My Book-less Semester: Halfway Through

English: An Apple MacBook in an aluminium casing.

English: An Apple MacBook in an aluminium casing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is my midterm week! Yahoo! Next week is spring break!

The past couple weeks, I haven’t really had outstanding to report on the whole “book-less grad school” topic, but now, after buckling down this last weekend, I have some halfway point reflections on my decision to go paperless this semester.

1. If you have contacts and wear them a lot, either set aside some time in your day to take them out and do your readings, or don’t go 100% paperless. My contacts felt like they were going to fall out of my eyes after a long reading session. Granted, I spend most of my days staring at a computer screen all day long, and when I’m not doing that, I’m popping them in at 5:30 a.m. to teach and then work my night job. Wetting and lubricating drops have become my friends, for sure.

2. Always carry your device charger! You never know when you’ll have downtime to read, and if you’re like me, you don’t keep a running log in your mind of how much battery power is left on your laptop, eReader, etc. I’ve gotten into the habit of plugging everything in every night, but sometimes, depending on the amount of work I have, my MacBook runs out of gas. My Nook battery lasts fairly long, but I only have one textbook on that device. And if you’re an iPhone 5 user, you are familiar with the battery woes that come with actually using that phone.

3. Brightness controls are your friend! I found that a good way to avoid my eyes hurting during reading sessions was to turn down the brightness on my devices. I already do this on my iPhone (to save battery, mainly), but I’ve become very accustomed to dimming my laptop screen for reading and then turning it back up for regular use.

4. Disconnecting from Wi-Fi is the easiest way to get focused on reading. It sucks, because often part of my assignment is to read and respond in an online forum, but I do not have the self control necessary for reading on my laptop when I could be watching talking dog videos or googling job openings.

5. Get familiar with the note taking tools on your platform of choice. NookStudy is awesome, and Kindle for Mac also has highlighting features. They’re useful, especially for grad students who are doing research in their field. My textbooks often explain concepts that are central to my research project, and it’s super easy to highlight the sections and come back to them later on.

That’s all for now. So far, I don’t regret my decision to go paperless. I definitely don’t read assignments like I used to (over a period of four-five days), but that’s just a matter of disciplining myself to work that way again. The temptation of the open web browser is just too much for me after seven hours of work, two hours of coaching, and three+ hours covering meetings and writing articles.

Next week is my spring break, and after that I’ll try to provide intermittent updates (as long as I have something new and interesting to talk about!) throughout the second half of the semester!

My Book-less Semester Week 2: I’m Getting the Hang of This!

Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...

Cover via Amazon

I’m starting to finally find a rhythm to get into with the eBooks and doing my readings, thank goodness, making this week’s a short update (I’ve got readings to do, people!).

Most importantly: Still no screen headaches! I’m starting to think this is a myth. Or maybe my digital native status makes me immune? Who knows. Anyway, moving on…

First of all, I have to sing the praises of Amazon’s Kindle Cloud Reader, which allows me to have a tab constantly open while I’m at work with my current chapters to read through during my precious free time. I have the Kindle app downloaded on my laptop, but I can’t do that on my work computer, hence the Godsend that is the Cloud Reader.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Barnes & Noble and I love my Nook, but Amazon definitely knows how to deliver a user experience. While not as innovative as Nook Study (at least not that I have discovered yet), the Cloud Reader is definitely giving me some much-needed flexibility with what machines I’m reading on. I wish Barnes & Noble would do something like this. I know they have mobile apps and all that jazz, but as far as I researched, it all has to be downloaded. A browser tab is just so much more convenient when I can’t have my eReader!

This weekend, though, I had my first quizzes, and man was it tough to “click through” the pages of eBooks to look at my notes! Something I’ll have to adapt to, I suppose!

I’m also finding that having all my texts on a computer might be making me print out shorter readings (articles and such) for my current research project. It’s weird. I never used to do this – I’d usually always compile a GoogleDoc of links and citations, and download when I got back to my personal computer. Then I’d use Preview’s highlight and annotate features to mark them up.

However, as I said, I’m printing articles and highlighting them with an actual highlighter. So weird. I wonder though, if it has anything to do with the fact that it’s for my master’s research project, and not just class. The really good sources — ones I’m positive I’ll be using when writing my final report — are the ones I’m printing. Perhaps it’s one of those instinctual tendencies, an indicator that I still don’t 100% trust the Google machine to keep the articles I need under the same addresses for future review! It’s something I’ll have to keep tabs on in the next few weeks!

Want to learn more about my decision to buy 100% eBook textbooks for my second semester of graduate school? Click here.

Want to know how it was going for me last week? Click here.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Mind the Gap

Way back in 2010, a young college sophomore version of myself began taking 400 level Literature courses. I got my first booklist for ENGL 420 – “Wilderness Literature” and was shocked when I learned I needed nine novels for the course. And that was just one course. Thus marks the beginning of my interest in eReaders.

This week’s poll on The Daily Post asks whether you prefer eReaders and eBooks to the good-ole fashioned print version, a topic I’ve discussed many times (here, here, and here for starters!).

