How did you go from not liking reading books on your iPad to enjoying the experience?
July 29, 2012 10:10 AM   Subscribe

How did you go from not liking reading books on your iPad to enjoying the experience? And how do you negotiate the morass that is the self-published ebook section of Amazon?

Reading discussions on Metafilter of how much enjoyment people have gotten out of their ereaders and how much more they read now because of these devices prompted this question. I have an iPad and I've bought (or downloaded for free) many books for it. However, I have actually managed to finish reading very few books on it. Right at the moment I have a book I really, really want to finish sitting on my iPad, but I seem to be incapable of flipping through more than a few pages at a time. I know in this case it's not the book: I just don't like reading on the device and I will find almost any excuse to do something else. I check email. Or look something up online. Or wander off and pick up a physical book. Or start cleaning the flat. This is particularly the case with anything that might be described as serious fiction (I've had more luck with lighter material). So, for those of you who had a similar initial experience, how did you overcome this? (I have several reading apps on the device including the Kindle app, but it doesn't make much of a difference). Am I really going to have to buy a dedicated ereader to get the most out of the experience?

Secondly, I've found it hard to find good self-published stuff. I'd like to read more of this, just to get a sense for what's out there, but I've not been successful in my browsing and choices on Amazon as the sheer amount is overwhelming and I find myself either unable to make a decent choice or buying something I really regret. (I've personally found the reviews for self published genre fiction on Amazon extremely unreliable.) Is there a place where I can find reliable reviews of self-published westerns/mysteries/thrillers? Or fantasy novels that don't serve up badly written porn in the middle? Are there good sites outside Amazon that will list books that people have read that don't have horrific typos of the sort that make you want to gouge your eyes out? (Sorry if these requirements are too broad, but I'm hoping to sample a variety of genres...I've tried Googling this stuff but all I get are books telling me how to sell a million copies of my self-published book, so clearly I am Doing It Wrong.)
posted by lesbiassparrow to Media & Arts (31 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should add that even when I cannot go online, I still don't like reading on the iPad; on a train trip where there was no reception for large chunks of time, I found myself still struggling to read more than a chapter of a book at a time on it. So it could well be the device as much as the possible distractions.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:23 AM on July 29, 2012

I got used to reading ebooks on the Kindle, which is mostly a superior reading experience in my mind. I mostly read on the iPad, but maybe a Kindle is useful as training wheels. I use the Kindle app, set to sepia background, and make changes to brightness and text size depending on reading conditions.

As for self-published ebooks: I just don't read them. I'm stunned that anyone would want to given the availability of lots of great not self-published stuff through libraries, and public domain classics. Life is too short to deal with that crap.
posted by grouse at 10:29 AM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Am I really going to have to buy a dedicated ereader to get the most out of the experience?

I think so, because the Kindle's not backlit. For me this makes all the difference. Whether for physiological reasons (eyestrain) or psychological ones (associating screens with work), I basically can't stand reading long texts on the iPad, whereas I don't even think about the Kindle as a screen anymore. It's very hard to describe, but it's a "quiet" (even "analog", in a weird way) experience unlike any backlit device.
posted by oliverburkeman at 10:30 AM on July 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You may do better with a Kindle, Nook or other e-book device that uses e-ink instead of a back-lit screen. Trying to read a lot on a back-lit screen can cause eyestrain which leads to headaches. I hate reading long articles on a computer screen because it just hurts my eyes too much.

I kind of even hate reading on the Kindle because I found that I like the physical feel and smell of a book and the ability to flip through pages quickly. Its really handy for traveling though.
posted by littlesq at 10:31 AM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I stopped reading books on my iPad and read them on the Kindle. You will never get comfortable reading long pieces on the iPad because reading on a backlit device sucks for your eyes, end of story!

Ad-supported Kindle is only $79 and the ads are so marginal and non-invasive it's almost a joke.
posted by xmutex at 10:57 AM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I wouldn't waste time wading through the self-published stuff. If you want to read free or very cheap fiction, you might have a better time finding temporary deals on traditionally published books, or books by authors who are partly self-published. Some of these people arrange to offer their books for free or for .99-1.99 on iTunes (and elsewhere) for anywhere from a day to a month. I find a lot of deals on mysteries by following Libby Hellmann, a traditionally published and self-published author, on Twitter. There's a link to her Twitter feed on the site. You could probably do something similar with science fiction and fantasy-- authors who write series, especially, like to give the first book away, or sell it cheaply.

