Dr. Boli would not have imagined that the mere mention of ebook readers could lead to such spirited discussion among his regular correspondents. Clearly the topic is one that provokes strong opinions, even among those who do not use ebook readers.

If everyone else has strong opinions on the subject, it will come as no surprise that Dr. Boli has some opinions of his own. To carry around a whole library in an object smaller than a single book is a wonderful advance in technology, but far too little attention has been paid to elementary considerations like type. Dr. Boli is looking at one of the most popular ebook readers right now. It right-justifies lines, but cannot hyphenate words, making pages look as if they were laid out by a third-grader with a home printing press. It counts all hyphens as nonbreaking hyphens, and two words separated by an em dash as one unbreakable word, which makes the page look even sloppier. One has the impression that the thing was designed by people who had heard of books at second hand, possibly by watching a short television documentary on the subject, but had never handled a book themselves.

For this reason, Dr. Boli prefers to read scanned books on a tablet computer, which is probably as close as one can come to having the experience of a paper book without any paper. Fortunately there are thousands and thousands of such books available from Google Books and the Internet Archive. Google Books even makes scanned pages searchable; Dr. Boli has no idea how such a miracle is accomplished, but he imagines it has something to do with slave labor.

Finally, Dr. Boli is pleased to report that, since he last wrote, he has found a simple and elegant solution to the problem of synchro­nizing an ebook with the paper copy at home. With most of the popular ebook readers, it is a simple matter to synchronize the book across multiple devices—in Dr. Boli’s case, various Linux computers, ebook readers, and Android devices. Having set up that synchro­niza­tion on the desktop computer at home, one simply instructs one’s valet to check the last location read in the ebook a few minutes before one is expected at home, and then find that place in the printed book and insert a bookmark there. Similarly, before one leaves the house, the valet checks the position of the bookmark and advances the ebook to that location. Thus the synchronization is accomplished with no effort at all on the reader’s part.


  1. Jared says:

    I am grateful that my Kindle DX does not right-justify text, as I do not read Hebrew. It does, however, left-justify, with all of the associated typesetting heresies of justification that Dr. Boli describes.

    My old Nook, on the other hand, allowed justified text (flush left and right, and right with God), which was far preferable. But my incredibly cheap second-hand Kindle DX* does, at least, render PDFs very well, and in a full page display no less, allowing me to read those scanned books that Dr. Boli so justly praises.

    * The original owner practically gave it away upon acquiring an iPad, proving that some good can come out of Apple.

    • Dr. Boli says:

      Most designers use “right-justified” to mean aligned on the right as well as on the left. Some, to avoid the quibble Mr. Jared mentions, call that “full justification.” The Kindle (we do not like to name names, but sometimes it is necessary) has chosen the worst of all possible worlds, using right-justified or (or fully justified, if you prefer) text for most lines, but without hyphenation, and making lines that are much shorter than normal flush left, but still abnormally widely spaced. FBReader, a free ereader app available on almost every platform, can do hyphenation easily, even on the most underpowered Android tablet. In fact, some hackers have rooted their Kindle readers to run FBReader instead of the default Amazon application. It is not any technical difficulty that makes typography sloppy on the Kindle, so it can only be a matter of not caring.

  2. JaneC says:

    I do not have funds to purchase an ebook reader or tablet in addition to the devices I have already (or, rather, if I purchased one I would have no money left for books–tragedy!). I have the Kindle app for my laptop and rather old iPod Touch. Reading on the laptop is not my favorite method, but a lot of out-of-copyright books can be had for free, and some books that it would be difficult for me to find a print copy of are also available. I live in Alaska, so shipping for print copies of books not available in my local store often costs more than the books themselves, and buying ebooks is cheaper and has the advantage of near-instant delivery.

  3. Jared says:

    I’m glad that we can move beyond such quibbles, lest any serious differences arise on the doctrine of justification.

  4. some guy on the street says:

    What! These things don’t have TeX in them? What on earth can the point or pica be of that? Clearly, someone doesn’t realize that Bram Stein has written Knuth+Plass line-breaking in javascript, or that fonts enough to flounder a foundry have been tossed freely upon the world… how can a technical marvel in aid of literacy be so technically illiterate?

  5. C. Simon says:

    Does Dr. Boli know the man who invented the em dash? I’d like to shake his hand.

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