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The Nook, from Barnes and Noble

by Jean Hall

 

The Nook, from Barnes and Noble

I dithered for a long time before I took the plunge and bought an e-reader. I heard a lot of good things about e-readers from friends who had them, but they seemed more like a nice toy than a homeschool essential. After all, I'd been reading e-books from the computer for years, or on our little Netbook, or printing them off if I wanted to read on paper. I could get along just fine without an e-reader, or so I thought.

Besides, how would I ever choose between all the e-readers available? Every time I tried to compare the various choices, my head would start spinning and I'd convince myself that I really didn't need an e-reader after all.

...but do I really need an e-reader?

Then one day a friend and I were talking. She'd just gotten back from a mission trip to Africa, and she'd taken an entire library with her ... in her Nook. She took me on a tour of the features, and I found out how easy it was to choose a book from the list, find a specific page, read and turn pages, and bookmark my place.

I went back to my research, but having held and handled a Nook influenced my thinking. I finally took the plunge and ordered a Nook, and since my Netbook had recently died because of a liquid spill (which nobody admitted to), I also purchased the “drop and spill” coverage they had available.

Getting to know you, getting to feel free (and easy)

The Nook came with a few books already loaded, and I had fun adding a few more. I added a large package of e-books packaged by a homeschool publisher and learned how to organize the books on virtual bookshelves, and soon I was reading from a wide variety of books, both to myself, and aloud to the girls. The Nook conveniently remembered where I left off in each book, and would bring me back to the exact page when I'd open the book again. I enjoyed checking out the Barnes and Noble “news of the day” essays. I downloaded a “Free Friday” book or two. I even bought a couple of books, paying less than I'd pay for a new paper copy, though perhaps a bit more than I might pay for a used copy. I figured out how to convert PDF e-books to ePub format, and loaded a few of these onto my Nook. The format sometimes didn't work all that well, but for the most part, the PDF books were readable and a lot more convenient than printing out hundreds of pages and carrying them around with me.

The list of books stored on my Nook grew. I got the feeling of carrying an entire library around in this slim little device.

A growing circle of readers

And then the girls discovered the Nook. It didn't take long, actually. At first they asked if they could use the Nook, wanting to read some of those free e-books I'd downloaded. Then they were asking if they could download more. I told them, “Yes,” with some conditions attached, such as a list of permitted authors, and that they must ask me first before spending money on a book (it would come out of their allowance, but they had to ask first). They discovered a few authors from the 1800s whose books they devoured like candy. Soon I was seeing long lists of downloads in my email. (I love this feature: Every time we download a book from Barnes and Noble, I get an email notice about my “purchase” – even for free books. I know exactly what books the girls are downloading.)

Pretty soon the Nook was so popular at our house, I could use it as a reward for getting work done. Actually, I had to designate it as a reward – before I regained control of the Nook, it was disappearing for hours at a time, and the girls were starting to fight over whose turn it was to use the device. They were getting entirely too casual in their use, too, treating it more like a toy than a tool. Keeping tight control helped them to respect this nifty – but not cheap – gadget. There's still a lot of competition at our house as to who gets the Nook, and because I use it as a reward for the girls, sometimes I don't even get to use the Nook when I want it, just because I promised it to someone for finishing this paper or that task.

Nook and the struggling reader

I had gotten the Nook for me, but the biggest benefit turned out to be for our youngest, who has struggled with reading. She's far-sighted, for one thing, and it wasn't until she got reading glasses that she could read with some comfort. Her brain doesn't seem to be wired for reading, for another thing. I can't tell you how many times we started a phonics program, only to lay it aside for a few more months before trying again. She didn't catch on to reading until she was nearly nine, and still she struggled with such problems as reversing words, or substituting words for other words. She didn't really enjoy reading all that much. She was a dutiful reader, but she'd much rather listen to a book being read to her than have to do it herself.

The Nook, though... first of all, the books she wanted to read were right there, and plenty more available. (She'd been captivated by Horatio Alger's Ragged Dick, reading it over and over and then branching out to read other Horatio Alger books. There seem to be hundreds of other Alger titles available for free on the Internet.)

More importantly, to my thinking, is the Nook's variable print and “e-ink” feature. For books in ePub format (less so for PDF books, I find), you can change the print from very small to very large and a number of settings in between. Our reluctant reader could take a book she was really interested in reading, and set the print size to something restful for her eyes.

Just what do you mean by e-ink, anyhow?

E-ink” is what sets dedicated e-readers apart from other devices, like computers, netbooks, tablets, and smartphones. The Nook Simple Touch e-reader has what appears to be black ink on a white background. There's no backlighting – it looks much like a book to your eye. As a matter of fact, you can't read it in a darkened room, or in the backseat of a car at night, without an exterior light source. We find that reading from the Nook engenders much less eye fatigue than reading from a lighted screen.

There are libraries, and then there are libraries

If you're looking for a simple e-reader, the Nook Simple Touch is the best of the Nook products. There are no ads, and the Simple Touch has built-in wi-fi, enabling you to download books at any hotspot. The device is lightweight and portable. You can attach up to six devices to one Barnes and Noble account, meaning that several people can be reading the same book at the same time – great for studying together within a family or study group. Books in ePub format are available from many sources, including the public library. Yes, we now check out books on our Nook. It's a lot easier to keep track of them, too!

Perhaps the only drawback to the Simple Touch is that it is limited to black and white print. Illustrations will also be in black and white, so colorful children's books will appear in grayscale, the technical term for monotone made up of black, white, and shades of gray.

So... why Nook?

The Simple Touch has several pluses for me. Because it's such a simple device, being a dedicated e-reader, I know that the girls are reading when they're using the Nook, not playing games or exploring the Internet. Lack of backlighting means long battery life, as well as less eyestrain for the reader. The Nook can go anywhere you'd take a paperback book (I draw the line at bathtub reading and boats, though). The girls like reading on it.

Two other Nook models are available in full color, with additional features. The Color Nook has a backlit color touchscreen. You can read books, magazines, comics and graphic novels, and interactive children's books on the color display. In addition, the Nook Color will play music files and run apps, as well as allow access to email and web browsing.

The new Nook Tablet has everything you'd find in the Nook Color, plus the ability to view video content such as movies in HD. Since the new Nook Tablet was not yet available at the time of this writing, you'll have about as good an idea of the device as I have, if you just look at the specs on the Barnes and Noble Nook webpage.

As for me and my family...

The Nook Simple Touch is exactly what we need in an e-reader. I've got a couple more of the devices on my wish list, for the convenience of all of us being able to be on the same page when we're studying, in a manner of speaking. Being able to share one book among several devices will mean all the girls can be reading a required assignment for a class they share, at the same time, without having to pass a book (or Nook) around. Now that we're learning history and literature on a high school/college level, I find this feature even more attractive. In addition, each girl will be able to store her own library of e-books on "her" Nook, meaning fewer misplaced bookmarks when more than one person is reading a book. As another plus, it should mean no more stacks of books in the car when we're out and about! We'll buy the girls their first e-reader, and they're responsible for any replacement (due to carelessness on their part) or upgrades.

Best of all... I'll get my Nook back.

 

 

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