One of the cool features of the Kobo–and I’m sure many other readers as well–is that it suggests titles for me based on my reading habits. Really, it’s similar to the Amazon “you might also like” widget. Some people find it annoying, but I think it’s great–I’ve come across so many books I never would have found if not for this feature. If you haven’t guessed, I’m that guy who goes to the bookstore or library for a particular title, and spends two hours browsing the stacks because one thing leads to another. This kind of algorithm is right up my alley.
But the best part of this is that I’ve been introduced to this incredible community of indie writers. If I hadn’t bought a Kobo, I never would have found out about the great writers who are working outside the ‘traditional’ system–and I never would have bothered to step into that world myself. And while there are those out there who are still skeptical of so called self-published authors–the stigma is wearing away, but there’s still a hint for some people–the quality of writing really is amazing. Some of my now favourite books are coming from indie authors, and I’m starting to follow them like I used to follow Stephen King or Michael Crichton. The best part is, not only is the quality excellent, the authors are accessible. They want to interact with their readers, and encourage them to join their community. I’ve never sent an email to Stephen King, and wouldn’t expect a resonse if I did–but I’m in regular correspondence with some of my favourite indie authors. How is that not a great thing?

Well. There’s my rant. I promise I’m not on the Kobo payroll! But if you’re looking for a gift this holiday season, consider giving someone an e-reader. I’ve always thought that a book is one of the best gifts one can give, because it’s a sharing of knowledge and imagination that goes far beyond a simple tangible thing. What better way to top that than with a device that facilitates the wondrous adventure of reading?

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