Books, Other People's Stories

Reflections on an ereaderless summer + Kobo Glo review

I bought a Kobo Glo! It’s the most cunning little thing. My Kindle broke down around midsummer, about 1.5 years after my sister had bought it for me as a gift, just as I was absorbed in Ramesh Menon’s retelling of the Mahabharata (Volume 1 and Volume 2). I can’t speak to how well Menon’s book works as a retelling, but it’s very entertaining as a second encounter with the stories. (My first was The Palace of Illusions — also very good.) A lot of fun, and a great price point — I’d recommend them.

What I wouldn’t recommend is being interrupted in the middle of Bheeshma’s adventures in an underwater kingdom by your Kindle freezing up. I restarted it. It kept freezing. I charged it all night. Five minutes after I turned it back on, it froze. I backed up all my books and reset the Kindle to factory settings. Freeze-o-rama.

Since you only get a 1-year warranty and they don’t fix Kindles for you, all Amazon could do was offer me a discount on my next Kindle. Yeah, I don’t think so.

I went back to dead tree books for a while. It does affect your reading experience when you’re doing most of your reading on an ereader, instead of going to bookshops and browsing. I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed the opportunities browsing gives you for encounters with things you wouldn’t have known to look for. I don’t look for bestsellers or award winners when I look for books to read — I look for things that are harder to define. Truth, humour, new perspectives.

I wouldn’t have found Yuri Rytkheu’s The Chukchi Bible clicking around in the Amazon Kindle store, but when I found it while poking through a secondhand bookshop on Charing Cross Road, I knew it was exactly the kind of thing I wanted to read. But I wouldn’t have known how to look for it, because I hadn’t known it was what I wanted. You don’t know what you’re missing, sort of thing.

What is good about having an ereader again is being able to find things when you know what you’re looking for. I’d read a brief interview with mystery writer Attica Locke about her second novel The Cutting Season, set on a plantation house in the modern day, and thought: that sounds interesting; I should follow up on that. I wasn’t able to find it in my nearest brick-and-mortar bookshop, but I did download a preview on my Kobo and was impressed. Tevere’s recent review of Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down reminded me that I’d bookmarked it to buy ages ago, and I’ve downloaded a preview of that. I’d probably struggle to find it my local W. H. Smith.

So I do want the easy access to a larger selection that an ereader gives me. It was terrifically dreary going into a W. H. Smith on my lunch break recently to get reading material for an upcoming holiday — all those rows of celebrity autobiographies and 50 Shades of Grey knockoffs. (Not that I object to celebrity autobiographies or erotica in themselves. I just wanted to read something different. I did manage to dig out some interesting reading — a Lindqvist horror novel which is all about how awful it can be to be a teenage girl, wickedly funny Pakistani chicklit, and finally Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End, which I bought to make up numbers for the 3 for 2 offer, and which is notable for being fairly readable despite my disagreeing with everything in and about it, from the cover with Benedict Cumberbatch’s face to the repellent worldview.)

But at the same time being deprived of access to ebooks has been a salutary reminder of how important it is to give myself the chance to stumble on books. I think it’s really important to put yourself in the way of finding obscure, interesting books, because the books that are easy to find are always the ones that tell you what you already know. You need to know what it is you’re missing, what voices have been drowned out that you need to hear.

I was going to do a Kobo Glo review, but I seem to have got sidetracked! OK, OK.

Review of the Kobo Glo

General observations:

– It’s littler than my Kindle was. (I had the Kindle with a keyboard.) This doesn’t bother me, and I like its portability, but it might bother someone else. I also looked at the Kobo Mini but that’s a little too small for me.

– I wasn’t going to buy the Kobo Glo since I wasn’t that interested in a screen that could light up for reading at night and the Kobo Touch is cheaper, but after playing with both at the store I realised the page turn is a lot better on the Kobo Glo — i.e. the new page refreshes very quickly. The slowness of page turns had been something that annoyed me on the Kindle, so I was willing to pay more for an improvement in this feature.

Things I like:

– The page turn is good; I also like swiping the screen to turn pages.

– When the Kobo goes to sleep it puts the cover of the book you’re reading on screen, with an indication of how far along you are in percentage terms. This pleases the tracker in me.

– To my surprise, I actually like and use the Glo function for which it is named — I do lie in bed reading in the dark with the screen lit up. This is probably no good for my sleep; I mostly like it because it’s a way of tricking myself into believing that I’m not staying up past my bedtime.

Things I dislike:

– You can’t search the text for a specific word by typing that word in — you’ve got to find the word you want to search in the book, highlight it, and search for occurrences of it in the text that way. It’s daft because if you were able to find that word in the text by yourself, you wouldn’t have to search, would you?

ETA: It turns out I was just a n00b — there is a word search function! You have to tap on a book icon rather than the magnifying glass icon.

