Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

The Greg Hatcher Legacy Files #151: ‘Saturday in the Nook’

[I love posts about “old” technology when it’s new, because nobody has the benefit of hindsight, and they’re always so hopeful about the future! This post, which Greg put up on 19 November 2011, can be found here, and it’s a fun post about e-readers and their 2011 limitations. The nerds are out in force in the comments, as you’d expect! I never got an e-reader, and I don’t read anything on my phone, because I’m an oldster, so I don’t even relate to Greg’s conundrums even over a decade later, but I’m sure many of you will! Enjoy!]

My new Nook e-reader, that is.

Julie got me a Nook Simple Touch for my birthday. Regular readers will probably think it seems like an odd gift for someone like me, who spends so much time bookscouting in thrift stores and such. And it’s true that I love a great many of my books just as artifacts, along with the words they contain.

But I had been speculating about trying out a portable e-reader device of some kind, and after doing a little research, Julie decided I should have this one.

A publicity photo of my new toy.

She said, “This for all those books you say you are ‘on the bubble’ about and then put back on the shelf when we are out shopping.”

It’s certainly a practical gift, considering how many books and comics we are accumulating that I didn’t put back on the shelf.

This is what I see if I turn my back to the computer. The office library is where the pulps and comics live.

Left to myself, I probably wouldn’t have seriously looked into it for another year or so; that’s an eon in tech years and the current versions of the e-readers out there today probably will be obsolete by then. I didn’t want us to invest in the equivalent of what might turn out to be the Betamax or 8-track of e-readers.

It occurred to me that there might be other late-adopters like myself out there who’ve been toying with the idea of getting something eventually but, like me, haven’t really decided one way or the other on the whole Kindle-Nook-e-reader thing. So I thought I’d report back here on the Nook, after a week of playing with it. This isn’t really a review so much as a reaction; I don’t pretend to any technical expertise, and I didn’t do a whole lot of consumer research or anything like that. For all I know there might be a newer better version of the thing out there by the time I finish this column — that’s how fast the e-reader industry appears to be working these days.

Furthermore, I should emphasize that Julie is the techie in our household, not me. She loves gadgets of all kinds. Me, on the other hand … well, let’s just say that I’m not one of those people who needs a one-stop device with a camera and an mp3 player and a web browser and all of that stuff. I use my cell phone to make phone calls, period; even texting is something I avoid. Most people know to just call me on the phone or wait till they see me in person, because I have large hands and trying to reply to a text using tiny virtual keys annoys the hell out of me. (I have a whole old-guy Andy Rooney rant about tiny touch-screen cell phone keyboards, but I will spare you.)

Julie knows all this and that’s why, when shopping for me, she went for the Nook Simple Touch. (For herself, she’d probably have been all about an iPad.)

All that said … I really do like this Nook. It suits me pretty well. It took me a little while to get used to the controls but after a week even fat-fingered me is getting the hang of it. As a starter e-reader, I think it’s great, and I think Julie made the right call for the kind of device I would get the most use out of.

The big selling point for her (knowing me) was how easily it copes with standard e-pub files and PDF files, because I am finding that’s how a lot of small-press publishers I like are doing business these days. I get review PDFs all the time, and e-books are also the most cost-effective option for me to purchase books from pulp-revival outfits like Airship 27 or Altus Press.

In fact, that’s the first thing I did with it, was go noodling around on the Barnes and Noble site to see what they had in the way of pulp action stuff. I started with John D. MacDonald.

You can tell it’s early days yet, because they only had a couple of them available for the Nook; I ended up with the third volume of Masters of Noir, a nice little collection of short stories from various famous crime authors — it just came up in the search because MacDonald’s name is first on the cover, I guess. And Death Quotient, a book that finally collects MacDonald’s dozen or so science fiction stories.

The pulp stuff is cheap but it’s not listed AS “pulp” or “pulp reprints” — you have to know what you’re looking for. But if you do, you can make out like a bandit. Barnes and Noble has all kinds of that stuff for 99 cents a pop (the minimum price for e-books there, except for the ones they give away for free.) Over the next day or so, I added all sorts of stuff, almost all of it for less than two dollars each. Mostly 99-cent offerings that caught my eye, or sometimes a book like Robert E. Howard’s Almuric that I’d wanted for years but couldn’t ever seem to find in an affordable edition (at least, one that wasn’t beat to death.)