That's for contemporary fiction-- I totally agree with Project Gutenberg and ManyBooks for classics.
posted by BibiRose at 11:05 AM on July 29, 2012

I don't have a kindle, and don't see myself buying one anytime soon. Do you have an iPad 3? The retina screen makes a hell of a difference. The earlier models seem vintage in comparison. I've really enjoyed the reading experience on the iPad, and because the majority of my reading is of academic texts, the iPad is superior. Firstly, making notes and highlights with apps like Remarks or PDF Expert, and secondly, because the iPad does PDFs so beautifully. There's no way this can be replicated on the Kindle, and even if I could read the PDFs, there's not going to be Dropbox support for backing up my notes anytime soon.

Until someone comes up with an industry standard way of noting page references in eBooks, I will be sticking with PDFs for the majority of my academic reading.
posted by 0bvious at 11:10 AM on July 29, 2012

I'm afraid I have to agree with folks here. I have an iPad and a Kindle, and for basic reading, I go with the Kindle every time (iPad is too heavy to hold for extended periods; eyestrain is bad, etc.). The iPad is great, however, for reading more technical and/or highly illustrated material--I got it to read and annotate journal articles, and it's fantastic for that.
posted by smirkette at 11:11 AM on July 29, 2012

I guess I'm weird because I don't experience any noticeable eyestrain when reading on my ipad 2. I use the sepia tone, bigger text size, and dim the screen to a comfortable level.

I sit either on my reclining section of my couch or my bed with a big pillow or two on my lap, and I lay the ipad on the pillow so I don't have to hold it.

I prefer to read on the ipad partly because I can quickly switch to look something up on the internet or in my big fancy dictionary.
posted by marble at 11:22 AM on July 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't have any problem with the backlit screen either, although I do have to angle it carefully so I don't get distracted by the reflection of my own face and the super dopey expressions that I previously had no idea that I make when reading.
posted by elizardbits at 11:33 AM on July 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

For reading I find the iPad to have too much glare. I generally use my Kindle. If I'm only going to carry one device and need internet, I put a matte screen guard on the iPad. The screen guard does very slightly diminish to responsiveness of the touchscreen, but it makes it usable for reading for a few hours.
posted by 26.2 at 11:36 AM on July 29, 2012

I can't do serious novel reading reading on my phone, but I can read schlocky page-turners that are so suspenseful that I want to read them at the bus stop and in line at the grocery store. Maybe for you those could be a gateway to reading more on your phone? (I keep hoping that'll happen to me, but it hasn't yet.)
posted by salvia at 11:37 AM on July 29, 2012

I am near-evangelical about e-ink. Feather-light. No glare. No reflection. Read outside. I can read for hours, and best of all, read without glasses.

Your eyes may vary, but I'd strongly suggest getting an e-ink Kindle. If it's not useful for you, send it back.
posted by sageleaf at 11:40 AM on July 29, 2012

I also have no problems reading with back light, but I cut my teeth with ebooks on my laptop, so I read nearly everything on there, and it's never bothered my eyes at all... However, some people find it difficult, so you might want to try e-ink.

As for self published books, well it's gonna be difficult to find the good ones because many of them do not have editors and it shows. Most of the self-published works are by beginning writers and they're trying to find their way into the writing world. My 23 year old self publishes on Amazon and he talks often of this.

However! reviews are your friend. You quickly learn which reviews are made by friends/family of the author, which are made by trolls, and which are honest critiques of the work. That's one of the things I like about Amazon, the review process. Also, if you happen to run across a self published book you like, leave an honest review. It'll help the author as they continue with their work.
posted by patheral at 12:14 PM on July 29, 2012

Best answer: I read the Free Kindle Books and Tips blog, where he picks out a handful (5-10) free e-books every day to highlight, in a variety of genres. (I feel like it's heavy on mystery and thrillers because those aren't genres I read!) They generally all have reviews of 4.5 or above, and he includes the book's description. I skim through them, see if anything's interesting, and click through to the amazon site to read reviews if I think it sounds like something I might like. After reading the "most helpful" reviews and then the WORST reviews, I decide.

At first I downloaded a ton of shit I didn't like. You have to develop some filtering skills, which just takes some time and practice, so accept that you'll pick out a bunch of clunkers while you learn to filter, and be okay with starting a book, getting 40 pages in, and deleting it as a piece of shit. Now I'm a lot better at telling from the descriptions if it's likely to be something worthwhile, and picking up from the reviews if it's actually pretty good or if it's absolute trash with a lot of friends-and-family reviews. But it definitely took some practice to learn.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:01 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I find iPads and the like terrible for reading, any eInk reader is way better to read from for long lengths of time in my mind be it a nook or a kindle. I recently got a Nexus 7, I love it, it's the same size as my nook touch pretty much and I can't read on it in any sort of serious a way.

