This summer my husband suggested a reading project for the family (me, him and the then 10 year old son): Let’s read Moby-Dick! I know! You’re wondering why you didn’t think of that! Well maybe you aren’t from some crazed reading obsessed family nor are you an ex-English major. But we are! Except the 11 year old may be a future ex-English major.
Well we’ve had reading projects before and very successful ones. When he was several years younger he wanted to see the Lord of the Rings movies that his friends had seen. I had (stubbornly) never read the books but had seen snippets of what looked like scary movies my husband kept watching. So the project/deal was: read a book, watch a movie. And we all read the books one by one and, upon finishing, watched the movie. Turns out I was being stubborn for nothing they are perfectly great books that don’t turn everyone into a raving fanatic and we thought the movies were very well done and had great discussions on how the movies varied from the books and why they might do so. But I digress.
Back to Moby-Dick. Turns out I had never read that one either, it remained on my long list of books I should have and will read one day when I have time, maybe. We began reading in the Summer of 2009, my husband and I taking turns reading a chapter or so a night to my son. We hadn’t read to him since he was a wee lad, so he really enjoyed the evening ritual. Immediately I realized something…this Herman Melville dude…very funny guy! Had to turn to my husband from time to time and ask…did he really just say what *I* think he said?!?!! And so he did. We found this to be a great family project and a very interesting and funny book. Love to quote him: “Though man loved his fellow, yet man is a money-making animal, which propensity too often interferes with his benevolence“
As it turns out my husband read this book back in college and still has the paperback, a Norton Critical Edition, for which he paid $2.40. And as it turns out I have a Kindle I bought earlier this year $299 and a copy of Moby-Dick on it that I got from Feedbooks $0. So, if we read downstairs, we used the book; if we did extra reading upstairs in the morning, we used the Kindle. Or if I’m was traveling and had to read on my own to keep up with them (they refused to wait for me to get back), I read the Kindle. This has given me the opportunity to compare the experience of reading a book on the kindle side by side with reading an actual physical book. So I thought I’d share the experience.
First, the physical book (pBook). It’s pretty cool that we still have this book since its been er, um, forty years or so since my husband was in college. That you could buy a book this great for $2.40 (used) at the college bookstore is a nice flashback. The book is A Norton Critical Edition titled Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, edited by Harrison Hayford and Hershel Parker (2nd edition available new from Amazon for $15.19). Nice cover illustration, table of contents, forward, maps, text, text history, variants and emendations, reviews and letters by Melville, Analogues and Sources, Criticisms and Bibliography…along with underlines, circles and margin notes by my husband, the ex-English major. The book which has a copyright of 1967, weighed 698g (a little over 1.5 lbs) and measured 8″ x 5″ x 1.5″–the font is relatively small but I could not tell you the exact size or font face…see picture below for comparison with Kindle though.
The eBook I got from Feedbooks at no cost. The ebook itself weighed nothing but the Kindle weighs 294g (about 10.2 ounces) and doesn’t increase in weight as you add books. The dimensions are 8″ x 5.3″ x 1/3″. I should point out that the screen is 6″ diagonal or 4.5″ x 3.5″ so the screen IS smaller than the page.
However, there are 6 different font sizes available and you can change anytime you want. I’m usually on size 4 and the book looks to be somewhere between 3 and 4.
The Feedbooks edition of Moby-Dick includes a biography (from Wikipedia), navigable table of contents, links to additional books available (from Feedbooks) by Melville, the text (including the Etymology) and recommendations with links to other books you might like from Feedbooks. Feedbooks does let you download wirelessly a large number of public domain books–books whose copyrights have expired–lots of classics as well as self-published books, newspapers, blogs, etc. Amazon also offers lots of free, public domain books that download wirelessly to your Kindle. The advantage of using Amazon is that it will keep track of your books (even the free ones) and keep them in your archive so you can redownload them if you delete them or you can download them to your Kindle app on the iPhone or PC (and soon Mac and Blackberry).
So what is it like to read Moby-Dick on paper vs ebook? Pretty much the same with some minor differences. I really like the explanatory footnotes in the book; the ebook has a few of those but they are mixed in with the text. eBooks can do footnotes as links but this particular free book doesn’t do so. I also like the idea of the text and critical essays but found I didn’t read many of them in the pBook. I really liked being able to move my cursor to an unfamiliar word and look it up on the Kindle–not all words were available but many were and often these were ones not explained in the pBook footnotes. The solution I took was to purchase a separate Shmoop Moby-Dick study guide for 99 cents. I would read a chapter or two then open up the study guide for a chapter summary and analysis. Actually the study guide included an overview, discusions on why you should care about this book, what the title and ending mean, literary devices, book summary, plot overview, plot analysis, character analysis, roles, and cues and themes and quote analysis. For me, this was VERY fun indeed–must be the ex-English major in me. I always read the chapter summaries AFTER reading the chapter. It reminded me of what I had read (good if I were studying for school and good because I forget things easily) and sometimes pointed out things I had missed. Occasionally the chapter summaries of some Schmoop guides have seemed to contain errors…but for the most part they are spot on. They actually now have a Moby-Dick: Complete Text with Integrated Study Guide from Shmoop which I prefer so I don’t have to switch back and forth. This is available for the Kindle for $2.39 so that is how Amazon got me to pay money by adding value to something I could have gotten for free.
Other differences are those that people have noted in other locations…the feel and smell of the book; the images with color, maps are more readable vs. weight/size/convenience. Underlines and notes in physical vs. electronic form (like the look of pBooks better; the convenience of eBooks better) And this morning I was reminded another difference: had to find the physical book this morning so I could take a photo of it–it was lurking in one of many overfull bookcases–and had to find it on my Kindle (page forward til it shows up on my list or I could have searched for it).
Which one do I prefer? Books! In any form they are fabulous and I am glad to have them in physical or electronic form or both. There really is no contest here, I hope both will continue to prosper.