Six reasons why NuvoMedia's Rocket eBook, a hand-held, electronic reading device, should be way cooler than a traditional book: 1) It stores a shelfload of works -- you can hop from Virginia Woolf to Naomi Wolf with the touch of a stylus. 2) It's backlit -- you can read in the dark. 3) It hooks up to the Internet -- so you can download a book in the middle of the night and begin reading it immediately. 4) It can handle sound, moving images, Internet documents and heaven knows what else. 5) You can change the size of the text, and it is searchable. 6) It weighs 22 ounces -- you won't break your back toting 10 books around.
And a half-dozen more reasons why a printed book is preferable: 1) It has pages and is easier to thumb through. 2) It has margins you can write in -- without a ridiculously small keyboard. 3) It doesn't need batteries -- or an electric cord. 4) It doesn't look like a purse. 5) It's unbreakable -- if you drop it, it won't cost you $199 to replace it. 6) It's a book, damn it -- we've been holding them and loving them and reading them for five centuries.
Book World spent a recent weekend with a Rocket eBook, loaned to us by McGraw-Hill. Publishers are enamored of battery-powered thingamajigs like the Rocket eBook and the SoftBook Reader, because they can continue to control the distribution of their books and because electronic delivery is infinitesimally simpler and cheaper than the traditional printing and delivery processes. So far, those savings have not been passed on to the reader. A discounted electronic copy of Frank McCourt's 'Tis, for example, sells for $20.80 at BarnesandNoble.com; the hardback, $13. Hundreds of more titles are available.
The experience of reading on the eBook was far more enjoyable than expected. The text was sharp and a breeze to read. Cynthia Mun of NuvoMedia explains that the "reflectiveness and high contrast in the images" allow the reader to look at the page from different angles.
We took the thing everywhere -- to church, to bed, to the bathroom. But what we really loved were the fascinating stories inside. Ours came loaded with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, and a galley version of Brother Astronomer: Adventures of a Vatican Scientist, by Brother Guy Consolmagno, to be published by McGraw-Hill in March.
Both works would be delightful to read whether etched in stone or scrawled on toilet paper. The eBook, we're here to report, is lighter than stone and classier than toilet paper. But not as cool as a book. Yet.