Luckily I got it for playing games and the like and have accepted that I will use my eReader for reading as backlit screens just seem to tire my eyes out an I find the size just too awkward to be comfortable. I have had some luck changing it to night time settings of black background and white writing when I've been stuck.
posted by wwax at 2:13 PM on July 29, 2012

Nook hasn't been mentioned, I don't think. You can mostly only read on it, it doesn't have a horrible backlight, and it's like flipping through the pages yourself. That's my recommendation - look into Nook, especially the non-fancy older ones or new ones that keep backlight eye problems into account (these exist).
posted by jitterbug perfume at 2:24 PM on July 29, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions. It looks like I will need to either get a Kindle or something of that ilk or give up trying to read ebooks (I have the Ipad 2, but I am not willing to shell out the money to get an Ipad 3 any time soon). I do appreciate all the suggestions about reading classic fiction and using the library instead of published material, but I feel that I know how to filter through that material and find what I want; it's the self-published material that feels completely like the Wild West. And I am interested to see what's out there - some of it has to be good, right?
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:32 PM on July 29, 2012

I don't read on the iPad because I do not like the form-factor. It's not a one-handed device and it's just too heavy.

However, I've only had a Nexus 7 for a short time and have already finished one book and am quarter way into two others. It weighs just 3/4s of a pound and is easily held in one hand without strain.

I set the background to black and the text to white and experience no eye strain.
posted by dobbs at 2:33 PM on July 29, 2012

Before you go out and spring for an eInk reader, or in the meantime anyway, try optimizing your settings on the iPad for maximum readability. Try these things:
  1. Turn the brightness of the screen down as low as you can while still being able to comfortably make out the words.
  2. Set the background to a darkish, semi-saturated green (similar to Ask Metafilter green, actually – something like 60/100/60 RGB or 3C643C in hex would be good) and the text color to a light, grayish brown color (like maybe 180/180/150 aka B4B496).
  3. Set the line spacing to 1.25 to give the words a little more space to breathe.
  4. Make sure you're using a high-legibility font. I reccomend Georgia for a serif font, or Verdana for sans-serif, depending on what is easier on your eyes.
  5. Set your font size to something considerably bigger than you would use for paper. Something like 14pt or 16pt might be about right
Those are some guidelines for enhancing readability and reducing eyestrain on LCD screens that work well for me and that are borne out through design research. I too normally have a hard time reading for long periods on normal screens, but I can burn through whole novels on my laptop if I set up the e-reader just right and turn the screen brightness down. Your mileage may vary, but it costs nothing to try.
posted by Scientist at 3:53 PM on July 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I take the bus to work. And I do cardio after my weight lifting workout. Both are places my cell phone follows me and where a physical book does not. Andrew Tanenbaum's physical version of Computer Networks would not be an enjoyable experience reading on the bus. The e-book version was an enjoyable experience.
posted by DetriusXii at 5:58 PM on July 29, 2012

I ended up reading like a machine on my ipad once I used Stanza which has a snazzy function of reversing text and background so I can read white on black. Stanza also has the function of dimming or brightening with just a vertical finger stroke down or up. Otherwise, it was a pain to read in iBooks and the Kindle app. Stanza has made reading all my trash romance novels a joy again.

I use other apps to handle PDFs which I am still trying to optimize my workflow on the iPad.

One of the nice things if you decide to use the iPad is the full integration of Dropbox and Google Drive. I would not be able to handle my large library if I could not structure and search my archives cleanly.
posted by jadepearl at 6:49 PM on July 29, 2012

The think that makes my Nook Color screen bearable for reading long periods is a matte-style screen protector - just a cheap kind from an off-brand seller. When I turn the brightness all the way down and set it to white-on-black it feels almost like an e-ink device. Definitely worth a try before buying a whole new device.
posted by Wulfhere at 6:53 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have what was a Kindle 3g, and is now called Kindle Keyboard. I can count the number of times on both hands that I've needed the keyboard-- it's too kludgy as a web-browser to bother with. I will add my voice to this chorus as we sing the praises of e-ink. Device nerd that I am, I was also one of those "I enjoy the heft of a book too much to switch." I was wrong about that. My iPad (the first) is too heavy, and, lacking 3G, too useless. I use it when I travel only, becasue it's great on a plane.
posted by Sunburnt at 7:02 PM on July 29, 2012

I couldn't stand to read on the iPad 1 or 2, but love it on the iPad 3. And just to join the anti-chorus, I can't stand reading on a Kindle. Not even a page. Try one before you buy.
posted by mmoncur at 9:04 PM on July 29, 2012

I split my reading between an iPad and an iPhone.

