My nose in a nook

My older son bought me a book for Christmas – a book in nook format. It’s a 690 page book, one I had checked out from the library in late August and had only read about a third of when I had to return it in early October. My husband had bought the nook at a Black Friday sale, and it’s now the nook he carries with him most places, rather than whatever paperback or hardcover he’s currently reading.

Today he left it behind for me, and I set about figuring out how to pick up where I left off in the book I had been reading. Normally I would start by reading the user manual with such a device, but as the user manual is itself stored on the nook (I suppose there’s probably a paper one somewhere but I don’t know where it might be), it seemed just as easy to learn the controls by reading a novel.

I can’t say the controls are exactly intuitive. I spent a while, the first time I picked it up, just trying to figure out how to turn the thing on. The page forward and back buttons are obvious, but there’s nothing marked POWER, or ON/OFF (or 0/1 as many electronic devices are). The power button is so skinny and barely sticks out at all, I had assumed it was just decorative.

Then there’s the matter of how to use the screen once it activates. First it takes me a while to realize that the main part of the screen, where the text of the book will be, isn’t a touch screen at all. That part is controlled only by the back and forward buttons on either side of it. The menu part of the screen, that is controlled by touch, is only the inch-high section at the bottom.

There is something that resembles the scroll bars used in Windows, but putting my finger on it and trying to drag it down doesn’t have any effect. Then by accident, I get the menu to scroll down. Finally I figure it out – I have to move my finger up the screen to make the menu scroll down, as though I had my finger on an actual roller covered with text, and I would need to turn the roller up to see what further down.

Now I have to find the book I want in a list of books three pages long. I can get from one page to the next, but how do I choose a book somewhere in the middle of the page? I finally succeed, but I’m still not sure how. Next, to find where I left off, as I certainly don’t want to reread the first two hundred or so pages – or even have to page through them to find where I stopped.

I figure out how to get to “chapter view” – except that it only lists the five major sections of the book, not individual chapters. I take a guess and read a page – no, too early. I try again and read another page – no, I didn’t get that far. Somehow it seems it would be easier to leaf through a printed book to find my place, but eventually I find it. (Afterward, I figure out how to bring up the “go to page” feature, which allows me to easily scroll a dozen or more pages at a time – or a hundred or more, depending how far I move my finger on a horizontal scroll bar.)

Next I try changing the font size. This was one feature of an e-reader that appealed to me, as I find it difficult to read ordinary books anymore without my reading glasses, and I seem to keep leaving them in another room. (Often this is the bedroom, and as my husband works at night and sleeps during the day, I am reluctant to open the bedroom door when he is sleeping, as our energetic black lab will inevitably follow me in and jump all over him.)

It’s not hard to find the menu for changing font sizes, or to change them, so I change the text from medium to large. Very nice. I try “extra extra large,” but I quickly change it back. Without my glasses, I can make out the letters well enough to read, but the letters are not crisp (my eyes’ fault, not the screen’s – with my glasses back on the letters look as crisp as ever) and it would mean having to “turn a page” at about the end of every paragraph. Better to keep my glasses handy.

So now I’ve read about thirty more pages in the book, and I’m enjoying the novel as much as ever. It did take me a while to get used to which button to press to turn the page. There are two buttons on each side of the screen, a “back” button on top and a “forward” button below. I assume the reason for having them on both sides is to accommodate a preference to use either the right or left hand. But I prefer to use my left hand to press “back” and my right hand to press “forward” – it just makes more sense to me. So I have to remember to use top left to go back, and bottom right to go forward.

I find myself wondering whether someone new to reading would find a printed book just as difficult to figure out. I’ve been reading books since I was a preschooler (I have no memory of learning to read but I am told my older sister taught me one Saturday when I was three.) I watched my own sons learn to handle books, though, and it took a while for them to learn to turn pages easily (and without tearing or crumpling them).

I don’t know how well I’ll like the nook, but it’s certainly much easier on the eyes than I had expected an electronic reader to be. Unlike my computer screen, it has absolutely no flicker, and no sign that the screen is made up of tiny pixels. (The menu part of the screen, on the other hand, looks more like a typical LCD screen, but without any flicker.) I don’t have to use two hands to hold it, as I usually do with a printed book (or else use the fingers of one hand to hold it open and have those fingers quickly tire from the strain).

Best of all, our local library just set up a program to lend out e-books, including those formatted for the nook. I haven’t yet gone through the list of available titles to pick one out, but I particularly like the fact that I will be able to download books without having to ever visit the library – especially nice in snowy weather.

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