I’ve just finished reading Ken Follett’s massive historical novel, The Pillars of the Earth, and enjoyed it greatly. It’s a gripping saga of love and hate, emnity and friendship, ambition and humility surrounding the building of a cathedral in 12th Century England.
As I say, it’s a massive book: 973 pages in the hardcover version, two and a half inches thick, weighing about three pounds. Pretty hard to hold in the hand, or even to read in bed. A real pain to lug around on the train or the bus.
That’s the hardcover, of course, but the paperback isn’t much better, still weighing over two pounds, and two inches thick.
Yet the version that I read weighed only about four ounces and was so small that I could slip it into my pocket, carry it everywhere and could read it any time I had a few minutes to spare.
I read it as an e-book on my iPod Touch, of course.
I must confess that I hesitated a long while before buying The Pillars of the Earth from Fictionwise; it seemed slightly insane to attempt to read a nearly 1000-page book on the small iPod screen. But after a while, I gave in. After the “Micropay Rebate” which Fictionwise offers, it cost me less than $5. Half a cent a page seemed a pretty good deal!
After it was installed on my iPod it looked even more daunting. At the font size which I find comfortable, eReader told me that the book was some 3,332 pages (screens?) long. I was going to have to tap my iPod screen at least that many times. Wouldn’t that get exhausting?
The iPhone / iPod Touch is often denigrated as an e-book reader (particularly by Kindle fans) because of the small form factor of the screen. They certainly have a point when discussing newspapers and magazines or textbooks with formulas, illustrations and diagrams. But I think they miss the point when it comes to novels or even general non-fiction books. The fact is that for such books the form factor is close to irrelevant.
All that is needed for comfortable reading is an easily readable font size and style and enough words on the screen that you can read and grasp a typical paragraph or two at a time. Once immersed in the story, your brain stops paying attention to how the story is being delivered to it. Well, that is what I have found, anyway.
The Pillars of the Earth has been treated well in the conversion by Fictionwise. The structure of prologue, parts and chapters is all respected; and each major part has an attractive illustration which displays neatly on the iPod screen. It was, really, a delight to read. I wasn’t counting screen taps – after all, who counts the number of page turns you make when reading a hardcopy book? And I could take it with me all the time and read it whenever I had the urge and the opportunity.
Then I thought of an interesting connection in reading this particular book – much of it set in a mediaeval monastery where monks labour over their copying desks. I remembered an exhibition I went to last year at our State Library – a collection of beautiful mediaeval manuscripts. These gorgeous books came in all sizes – from the huge Bibles intended for use on a lectern, to the tiny Book of Hours which could be easily slipped into a sleeve or pocket.
While the screen of the iPod Touch in the eReader application doesn’t look as splendid as the beautifully illustrated Book of Hours, in terms of the number of words per page, it does pretty well, as the following comparison shows.