I’ve always been a reader, for as long as I can remember. I was reading before I entered school, which had the benefit that I learned to read for fun before schools could turn it into a chore. As a result, I’ve always picked up books to read simply for the enjoyment of them. I don’t know just how many novels I’ve read, but a casual estimate puts it about equal to the movies I’ve seen — even with the blog putting movies at a higher priority level presently.
I’ve been slow to adopt eBooks, though. Part of it’s because I’m old enough to remember the early flops, so I hesitated to get on board this time in case it proved to once again be a failure. Looks like they’re here to stay this time. Part of it is simply the tactile enjoyment of a physical book, and part of it is the sheer cost of an e-reader. A Nook or Kindle device is by no means cheap, and it would take years to buy a comparable number of books. But while I haven’t yet adopted a Nook, a few years ago Barnes and Noble hooked me into using their Nook software for PC, with a simple word that regular readers of this blog know I have trouble resisting: “free”. Nook for PC costs nothing, and in the summer of 2010, BN.com ran a promotion whereby they would give out several classic novels as eBooks for free. And so I’ve been using the software for some of my reading ever since.
Granted, I still prefer a regular book for most occasions — if for no other reason than the fact that my computer, being a desktop, is by no means as portable as a book. (This is where B&N would no doubt try to push the handheld device on me.) But the Nook PC software has held up in a lot of respects. The basic reading software works simply and logically. When you have a book open, it displays double-paged, in a readable font-size (adjustable in settings), and pages turn with a click of the mouse or a tap of the keyboard. I have, however, noted that it sometimes has trouble displaying images on the page; they often overflow the visible boundaries.
The main section of the software is the “Library”, which holds all the books you’ve purchased through Barnes and Noble. You can also add .epub files from other sites (such as Smashwords, the Baen free library, or public domain sites); these go under the “My Stuff” section of the library. I’m not sure why there’s a segregation, except perhaps to keep it clear what was purchased through BN.com and what wasn’t; “My Stuff” doesn’t even get listed under “All Items”, which is counter-intuitive. There is also an “archive” you can put items in; this is apparently so you can stow books away that you’ve read and don’t want cluttering up your list.
The library can be viewed in a grid format displaying the covers (with three different options for cover size), or can be viewed in list form. For some reason the “My Stuff” section doesn’t seem to display cover images, just giving a Barnes and Noble logo instead. Whether in grid form or list form, the library can be sorted by title, author, or the date added to your library.
This sorting does have a few flaws. First, the title sorting sorts by a “dumb” basic alphabetization method. “A ” (A followed by a space) comes before “Aa”, for example. Leading articles (“A”,”An”,”The”) are considered as part of the sorting, in contrast to proper library alphabetization. Secondly, the sorting is of course dependent on the information being correct; this is not really the fault of the software, but is a flaw with some of the books. For example, on the screenshot above, you can see A Tale of Two Cities inappropriately credited to Gillen Wood (who provided the introduction for this version) instead of Charles Dickens. (Also, I’ll note for the record that I have read the novel, just not the Nook version; AP Literature, 12th grade.)
There’s also a search function which allows text searching by author, title, publisher, or all three. This is especially convenient in that it searches both the regular library and “My Stuff”.
The options button brings up some interesting choices, including a “Details” page that provides a summary and the option to look up other books by the same author on the store website. More interesting is the “Lend Me” option. If you know a friend’s account ID (which is their email address), you can lend them your copy of an eBook for 14 days; during this period, it won’t be available for reading on your machine. It’s a nice feature that preserves one of the advantages of real books.
The books are stored in a registry online, and are downloaded to your computer when you either start to read them or tell it to download (though the options button). They can also be deleted under the same. They are saved in .epub format, and take up little room on the hard drive. This is because an .epub is essentially a glorified .zip file of HTML pages, with a little DRM thrown in on the ones purchased through Barnes and Noble. When you’re adding .epubs from other sites, you can (if you want) temporarily rename them to .zip, open them, and edit the HTML files manually. This is sometimes useful (at least if you know your way around HTML) for cases where a poor editing job has left things difficult to read. It’s one of the hazards of public-domain books; since there’s no money in it, a lot of them are haphazardly scanned and contain a lot of errors. This is, naturally, one of the reasons I was glad to take advantage of the free classics given out by Barnes and Noble, as they tended to be of a more professional quality.
There are, of course, some technical issues with the process of adding books to your library. Purchasing through BN.com is a smooth process, and books show up as available in Nook promptly with a refresh. But downloading obviously depends on having an active connection with the server; in fact, as I write this, I am unable to re-download one of my books (after testing the remove option) because of technical difficulties with BN’s host server. This will presumably pass by the time you read this.
What won’t pass are a couple fringe cases I discovered a few weeks ago. The first is that because the software logs into your account and constantly refreshes, checking for new books, it expects to be connected to the internet 100% of the time. If you are currently going through an outage, this will sometimes cause the reader to lock up — making it difficult to read the books offline when your internet connection is down. You can prevent this check (and thus the lock up) by logging out of your account, but this (logically) means that your BN purchases won’t be available to read, as they’re associated with your account. The items in “My Stuff” will, however, remain available.
The other fringe case I noticed is that if the credit card you have on account with BN.com has expired, you will be unable to download any of your purchased eBooks — even the ones that are already paid for. I can understand not allowing the purchase of new eBooks without an active credit card, but only in cases where the eBook isn’t being given away (as some are even now). I can’t understand any reason why one should have to have an active credit card on account in order to download books that have already been purchased. It may be an issue that will only come up from time to time — but it’s an issue that shouldn’t come up at all.
Those issues aside, Nook for PC generally works very well. Reading books on it is as comfortable as reading blogs online, and just as easy. I still don’t think it would replace a book for me, even were it portable, but I have to admit it could replace some of the 800-page megatomes that certain fantasy authors like to produce.