Secret Pleasures of iReading

iPadReadingWhen I left off, Lisbeth Salander was stuck in the hospital, hacking her way into various databases, planning her legal defense, while her only real friend and confidant, Blomquist, was out flirting with a buff aerobics addict who is a member of the Swedish version of the CIA. At least that's where I think I left them when I put down The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, the last book in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. BookCoverI'm reading it on my iPhone using Apple's iBooks app.

The two lives of a book addict

I have this theory that all of us who read books have two lives. The first takes place in real time where we eat our meals, pay our bills, and otherwise go about our daily business. The second takes place late at night during should-be-sleeping time, where we settle into a good book and escape from the real-time world. We're sometimes eager to leave the first world, but we're almost always reluctant to abandon the second. We do so late at night, crashing into sleep so we can get up early, rush off to the office, and finally, after a hard day's work, get back to that book sitting on your nightstand. 

The iPhone and iPad have changed this. With iBooks or another eBook reader installed, you can take your favorite book (or collection of books) with you wherever you go. And whenever you have a few free minutes—during lunch, afternoon break, or waiting for the metro—you can jump back into the story right where you left off. And when it's late at night and you can't sleep, you don't have to worry about bothering your spouse. Just crawl under the covers with your iPhone or iPad.

I still love physical books, but buying them is a hassle. You either have to make a trip to the mall, or order the books online and wait for delivery. Again, the iPhone (and Amazon's Kindle) changed that. Now, when I finish a book I like, say, Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child, all I have to do is go to an online store, download another one of his Jack Reacher novels, and start reading it in minutes. No addiction was ever so easy to feed.

My favorite eBook reader apps

iBooksMy favorite eBook reader is Apple's iBooks app (free, It has superior organizational tools, indicator dots at the bottom of the page that show you where you are in the book, bookmarks, colorful images, a charming bookshelf display of all your books, and more.

KindleAnother excellent book reader is the Kindle app (free, Its big advantage over iBooks is that it lets you access Amazon's Kindle store, which has many more book titles than Apple's iBookstore. In addition, the Kindle app incorporates Amazon's Whispersync technology, which synchronizes notes, bookmarks, and the last page you read between Kindle-enabled devices. For example, you can stop reading a book late at night on your iPad. When you open it up on your iPhone the next day at lunch, Kindle will give you the option of going to the last page you read on the iPad.

Apple's iBooks (left) can display colorful images; Amazon's Kindle reader (right) lets you sync notes, book marks, and last page read between your Kindle-enabled devices.

The only real downside to reading books on these devices is that I can't share them with my brother. We have similar tastes and often trade physical books back and forth. Unfortunately, we can't do that with eBooks. The first company that comes up with a solution for this is going to do well. Maybe they could offer a "buy one, get another for half price" option. This "gifting" approach could be extended to apps and other iTunes content. It would be a great new business model for Apple or some enterprising developer.

Add a "read out loud" mode

Twenty-five years ago, I moved my soon-to-be ex-wife's personal belongings from Laguna Beach, California to Fairfield, Iowa. It took two 20-foot trucks to do it. I drove one and we hired a guy name Ray to drive the other. Ray liked to read paperbacks, but unfortunately, he did it while he was driving. All across the country, his truck had a fairly loose association with the lane he was supposed to be in.

Ray (and everyone on the road with him) would have been better off if he listened to audiobooks instead. They were available back then on cassette tapes, but now you can buy them on CDs or download them in a variety of electronic formats. The iTunes store has a whole section of audiobooks you can download and listen to on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. I'd like to see a "read out loud" mode incorporated into iBooks and other eBook readers. It would be a little tricky getting the voice to sound natural, but the text-to-voice technology is improving. Read-out-loud capability would be great for Ray, assuming that he's still on the road after 25 years of questionable driving.

That's it for now! I've got to get back to my second life and find out what's happening in the Goth-tinged world of Lisbeth Salander.

The iPhone, iPad, and eBook reader apps have changed the way we read
March-April 2011
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