A search on Norvell Page, author of most of the Spider pulps, brought up these two oddities — Secret Guns and Blood Arrow.

Haven’t looked at either of them yet, but the thought of a western story done in the same deranged amphetamine-fueled writing style Page brought to his Spider novels fills me with glee.

The big expenditures were Lost Trails, an anthology of western stories, and Will Murray’s new Doc Savage pastiche, The Desert Demons.

Those both came in at around five dollars each. (My mind has already started to adjust to the e-book scale — for each of those I’d thought, a little spendy but worth it.)

Barnes and Noble would clearly prefer I not be aware of this (there’s almost nothing in the manual about how to load publications from anywhere other than the B&N web site) but there’s also lots of public-domain e-books available free out there in both epub and PDF format, that run just fine on my Nook. Spending a little time at the Project Gutenberg and Epub Books web sites respectively I wound up with a boatload of Edgar Rice Burroughs, a couple from H. Rider Haggard, a couple more from Andre Norton, everything Baroness Orczy wrote about the Scarlet Pimpernel, and a great deal of what Sax Rohmer wrote about the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu. I even threw in a couple of classics from Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling I’ve been meaning to get around to for years. In no time at all, I’d loaded about thirty books on there … I had to make myself stop before the Nook’s Shelf of Shame was bigger than the one on my already-groaning nightstand.

But for the most part it was all prose. I did do some experimenting with comics over the last day and a half, and I have to say, the Nook’s not really built for them. At least not this model.

There are a couple of problems. The first one is proprietary. There’s a big format war going on between the Nook and the Kindle right now, with Amazon and B&N each trying to outdo the other with not just the hardware, but also with various additional deals, discounts, and exclusivity contracts. (I’m not going to rehash the DC vs. Barnes and Noble kerfuffle here, but suffice it to say that there was one.)

Obviously, this could change, and is in fact probably changing as I write this. But at the moment almost the entire comics industry is geared for the Amazon Kindle. And Kindle comics downloads are no good for this device; the last thing Amazon wants is for people to be putting their Kindle books on a Nook, they’re gambling that they can sell enough Kindle-only e-books to make their current loss-leader device strategy pay off.

So Amazon’s pretty much a dead loss for me as far as e-comics are concerned. I’m sure that somewhere someone has devised a hack for converting Kindle to Nook, but I’m not interested enough to go looking for it.

Likewise, the preferred format for digital comics is .cbr or .cbz files, and my Nook can’t deal with those either. (I did try an open-source program that allegedly can convert .cbr files to .epub ones, but it’s a kludgy mess and a huge memory hog. What’s more, after all the time I spent screwing around trying to get my computer to load the software and run it, the resultant .epub file still wouldn’t open on the Nook, so I gave up in disgust.)

I also experimented with loading a couple of review PDF comics I had here to my Nook, and those didn’t work either. The opening matter — anything that’s just text, like the copyright page or title page or something like that, carries over to the Nook screen but not very well, there are freaky line breaks and sometimes even odd breaks in the middle of a word.

Like Thi


For Examp


… so I gave up there too. My prose PDF files from Airship 27 read well enough, but most anything else with strong graphic elements — illustrations, logos, and so on — appears to be unworkable as well.

That left the Nook Comics entries from Barnes and Noble themselves as the only ones worth trying. They did have a lot of Marvel books available, but most of them are things I already own in trade paperback, and anyway all of it’s priced WAY high compared to the prose e-books available. Experimenting with a couple of 99-cent comics entries, I found that this isn’t really that great a device for comics reading anyway.

Just as a trial balloon of sorts, I invested a dollar in these two —

A Princess of Mars and Between the Panels. Despite being listed as “graphic novels,” though, neither actually is one. The Mars book is just the prose novel with a few illustrations, which look like they’re probably pretty good but are wasted on my tiny black-and-white Simple Touch screen. Between the Panels is a book of essays illustrated with the occasional sketch. It reads well enough, even with illustrations, and is the only comics-related piece I found that looks like it was actually formatted for my Nook.

Neither purchase answered my questions about trying to read comics on this device, though, so I tried again. This time I invested 99 cents apiece on Sherlock Holmes and The Marvel Family, both available in the Barnes and Noble Nook Comics store.

