Lamenting, as always, the lack of baggage space, the beloved wife and I finally resolved to try ebooks. As a budget-priced option Amazon's new Kindle (the new one without keyboard or touch screen) was chosen, after I had established that it is indeed reasonably possible to read ebooks on it that come from independent sources. It doesn't work with epub, but (for instance) Calibre can convert epub to mobi format. It can also display PDF and plain text documents.
Alas, the selection of ebooks available from Amazon has its shortcomings. Newish books are very similar in price to the print editions, but lack their flexibility -- you cannot easily lend them to others, give them away, resell them, etc. While some of this is possible, as I understand, it is not easy. So this is not an option for the mystery novels the beloved wife consumes at an alarming rate.
But then there are a lot of classics with expired copyright available for free (as in beer, dunno if they are DRMed or not) directly from Amazon, meaning they can be copied to the device with a single click. Lots of others are available from Project Gutenberg in Kindle format, even in German. (BTW, that "Gutenberg-DE" thing is a commercial enterprise that makes it as difficult as possible to download and carry away whole books -- they want you to read the stuff on their site, which generates income by advertising and by selling stuff on CD-ROM.)
Apart from the free stuff there is also a lot of quite cheap content available from Amazon, only not necessarily what you have been looking for. It is worth a look, though.
The Kindle, with 1.4 GB free for books, can hold a lot, given that most books are just a few 100 KB. This is of course excellent for a vacation, and exactly what we had been looking for.
It took me a while to get used to reading stuff on the Kindle and not be distracted by the technical device itself, but after that it is quite pleasant. The hardware is a good compromise between being small and being good to hold in one or two hands. The page turn buttons are very well placed on the sides. The screen is excellent to read when brightly lit and bearable when not so well. I found it useful to adjust the font size accordingly; I use one size smaller than the default with my reading glasses in good light and one size bigger in not-so-good light or with my normal glasses on.
Now, the books:
- Neal Stephenson: In the Beginning was the Command Line
- This is the first ebook I actually started reading -- I had already begun reading it on the Android phone that I carried for (the previous) work, so it naturally landed on the Kindle as well. I read a bit further into it during this vacation. But the more I read of it, the more I failed to miss his point and wondered "so what is he getting at?" Apart from that, I was more and more annoyed by him not really having understood many of the technical things he talks about.
- Sara Paretsky: Hardball
- Years ago I have read lots of her V.I. Warshawski novels, and this is another one. Actually the beloved wife wanted to read this one, so it was in German. The translation has a few bugs, but is bearable. It isn't extraordinary, compared to the other ones, even fulfilled more V.I. clichés than I'd have cared for (she gets beaten up multiple times, deeply annoys her late father's police colleagues and other authorities only to be reconciled with the good ones in the end, digs up a major conspiracy, gets close to getting killed, and succeeds only with the help of her close friends), but I still liked it.
- Steven Pinker: How the Mind Works
- The print edition, even hardcover, has been sitting on my shelf for years, as it is too big and too heavy to read on the move. Now, as an ebook, even relatively cheap for just a bit over € 10, it was easy to carry with me. I began it during this vacation, but didn't get through it. I have read nearly half of it now, and it is still too big. More to the point, I find it too fluffy. So many anecdotes, so much trying to keep it an easy read, all this makes it a bit tiring for me, as the actual information rate is too low and I have to dig through so much fluff. Of course there is is a lot of interesting information in it, and I will read it to the end. But it seems that Pinker's efforts to make the information more accessible have made it less accessible for me.
- Hans Christian Nickelsen: Meine lieben Enkel! ("My dear Grandchildren!")
- In his last years, my grandfather wrote up some memories, addressed to his grandchildren. This is probably not interesting at all for anyone not related to him or at least very interested in what it meant to be a teacher in the 1930s to 1960s, especially at a german school in the (formerly german) parts of southern Denmark. It is for me, though, and while my father finds it painful to read for all his father's difficult conceptions of his family, my own personal distance is big enough to find it bearable in this respect. I formatted this as a PDF document exactly for the Kindle's page size, so I could choose a type that suits me better than the builtin ones. Unfortunately the dots of the german umlauts (äöü) don't correctly line up with the letters, though.
The final words: Reading ebooks on the Kindle (or any other ebook reader) can be fine, but it has its limitations. Apart from the mentioned consequences of DRM I cannot, for instance, thumb through the book to see how far that particularly boring passage goes, I have to page through it one by one. Most new ebooks are too expensive given the limitations. I find the possibility of putting stuff on the device by USB cable necessary, but also appreciate the ability to load them via email.