Sunday, July 21, 2024

E-Books and Ex-Pats: Should You Buy an Ereader?


I must confess that only a year ago, the very thought of reading a book on a computer screen turned my stomach. If you feel the same way, read on, because I eventually made some discoveries you might like.

The Kobo weighs just seven ounces and can hold hundreds of books. The size of the print is adjustable and the page is turned by pressing a button.

Last year my problem was that I had plumb run out of good books to read. I had absolutely nothing and out of sheer desperation I decided to open a program that had come preinstalled on my laptop: Nook for the PC, designed to allow you to read books from Barnes and Noble and, of course, buy them too.

Well, it didn’t take long to discover that I could download the latest novel of two favorite authors, Preston and Child, as an ebook for the same price as the paperback version. The difference was that I would have the book “in hand” (well, on screen) instantly and pay no overseas shipping charges whatsoever. So I did it and could not get over the fact that –ten seconds after paying with my credit card—my book had arrived and I could start reading it.The Kobo weighs just seven ounces and can hold hundreds of books. The size of the print is adjustable and the page is turned by pressing a button.

What’s it like to read a book on a laptop? Well, one important feature is that you can set the type size and the shape of the window to whatever you want. You can also highlight any word and a dictionary definition will pop right up. But there were some disadvantages: to me, reading on the computer screen seemed tiring on the eyes; flipping pages for quick skimming was virtually impossible and God help you if you fell asleep and the laptop slid off your chest.

Nevertheless, I kept using my laptop as a reader, simply because thousands of ebooks are now available, many of them free of cost either because they are classics or because their authors are novices. Also, a lot of public libraries north of the border now lend their members ebooks via internet.

By now I was being bothered by another problem with laptops: you can’t use them in the sunshine. So I started investigating ebook reading devices like the Kindle, which Amazon pioneered. These are thin, flat and lightweight, with batteries that may allow you to read for a week without recharging. Most importantly for me, I discovered that many such readers have an “E-Ink” screen which has characteristics much like paper: it doesn’t bother your eyes and it’s perfectly readable in the brightest sunlight.

The original Kindle now sells for $69 at Amazon but there are even cheaper competitors and I ended up buying a Kobo (an anagram for…guess what?). My Kobo is thin, amazingly lightweight and easy to read outdoors. The first thing I did was tie an elastic cord to it, with a loop which I can put around my neck for reading when lying down.

I also discovered that I can download to my device the electronic version of all kinds of magazines and newspapers, which I couldn’t possibly subscribe to in Mexico due to the high cost of postage, without mentioning the strange way such publications can vanish into thin air this side of the border. However, reading a magazine or newspaper on my Kobo is a bit weird. The original formats are discarded and headlines or titles are listed in a menu. Due to lack of space, many of the titles are abbreviated. For example, one read: “What we could lose if the James…”

Well, who could ever guess what THAT article was about? In fact, I discovered the full title was “What we could lose if the James Webb telescope is killed” and it turned out to be a subject I was, indeed, very interested in. I should also add that in these e-versions of magazines and papers, all the pictures are shrunk to a tiny size. Nevertheless, they are better than having nothing at all.

One other discovery needs mentioning: a marvelous computer program called Calibre ( It’s completely free (a labor of love by its inventor, Kovid Goyal), easy to use and it can transform ebooks from one format to another and then download them into your Kindle, Nook, Kobo or whatever.

If I lived in an English-speaking country, I’d probably stick to books made of paper, but because I’m in Mexico, I am delighted with the instant availability of ebooks, combined with the practical aspects of an ereader. If you are an ex-pat and like to read, this is something worth investigating.

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Explorer and adventurer John Pint is a regular columnist for the Guadalajara Reporter and author of several books in both Spanish and English, including “Outdoors in Western Mexico” (co-authored with John’s wife Susy). The Pints’ website offers many fascinating articles about caves, geology, history, and many hidden or little-known natural wonders and mysteries in Mexico.