Sunday, July 26, 2009

Re-reading and e-reading

Lately I've been re-reading my favorite book from my adolescence, Jessamyn West's Cress Delahanty. It still speaks to me after all these years, and if anything, I can see more in the book now as an adult. (If you aren't aware, my internet name of Cress is after the title character, a young girl living on a California ranch.) Cress Delahanty comes of age amidst the usual problems with love, school, and her parents. She's also a poet, and prone to introspection and imaginative romanticism. It's so odd how a book written in the 1950s can be so universal and yet so specific too. How could West so pinpoint what I, an Asian girl living in Texas thirty years later, felt as an awkward misfit?

But that's the magic of books, allowing intimate communions of the mind like this. I suppose West must have felt similarly when she grew up. She clearly knows what's in the heart of a lost girl, struggling to define herself.

I'm trying to read more to entertain myself because there's too much reality show garbage on TV now, and the summer heat does not motivate me to go out much. Even PBS sometimes disappoints me with their programs during pledges. There's probably good stuff on cable and on the internet that I'm missing out on, but I can't budget money for cable while I'm unemployed. (I was laid off a month ago, but have had a job offer, so I may be back at work soon.) I only like internet TV in small doses, or for things that are hard-to-find, like all those YouTube videos of the Sherlock Holmes series starring Douglas Wilmer. That show's not gonna be out on DVD anytime soon.

Anyway, back to books. Reading is not cheap, either, especially when I order obscure Sherlockian books that cannot be found in any local library. If only all these Sherlockian works were kept on some print-on-demand service by a Sherlockian publisher. Of course, print on demand isn't the best option, either. I would prefer something more instant and convenient, like a downloadable ebook.

Moreover, ebooks do not waste paper, and would not take up space on my shelves, which I already don't have enough of. So I have been salivating for some time over ebook reading devices, and even considered getting an iPod Touch for a while, but the screen is too small and would probably strain my eyes. No way can I pay for an extravagance like a Kindle, either, so I daily comb websites like TeleRead searching for information about other, cheaper devices that are out. I was considering a Cool-ER reader for a while as it's not too expensive, has formats I like, and comes in different colors. But I'm also constantly teased by the announcements of devices with 5" screens like the Bebook Mini and the Astak Pocket Pro, which they say should come out later this summer. (I'd prefer the 5" as opposed to the normal 6" because I'd like the device to fit my small hands and be pocketable.) So I reluctantly try to be patient and continue saving my money.

In the meantime, I've downloaded free ebook reading software onto my computer so that I can check out which formats are the best. I like ePub, but dammit, can't understand what's so fricking hard about getting footnotes right in Feedbooks's converter thingy; I've seen other ePubs and even eReader files handle footnotes correctly, and yet the Feedbooks guy says it's no good doing footnotes in text that has no clearly defined page breaks! Then don't provide the stinking "footnotes" widget on the site, and don't claim that you support "real" footnotes, when you don't support real footnotes, guy! You support freaking inline notes, which ain't the same damn thing! I'm sorry, I'm ranting. My Prelude ebook is still delayed, as I still haven't found any other ePub creation tool that I know how to use.

As I was saying, since I lack an ebook reader, I've checked out ebooks via free software instead. It's not ideal reading off a computer screen, though, as I find that I get sleepy reading off the screen, especially with long books. So really, an ebook reader would be a good investment, even though of course it's a luxury. Still, I'd hold off on buying books for a while, relying at first on public domain books from Feedbooks and other sources. Perhaps I can load the reader with my un-DRMed audiobooks too. (But damn, I do wish that no digital files came with DRM. It's annoyingly restrictive, and I'll be glad when all my iTunes music gets upgraded to DRM-free.)

Of the software that I have, I like Barnes & Noble's new eReader the best. It's based on the eReader format, which originated on Palm devices, before eventually being sold to Fictionwise, which B&N bought recently. It allows me to change fonts and even do highlights and annotations. Most people would not need these features unless they are students, but I need them because I'm constantly marking up my Sherlock Holmes books to point out chronology data or illogical stuff. Having an ebook copy would be easier than lugging around Klinger's three Annotated volumes everywhere. (I thought I liked Sony's own annotation feature, until I discovered that the notes I made in those books don't show in the right order. If I make a highlight with no note, it invariably goes behind a highlight with a note, even if that's not their order on the pages. So annoying!) I'm going to have to test if that happens in eReader too.

Of course, I'd prefer ePub format to eReader, because the devices I want don't support the eReader format. I've heard people say that Fictionwise intended to change eReader to ePub, the more modern and open standard, so I hope B&N will do that change as well. They don't say anything about it on their website, though.

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