Since the good people of WordPress were kind enough to link to my blog on their site, I’m going to take their challenge and respond to this poll. As you know, if you’re a regular around here, I’ve gone paperless this semester and bought all my textbooks as eBooks, so I’m not going to talk about it from a textbook point of view.

I begged my parents for Barnes & Noble‘s Nook, and since they love me and wanted to get me an awesome birthday gift because I was away at college, they caved and got me the Nook Color in 2010. So now instead of hauling textbooks and four or five novels around the metropolis that is Penn State’s main campus, I could contain those novels in one little device. The best part? Most of the novels I was studying were in the public domain, so the digital versions were FREE.

The educational benefits were the hook I used to get my parents into the idea of buying me the $300 device, but I wasn’t about to relegate my eBook consumption to pre-1900s American literature. I have to admit, the number one pro to having an eReader is that you can buy books and read them instantly, and for a digital native like myself, instant gratification goes a long way.

For example, when I wanted to read Catching Fire immediately after finishing The Hunger Games, I couldn’t stand to wait until the next day to go to the bookstore. I whipped out my Nook and BOOM! I was off and reading once again. Love it.

However, I can still get lost in Barnes & Noble. I still love roving the library stacks for the next great find – because there’s nothing better than an interesting spine that calls to you from the top shelf, catching your eye because of the perfect color combination, font style, or clever title. I still love carrying a physical book when I go to substitute teach – I don’t have to worry about my Nook getting swiped, and there’s just something about other people seeing me engrossed in a physical, paper-bound book that makes me feel different from the tablet-toting consumer of pixels and electricity.

My conclusion to the poll is this: A true lover of words cannot choose between physical and eBook. eBooks offer the instant gratification of reading the next book in the series, the self-published e-author’s first work before they got famous, or the steamy romance novel with the racy cover that you wouldn’t otherwise be caught dead reading in public. Physical books, for a true lover of words, are just too near and dear to our hearts to ever let go of completely. Readers of paper-bound books don’t need to constantly worry about where the nearest electricity-producing outlet is. A physical tome can be passed down from generation to generation with ease. Holding a novel is like holding a part of the author – expressed not only in the words, but in the paper weight and font choices.

Physical books and eBooks will live in not-always peaceful coexistance, and I don’t foresee the conclusion of that relationship until long after I’ve left this earth.

Why Printed Books Will Never Die

I came across this article, courtesy of Dina Ciccarelli’s blog, Keep Calm and Read a Book Blog.

It’s from Mashable, and it’s about the physical beauty of a printed book as opposed to an eBook, and points out many other reasons why printed books will withstand the storm of technology in publishing. I thought it was a timely piece to include here since I just wrote about the BiblioTech “eLibrary” in Texas the other day.

Here’s a link to Dina’s original post: http://keepcalmandreadabookblog.wordpress.com/2013/01/16/why-printed-books-will-never-die/

Smashwords, anyone?

www.smashwords.com

For all you self-publishers out there (or those looking into it), I’ve heard lovely, wonderful things about Smashwords. It streamlines your manuscript into formats appropriate for Apple iBookstore, nook, kobo, Sony Reader, etc. Basically any eReader that you can think of, Smashwords can help you get there with one simple upload.

I’m not ready to self-publish at this point, so as far as personal testimony on ease of use, pricing, etc., I can’t offer much opinion. I’ve only been hearing good things about it through my new pals on Scribophile (talked about earlier this week here).

Are any of you readers ready to self-publish or have you already? Familiar with Smashwords and care to offer advice? Feel free.

Also, anyone looking to support fellow self-publishers or looking for great reads and low prices, check out Smashwords’s homepage to see what they’ve got going on. There are tons of free eBooks, and while you do have to wade through some slush, there is absolutely something there for everyone.

Merits of Self-Publishing

It’s not going away: products like Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Amazon’s Kindle, as well as their various spinoff technological devices are changing the way that we read. Digital subscriptions to newspapers and magazines, and electronic versions of books and novels are becoming more and more popular.

But besides changing how people read, e-readers are changing the way we publish books.

I did some light research on self-publishing (so feel free to add your own knowledge) to figure out whether it’d be an avenue worth pursuing when I’m ready for that step. Turns out that self-publishing can be a great way to get your name out there and get readers interested in your writing. And as it turns out, self-publishing a book doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get a “traditional” deal with a big-name publisher. Just take this advice, compiled by Joanna Penn at her blog “The Creative Penn,” as an example. Here’s an excerpt:

A successfully self-published book can propel you down the road to a book contract at a commercial publishing house.

That’s the truth of the matter, despite the worries I hear from writers that self-publishing could doom their hopes of ever landing a real book deal. Don’t listen to those persistent rumors and urban myths that agents and editors won’t take on books the authors have published themselves.

She also cites two examples of books she’s worked on with self-published authors. Check it out at: http://www.alanrinzler.com/blog/2010/03/11/how-self-publishing-can-lead-to-a-real-book-deal/

For anyone who, like me, is just starting out and looking to test the waters before going full-throttle into getting published, I’d recommend looking into it.