I have been an avid reader since my earliest years. I used to be a regular at the public library, checking out so many books that I was on a first-name basis with the librarian. Over the years, I have collected a huge library of books, having read virtually all of them. Even today, it is not unusual for me to purchase several books at a time. Now that more and more books are becoming available in at least one of the several competing e-book formats, and organizations such as Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org , 36,000 free e-books available), and Google Books (books.google.com, over 3 million titles available, many free) have made thousands of free e-books available, e-books have become a viable choice for avid readers. There are also thousands of free e-books available in proprietary formats from Amazon (Kindle format) and Barnes & Noble (Nook format). Some third-party Web sites also compile updated lists of free e-books, such as FreeStuffTimes (www.freestufftimes.com/category/ebooks), and Calibre Ebook Management (2855 mostly free e-books listed, drmfree.calibre-ebook.com/by/genre).
There are several dedicated commercial e-book readers available, ranging in price from $79 to several hundred dollars, from companies such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and other makers. Smart devices, including Apple’s iPad series, smart phones of various brands, and almost all tablet devices can display a variety of e-book formats. For those who already have a laptop computer, netbook, PC, Mac or Linux machine, there are now several good free e-book reading software utilities available. Some of the free e-book reading software is proprietary, primarily enabling computer owners to read e-books distributed by the software publishers.
Rather than using a proprietary e-book reader that may be linked to a single source and possibly capable of reading only a single proprietary format, many users may prefer an independent utility that can read multiple e-book formats. There are many third-party e-book reader utilities available, several of which are free. One that has been top-rated in published reviews is the free Mobipocket Ebook Reader, which has versions for Windows PC, Blackberry, Windows Mobile (PocketPC, Smartphone), Symbian (Nokia smart phones, Sony Ericsson UIQ), Palm, and Dedicated ePaper devices (Cybook, iLiad). The Mobipocket Ebook Reader runs as a free standing program on a PC and can also synchronize e-books and related content with almost all portable and smart devices. While Mobipocket can import almost all major e-book formats, it converts them into the .prc format, which is readable on any Mobipocket device. In terms of appearance, format, features and readability, Mobipocket has had very positive reviews and is a very capable e-book reader.
Another free e-book reader is from Calibre (calibre-ebook.com), an open source reader that will run on Windows, Mac and Linux computers, and is also available in portable version that can be run totally from a USB flash drive as long as the computer is running Windows XP or higher. The Calibre reader is one of the most capable e-book readers available, and can read and convert almost every available e-book format. Any of these formats can be exported and synchronized with compatible smart devices, tablets, phones, and e-book readers. Calibre also supports importing live news feeds from over 300 sources, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Time, Newsweek, The Guardian, ESPN, and hundreds more; these news feeds can also be exported to smart devices. Calibre is one of the most popular free e-book readers, with over 6 million copies downloaded, and almost 500,000 copies a month currently being downloaded. Calibre is a very feature rich e-book reader that can do much more than simply display and convert e-books.
There are several other very good e-book readers available, but none are as feature rich as Mobipocket or Calibre. Tom’s eText Reader (www.fellnersoft.at/eTR.htm ) is designed to read plain text files such as the thousands of eTexts provided by the free Project Gutenberg (gutenberg.org), and display them in a more readable format, as if reading a book, rather than continuous plain text. Tom’s eText Reader allows the user to control the size of the window, font style, and font size to improve readability. This software inserts page breaks automatically, bookmarks can be set, table of contents created, and the contents are fully searchable. Tom’s eText Reader can also import RTF and HTML files, and open zip files.An interesting free e-book reader is YBook, self described as “the paperback emulator” (www.spacejock.com/yBook.html ). YBook is totally free, with no adware, no registration and no spyware, and runs on all versions of Windows, as well as on Linux and Mac computers with Wine. YBook makes e-books appear as standard paperback books, and can display either single pages, or side-by-side pages. Page size, text size, margins, and page (background) color are all fully customizable by the user; there is no need to pan, zoom, or scroll with YBook, as all pages look exactly like pages printed on paper. This program can import and display text, html, RTF, PDB, PRC, and ePub e-book formats. Any e-books displayed in YBook can be searched for words and phrases, and bookmarks can be created as desired. YBook can directly download and import all Project Gutenberg e-books, complete with titles and index.
While I still prefer real books over e-books, I do have to admit that I have a few of these utilities installed on both my desktop and laptop computers, as well as on my smart phone, and I have downloaded more than 100 free e-books. With the countless free e-books available, as well as thousands of titles available for purchase or rental, e-books and e-book readers, either dedicated electronic readers or applications on computers, may very well be the wave of the future.
Listen to Ira Wilsker’s weekly radio show on Mondays from 6-7 p.m. on KLVI 560AM.