My bookshelf was filling up. My Barnes and Noble gift cards were depleted. The library was on the other side of town. What ever was I to do!

Like any lazy self-respecting procurer of digital media, I fired up a few queries on trusty old isohunt. Low and behold, e-books. Stephen King, Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, George RR Martin. Hundreds of others.

The beauty of books is their portability. They don’t require power supplies. Reading directly from the computer screen was doable, but I needed something more versatile. Some sort of portable device with a decent sized screen, mechanism to scroll through pages…

iPod! Specifically it’s Notes feature.

Fortunately, someone else had the same idea and created this handy site for converting txt files to iPod Notes files.

The output is a zip package of a few dozen binary files. Copy the unzipped directory to the NOTES folder on the iPod. Then navigate to Notes. Behold!

The font is very readable, although keeping the backlight on is a must, even in direct light. Each note “page” is probably 2-3 pages in a real book (600 page novel = 275 notes), but can be read surprisingly fast. I found that scrolling through each note breaks up the monotony of seeing a huge chunk of text on the printed page.

There are a few primary drawbacks over real books. It’s great to listen to music while reading an ebook, but the navigation isn’t as nice as it could be. While playing a song, the screen will default to the song meter. You’ll have to touch the clickwheel to bring back the note. Also, changing songs requires navigating up a level, out of the notes.

Saving places is also a pain. The notes will remember you opened up Note number 5, for example, but it won’t remember you clicked over to note 10 while reading. Next time you open the Notes “application” you’ll be back on Note 5. The equivalent of a bookmark would be incredibly helpful.

For simply rendering pure text, the notes are also pretty slow. First time you drop a full book onto the iPod hard drive, the software has to “cache” each note into memory, which can take a minute or two. Switching between pages also has a bit of lag. And finally, playing music and reading ebooks drains the battery rapidly. Doesn’t help that the backlight is basically required for reading.

Will I make the switch permanently to ebooks on the iPod? Very doubtful. I have hundreds of free digital books, and I’ll certainly read a few more 21st century-style. But there’s nothing like the sound and feel of crisp pages, the balance of a hefty tome on the lap.

And besides, books don’t require power chargers.

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