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So, after my last rant about not having good books to read and though I have received quite a few good books from friends and from the book store, I have been checking out the latest regarding e-books and e-book readers. Being so far from a really good English book store, and let’s face it, even the good ones are narrow in their offerings, I know that I can get certain books faster and cheaper than shipping them across the world.

I’m pretty traditional, though, and it’s been hard adjusting to not having the actual product in my hands. It’s not like music – I like to have the real CD, but sometimes you benefit from buying a single where you would never buy the album (one-hit wonders, anyone?). You can’t buy just one chapter from a book, and why would you? Every book I’ve bought, I’ve wanted.

And, contrary to what you’d might think, e-books are not necessarily cheaper. And in some cases, they are only marginally cheaper, like 50 cents. That can get hard to swallow when the book is only available in hardback. They offer it to you for $20! Many of the new trade paperback sizes have jacked up the price of a book to at least $12, and the e-books are therefore right behind in price.

I almost choked when I saw The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella e-book for $11.67. I bought the paperback when I was in London in a 3 for 2 deal…it was incredibly lacking and I would have been depressed if I had bought it online and then not even been able to pass it on to someone (many e-book purchases are NOT transferrable).

Needless to say, I have decided to use e-books primarily as an experiment with authors I’ve never read before, whose books are printed as mass market paperback, so the prices would be $7.50 or less. This way, If I find that I like them from reading one or two of their releases, then when I go home for the summer, I can glom (bookspeak for: immediately grab up) their paperback backlist from a used bookstore and M-bag it to myself back in Italy.

Also, since I abandoned my large reading library before moving to Italy (most given away to friends or sold), I haven’t been able to build it up again, and now I’m not so sure I want to. So few books are really worth keeping, and even some of the keepers are impossible to read again. I hate throwing away books, and with there being few used English book stores here, I am happy not to start carting around boxes and boxes of books with me.

So, there are a few popular e-book reader programs out now. Microsoft’s Reader, e-Reader (also an online store), and Mobipocket were three that I downloaded to try out. I liked how Mobipocket let you download book excerpts directly into the reader. This gave me a feel for the reader as well as learning a bit about the book itself. Mobipocket is most popularly used with PDAs such as the Trio and Palm.

e-Reader has a free and Pro version, which you get with any book purchase for a limited trail. I ended up buying the Pro (which comes with the Merriam-Webster pocket dictionary and the 911 commission report, ha) because you lose the 2-page function in the free version (blast!) and I’ve been using it and the online store now for a few weeks. I also felt that their prices were pretty low. If you sign up for the newsletter, every week you get a 10% promotional code, that makes some of their mass-markets for under $6.

Amazon’s e-book prices were more or less the same as the print version of the book, which I found annoying since the print versions are eligible for a 4-for-3 offer. If the digital ones became eligible, I think I would buy from them as well.

Most readers had a “2-page” layout that simulates a real book, and since I have a small (12″) laptop screen, I set it to full screen and read. It is pretty engaging this way, not seeing other windows behind it, and I like tricking my brain that it’s a book. I was able to tweak the texture, margins, and colors of the page and ink in order to make it more pleasing to my eye. I set it to a neutral, beige-mauve color that is easier on my eyes than white. You could even have a single column all the way across but the eye is more relaxed and quick reading smaller columns (all those speed reading computer games I did when I was younger).

You may be thinking to yourself, I like to read in bed, though, and how can you hold that computer up? Well, thanks to it being a laptop, I move it to a small table next to my bed and read away. It’s actually quite nice, and only my index finger gets cold when it has to leave the covers to turn the page.

Microsoft Reader is used by a lot of big online bookstores (see: Amazon) but I was annoyed that I wasn’t able to find the setting for the 2-page layout, and that they wanted me to “activate” the software. I did like that I could mess with the Clear Text settings to modify the clarity of the text display. Also, they have a text reader which can read the book to you. It was pretty mechanical but there was some noticeable lilting and descending at the correct grammar points which was interesting.

Sony is coming out with an e-reader device, the Sony Reader. It has a display screen that uses a “electronic paper” technology so that the digital words appear written on a paper-like surface, easier on the eyes. 80 full-length novels can be stored there, but what’s most impressive is the battery life: 7,500 pages! Want more info? [Here] [Here]

Let me know if anyone bites the bullet with me!

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