The trick is the type of book. I read all my novels on the phone, tagging them in calibre as @novel. They have no paratext, so I can adjust the font to a reasonable side and zoom through, without worrying about layout. Stanza on the iPhone is glorious and very adjustable. All my ebooks are on Calibre on my mac, so I just keep what I'm currently reading on the phone, downloading new books as I go over wifi, deleting once read.

Anything that's layout dependent - cookbooks, magazines, textbooks, art books - I will mark as @ipad and download onto my ipad. On the iPad, I use the iBooks app mostly, dividing into libraries by categories.

I find the iPad too big for reading unless I adjust to a very narrow column. But for a magazine-like page, it does very well - I'd almost prefer it slightly larger. These are books I browse or study, where the layout is critical.

It's sort of like the paperback/hardback division for printed books.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:09 PM on July 29, 2012

I have a kindle which I love, but occasionally I'll read a book on my iphone on the kindle app. The only way I'm willing to do this is to set the screen to white on black. Makes a huge difference.
posted by kjs4 at 12:46 AM on July 30, 2012

Have you tried Stanza? Most iPad reader apps have clumsy layouts (impossible to view anything but a 2-column layout in horizontal orientation; unadjustable margins, etc.), but Stanza's layout is mostly configurable, making reading less awkward.

I must note that, though I make the above suggestion, it wasn't enough for me—the iPad is simply too heavy to use as an ereader. Propped up on a table, fine, but impossible when I'm sitting in a chair. I don't mind the backlit screen (I'd previously been reading tons of books on a kindle fire) but the iPad's form factor and clunky apps killed it for me. I might try again when/if the "iPad mini" comes out.
posted by homodachi at 1:00 AM on July 30, 2012

Great advice here, thanks for the question! I've been a Kindle-user since day one (on #4) and just downloaded some summer fiction to my iPad, out of curiosity and to check out the difference.
posted by thinkpiece at 8:27 AM on July 30, 2012

I had a Kindle and got rid of it because I felt like I was reading a lot on the iPad during breaks at work. I came to regret this! This summer, I am not working and have much more time for reading. And what I have found was that the iPad is fine for 'I have a few minutes during a break to knock out a chapter' but is not so great for 'I am going to spend the whole afternoon at the park with my lunch and a good book.' I just found that it was so heavy. My wrist started hurting from holding it for so long and I couldn't just lie down on the couch with it. Also, even on the Kindle app's night reading setting, it gave off too much light at night to bring into bed without disturbing my partner. So I have just re-bought a Kindle and now do all my daytime reading on that. I sync it up just before bedtime and bring the bitty iPod Touch into bed with me in case I want to read before sleeping. It really is the best system for me.

As for the indie stuff, I went through a huge phase where I was into trying that stuff and I did find it was a bit of a hit or miss process for me. I prefer the site Smashwords to Amazon because the sampling is, in most cases, very generous and they run frequent sales. I would look for ones that have a sample you can check out, and/or that come from a commercially published author who is republishing their already published work themselves. There is a facebook group called 'Backlist Authors' where you can find a list of some of these authors. I did find, after a time, that the sifting out was taking too long, so now I just read library books and public domain classics (some of which are excellent!)
posted by JoannaC at 11:14 AM on July 30, 2012

I do appreciate all the suggestions about reading classic fiction and using the library instead of published material, but I feel that I know how to filter through that material and find what I want; it's the self-published material that feels completely like the Wild West. And I am interested to see what's out there - some of it has to be good, right?

There are lots of sites outside of Amazon that list and review self-published material, although usually it is mixed in with traditionally published books that are currently free or cheap for whatever reason. booksontheknob is one such site.

If you have a genre you like, such as romance/erotica, mystery or science fiction, you can look for specialized sites. There are individuals who blog their finds in specific areas, like Libby Hellmann in mystery. (Sorry; I've mentioned her twice now but I think that is exactly the kind of blogger/Twitterer you want to find, in whatever area interests you.)

Yes, in my experience, some self-published fiction is pretty good. I like mystery, and I like smut, and I do enjoy looking through self-published books in those areas. Ultimately it makes me kind of sad, because the good ones could have been much better, with a professional editor. But an amateurish book by a good writer can have its own particular type of appeal.
posted by BibiRose at 11:24 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

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