The Marvel Family book is a classic, and includes the first appearance ever of Black Adam. Sadly though, again, it just doesn’t look good on my little Nook screen.

It’s just too small. It’s the 1970s Marvel paperback thing all over again.

The Holmes comic is an odd little novelty that I’d heard about but never actually read. The story’s really not very good, which is probably why it was allowed to fall into the public domain in the first place. But the approach to the digital reading process was a little different. It presents as a panel at a time, not a page. Sometimes this works really well on my Nook …

And other times, not so much.

Honestly, even without trying other devices like a Kindle or an iPad loaded with Comical or something like that, most of my reservations about publishers like Marvel and DC doing their print stuff as digital comics still stand. [Edit: that’s a link to an upcoming column. Trust me!] The work’s just not formatted properly for the devices they want us to read them on.

Final verdict? As far as comics for Nook and Kindle are concerned, I think we’re just not there yet. Until the actual creators and publishers of print comics catch up to the things the webcomic-original folks have learned about how to do this work for a screen instead of a page, the New Digital Age of Comics won’t have arrived.

But in the meantime, I won’t be bored. Even if my new toy can’t translate print comic books to satisfying digital ones, I’ve got a ton of OTHER cool stuff to read. Because the Digital Age of Pulps seems to have arrived about five years ago, and I’ve got all kinds of catching up to do. I think there’s enough pulpy action reading available in e-book form for me to be entertained for years.

Even if my little Simple Touch Nook does turn out to be the Betamax of e-readers.

See you next week.


  1. Der

    I bought a kindle, the most basic kindle in 2022. Then a year later my brother in law gifted me his old Kobo clara HD and I ditched the kindle and started using that one(mainly due to the kobo working better with calibre, a software used to sort books on your pc). But to be honest, both are pretty much the same. The tech as far as I can see is almost the same in both and if you want to just read books, you don’t have to use the latest and most expensive. Heck the Kobo Clara HD i got launched in 2018 and it works flawlessly.

    The great thing for those things(for me at least) is that I use them to reduce physical clutter. “Do I want to read that book? Yes, but I don’t want to have that book on my shelf because I know I won’t re-read it ever” Is something I wonder when I’m looking for a book that looks kinda interesting but I’m not really sure if I will like it or not.

    Also, getting cheap books is really easy, just go to humble bundle and they have lots of sales all the time. Also those things are bad to read comics, but decent enough to read manga or B&W comics too.

  2. Edo Bosnar

    Yeah, funny seeing opinions on this stuff with about a decade or so of hindsight. For my own part, I can say that I’ve made peace with the fact that my phone is also a camera and mp3 player, but I still refuse to use it for internet browsing or even reading e-mails. And I have since acquired a tablet a few years later (actually a birthday gift one year from my partner), which is now indeed a ‘dummy’ device, i.e., I haven’t updated any of the software or apps so it can’t really connect to most things online, but it has a decent amount of memory and I have a ton of books and comics loaded onto it.

    Otherwise, I found Greg’s comment about “MacDonald’s dozen or so science fiction stories” amusing. As both he and I would later learn (and which I wrote about in a post here), MacDonald actually wrote almost fifty SF short stories and novellas.

  3. Jeff Nettleton

    When I read the original comments, I had to chuckle as Greg made a common mistake. The cafes in the Barnes & Noble stores (at least then, I can’t speak for them after the buy-out) were owned and operated by Barnes & Noble. They just served Starbucks-brand coffee and had to follow Starbucks’ brewing standards and recipes. They did not carry all of their coffees and Starbucks gift cards could not be used in them, though B&N gift cards could and the Member Card gave you discounts.

    I was with the company when Nook launched and through the bulk of its lifetime, as a company-produced device (they then made a deal with Samsung…not sure about today). Funny story (to me); on the day Nook launched, we did not yet have a demo device (only stores in major cities got them, due to delays in production), just a brochure, in the shape of the original device and we watched training videos about their features. I was manager-on-duty, for the evening of launch day and got a call on my store cell phone, from a bookseller, that a customer at the front desk had questions about the device. The bookseller hadn’t watched the videos, yet. I went up to speak to them and the person stepped away from the desk and approached me. It was Richard Dreyfuss. As in Jaws and Close Encounters….in Champaign, IL…for some reason. He asked questions and I answered the best I could, with just a brochure and a video I watched 20 minutes before. At the back of my head was an urge to ask hi what it was like to film Hello Down There, just to see his reaction to a reference to a very early role for him (in a Tony Randall movie). He thanked me, shook my hands and winked (probably appreciating that I didn’t go fanboy on him) and left.