OTOH, navigating a book is generally easier than on the Kindle I had — I find it easier to call up the bar at the bottom that lets you skip to different parts of the book, and you can turn pages fast enough that it feels like flicking.

– This touchscreen business, I’m not that much of a fan. You have to tap to bring up the button that takes you back to your home page, and you have to tap and hold for the dictionary and for highlighting, and you have to tap to bring up the controls to change the font size and line spacing and so on. When I want something I tap randomly all over the page and turn pages without meaning to and bring up different menus and get annoyed.

Still, I’m pretty happy with it, and it’s just as well to be using an ereader that deals in epubs. I’ll wait to see whether it lasts longer than the Kindle did before I make any final conclusions.


12 thoughts on “Reflections on an ereaderless summer + Kobo Glo review

  1. Demmy says:

    Thanks for this really helpful review, I’m in the market for an e-reader and this is very useful to me. I’m not sure if you’ve tried this, but can you write in the Kobo Glo, or just highlight?

    • Zen says:

      Hi Demmy! I’m glad the review was useful. I have just tried writing on the ereader and yes, you can make notes and highlight. I confess I preferred the way I did it on the Kindle — all this tapping irritates me, since I haven’t figured out the three different kinds of taps required — but I understand Kindles are touchscreen now too so that’s not necessarily a mark against the Kobo.

  2. Gabe says:

    Your Parade’s End comment made me laugh in a really unattractive way. I haven’t seen anything that makes it not look like a WWI-themed Forsyte Saga to me, but practically all Edwardian-ish British lit starts to look like the Forsyte Saga to me after a while: glossy, misanthropic, centered on dislikeable rich people.

    As for the Kobo, I have a Kindle and I’m a definite keyboard fan, but that’s good to know! My last Kindle wore out after warranty too and they offered me something like a $10 discount; I thought that was rubbish and basically resigned myself to dead tree until my dad got bored with his and got a Fire and gave me his old one.

    • I do really like Saki, who is glossy, misanthropic and thoroughly centered on horrible rich people, but is also very funny and produces prose as clear as ice. Ford’s prose is sludgy in comparison — his abuse of ellipses is something to see. Not recommended!

      Lucky! They offered me a 20% discount, which is better than $10, but I was so indignant over the reasonless breakdown of my device that using it would have stuck in my craw.

      • Gabe says:

        I really can’t point fingers as many of the things I read and write are glossy, misanthropic, and centered on dislikeable people, sometimes rich ones! (I blame Modernism.) But with a certain sort of book you can picture the HBO or BBC series when you’re reading it, even if it doesn’t exist. I’ve now realized I’ve never actually read any Saki, though I think I had to read several critical articles on him for some class or other I didn’t attend, so I should probably fix that.

        E-readers are excellent, though, I think I’ve plowed through more books in the past year or so of having one than I did in the two or three previous. Following footnotes through hyperlinks is a little weird at first but you get used to it.

        • I recommend Saki! He’s excellent. You can find lots of his stories for free online, and they’re short enough to read on the computer as well, so you can try before you buy, as it were.

          And haha, yes, with some books it does seem like they were made for BBC/HBOisation!

  3. Bob black says:

    Great review.. thank you..
    I’m on the fence re the glo feature..saw it at Chapters bookstore but it is being displayed in a bright area ??
    My concerns are battery life and the overall lighting experience in darker places..

    • The dude who sold the Kobo to me told me that the light function apparently doesn’t affect battery life. I can’t work out how it wouldn’t, but have to say I’ve been fairly happy with the battery life so far — I’ve charged it once since I bought it a couple of weeks ago and it’s still going strong.

      As for the lighting experience, it’s basically like using any backlit device in the dark.

  4. andamooka says:

    Hi, thanks for the review. I have been deliberating over getting an e-reader for months. What has always held me back was the lack of ability to read in the dark (bus at night etc). Now with the kindle paperwhite; the nook and the kobo glo I have the opportunity at last to get one. But which one?
    What I would like you to answer for me, is this business of light leakage? I hear the kindle and nook have problems with light leakage and ‘holes’. How would you say kobo is in this respect? Is the light coverage even all over the screen? Have you noticed any light leakage at the bottom edge (that kindles are suffering a lot with)?
    I’d really appreciate a reply, as I am teetering on the edge of a purchase!

    • I’m not clear on what light leakage means, but I haven’t noticed any unevenness in the light coverage of the Kobo Glo. That said, I have only been using it for a month, so take my advice with caution! If you have the opportunity to go to a store to try these devices in person, perhaps that would be the best thing to do?

      – Zen

  5. Jimmy says:

    Hi, mind telling me where I can get it? I’ve tried buying from Collins Aus but apparently they don’t dispatch to Malaysia. Thought of trying closer at home.

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