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An year with my Reader

Okay so it’s not a full year in any sense – I bought it way over an year ago, and I found out that it could be used with a modern technology like ePub just past April – but if I have to remember one as such, 2010 has been the year of the Reader for me. And not just for me as it happens.

First of all, thanks to the Reader I was able to read a whole lot more than in the past years; I’m not sure if it’s just novelty that will wear off, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have brought with me so many books to read during travels as I did, mostly because of the small form factor (and the fact that it fits neatly into my usual bag). Anobii statistics reports I read 31 books, ten thousands pages worth of content this year — and this is nothing to say about the sheer variety of them compared to the past.

While I was never limiting my readings to a particular genre, the Reader, with the much cheaper ebooks, allowed me to choose among a wider range of books for my readings. Also the convenience of getting the book right away is not something to ignore; I actually read through Cyber War mostly because I could get it right after hearing about it on Real Time with Bill Maher. Beside that particular book, I went on to read some classics like The Picture of Dorian Gray that I never found the time to look up before, and economics/business books such as Too Big To Fail and Free which actually interested me greatly.

Surprisingly, what I found most difficult to read on the Reader were the reason I originally looked back to the Reader: O’Reilly books. Since they are generated with DocBook, they have one big issue that makes them hard to read on these devices, they split too much. Let’s take for instance Being Geek which I’d like to read next, if I can find a way to do so without irks; on a PDF or print edition, there are page breaks only between “sections”, rather than chapters. Chapters, which are actually often enough just a couple of paragraphs long, are simply printed one after the other continuously; this is quite okay because otherwise, the padding added at the end of each would waste a lot of paper, and would transform a 200ish pages’ book into a 500ish or so. As I said, DocBook ePub generation is imperfect in this regard as it splits the output HTML files (yes it uses HTML internally, let’s move on) on chapter markers, which means that every three paragraphs I have to wait till the Reader fetches the next file to render separately, slowing my reading down enough to make it difficult to continue.

Reading the PDF version of books on the reader is also not the brightest idea; since the screen of the PRS-505 is relatively small, you can’t read a PDF file full-size; while the newest firmware allows to zoom and reflow the text, this becomes also unusable as a way to read O’Reilly books because the page number marker is not ignored. Even worse when complex diagrams are involved as the Reader is pretty much useless for those — for those technical books, I probably wouldn’t mind a tablet with a bigger screen; I’ve been considering the Archos 101 but I don’t currently have the dough to afford one; and when I’ll have, they’ll probably be sold out already.

Speaking about tablets, once again I think that Apple, even though can’t really be praised for a tremendously good job with the iPad, had a primary role in making 2010 the year of eBooks not only for me but for the whole situation, together with Amazon — the latter finally launched the Kindle in Europe (and once again, it’s not something I’d buy, considering Amazon’s “it’s all ours!” approach). With those two companies driving consumer attention (even though rarely consumers themselves) toward eBooks, I was somewhat curious about the Italian branches of Mediamarkt and Saturn starting to carry eInk devices in-store, especially since I knew there were no real Italian eBook pool to draw from, for the customers buying the devices.

Turns out that while Amazon entered the Italian market, IBS, that has been many times considered the Italian answer to Amazon, and Mediamarkt itself opened eBook stores, carrying Italian content in ePub format (mostly locked with Adobe Digital Editions DRM). I’m happy to note that while backcatalog is still not available, at least they carry both the big take-it-all publisher Mondadori and the lesser Chiarelettere with its vastly politics books — especially nice since the average books from the latter I bought before were both pretty expensive, and quite huge in the pure physical dimension).

At any rate, the bottom line for me is that the Reader now looks like a pretty good buy, more than it ever did at the time. But please, make it possible to skip over wireless, 3g, Bluetooth, touchscreen.. the two weeks charge that the PRS-505 both promises and delivers make all of those look like wastes, especially since I only end up loading new stuff on it once every two weeks, which is also the time I end up charging its battery.

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