    The Simple Touch device was a black & white only device, designed specifically for readers, with few bells and whistles. They were pretty reliable. They then introduced the Glow version, with built in light, for night reading, but it had issues with a fragile screen. They introduced the Color reader, which was a better platform for things like digital comics, as well as games and magazines…anything graphic-oriented. Those had a few issues; but, on the whole, were pretty reliable. That was followed by a tablet version.

    B&N didn’t hide any of the information Greg mentions; but, it was geared to buying from the company. However, since it was compatible with e-pub and pdf, it gave you a much larger selection that Kindle, at the time. It was more like VHS to Kindles Betamax. You could plug it into a computer to load files from other sites or the computer’s memory. You could also borrow from libraries, with the later models. You also had plenty of help available to answer questions, teach you how to use the device, troubleshoot problems, and get replacements, if necessary. Every bookseller was trained to troubleshoot and answer questions and demonstrate the device.

    My 70+ year-old mother had a Simple touch and loved it and upgraded to a Color, and loved it,. It was great for carrying on appointments. Plus, there were tons of free, public domain classics available, as well as current publications. Amazon had a big selection and major publishers put out both formats; but, more small press stuck with the universal and many didn’t like Amazon’s strongarm tactics.

    Digital Comics were still pretty much in their infancy and there were a lot of tech issues, especially for works that were quickly converted, rather than developed with digital delivery in mind. They improved over the next few years.

    The DC and B&N spat blew up over a deal they made with Amazon, which wasn’t made available to us. Given that we had heavily promoted their works (and competitor books, but DC got their own display) and had knowledgeable booksellers who could make recommendations and search out titles, rather than algorithms that were more about selling something they wanted to promote, rather than compliment your purchases, B&N got a bit miffed. I believe they made an exclusive deal, at the time, with Amazon, to sell on-line. So, B&N responded by taking their books off the shelves and making them available only for special order, until things cooled down and went back to the way they had been. It was childish; but, welcome to Corporate America.

  4. Jeff Nettleton

    Contrary to media accounts, Nook wasn’t killing the company. Even with R&D and manufacture, B&N still posted profits and had tons of untouched lines of credit available. However, when every financial writer, who had stock in Amazon (and did not disclose this fact, as many didn’t) wrote that B&N was dying, the share price would drop because people would take it at face value instead of doing a tiny bit of fact checking. The brick-and-mortar stores were the healthiest part of the company, at the time, and generated tons of revenue, by providing personal services. Funny how that works. However, there were investor factions who wanted bigger profits and were pushing to sell off divisions and chase the fast buck and it got ugly, quickly. Payroll budgets constricted tighter than a constipated anaconda. Full time positions were cut, and the former part time benefits (with a year’s tenure and average of 20 hours per week) went away. The next thing that happened is that people with long service, like me (20 years), were targeted to get us off the books, because of salary and benefits. Suddenly, my district manager was nitpicking everything I did and my reviews were being dictated by her, rather than being written by my immediate superior. Things would turn up in there that were never brought up at any point over the year, which was contrary to the company’s stated management principles. It came to a head and I resigned, as I didn’t have the resources to try to sue, as it would drag on forever and lawyers would eat up any settlement. A lot of good people were pushed out in advance of selling the company and it was a slap in the face from a company that used to value loyalty and experience…and reward it.

    Even before I left they bared backlist down to mostly the first couple of books by an author and their latest, except for people like Stephen King (and they cut his stuff down, too) and reduced book space for toys, games and collectibles, chasing fad after fad. These days, good luck finding small press titles and much beyond top tier authors and whoever is the latest flavor. Even the classic literature is built around what is forced on kids in school, rather than the wider range we used to have, like a Rafael Sabatini or Anthony Hope. Organization went out the window, too, as they have no payroll to devote to maintaining it. When my wife was in the hospital, I went in to try to find the book that inspired the BBC series SAS: Rogue Heroes and had to hunt through 4 different sections of history, to finally find it in the British History section, instead of Military History or World War 2. It just made me angry, frustrated and sad and I almost never go in there, anymore, even with an alleged “lifetime employee discount”.

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