eBooks: Readers and free texts

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This page is for several audiences....

(If you have come here because you already have a Kobo, and want help with it, you can skip down to my account of what I've learned about operating a Kobo...)

Before we go on to the heart of this page's content, spare a thought for the importance of free ebooks in places where traditional books are hard to get, either because of logistics, or because of economic factors. (Yes, both get in the way of ebooks, too. But the "library" a small school in a poor country can have today can be huge, with just one computer, and a "sometimes on" internet connection. Consider giving some $upport to Project Gutenberg. You're probably looking at this because you are interested in the convenience of ebooks. Their significance elsewhere is greater.

Who says so?

Who am I to tell you about using etexts?

I've been using computers since 1968. I taught computing. I have been reading etexts since about 1990... but with a discrete ereader only since recently, as I tend to resist change and spending money.

Free books?

Yes! In many formats, including audio books for your MP3 player.

The great grandfather of all free book efforts is Project Gutenberg. It was founded by Michael Hart, who started making eBooks in 1971. Wikipedia credits him with "inventing the electronic book".

The books there are usually "classics"... old enough to have passed out of copyright. But don't let your early school experiences with "Classics" put you off. There are good books to be found in the classics. When did you last read Wind In The Willows, for instance? (That link will take you, in a new window or tab, straight to the text of the book, with illustrations. (Scroll down past the cover note). You can come back here, just by closing the Wind In the Willows window or tab.

You don't need a Kobo, or Nook, or Kindle to read Project Gutenberg ebooks. Your browser, or a text editor, or a wordprocessor "will do".

Beware: Some of the other sources of free etexts are full of modern things that, while free, are free because they were too badly written to attract the attention of ink-on-paper publishers. Other free material is mere pornography. Ah, the joys of the internet. In 1983, I was in charge of the computers in a secondary school, and internet porn was moving into a higher gear. Colleagues were worried. I was able to tell them... then... that the quality of graphics available made enjoyment of lewd images more a matter of imagination than of visual acuity.

Starting simply...

I resisted the urge to buy a discrete ebook reader, e.g. a Kindle, for a long time. But that didn't stop me reading ebooks! I have a small Windows laptop computer which travels with me. Long before I had my Kobo, I was reading ebooks, on the laptop which I already had, for other reasons.

As I just said, you don't need a Kobo, or Nook, or Kindle to read etexts, but specialist software does have its charms. My first step towards serious ebook reading arose when I installed Tom Fellner's free "eTextReader" on my little laptop. First published in 2002, eTextReader is just what I wanted. It remembers your place in your book. Typeface and font size selectable. When you read your book on your laptop, regardless of how you read the text (unless you use a Kobo or Kindle emulator), you can use copy/ paste to extract bits to use in essays, send to friends, etc.

A Kobo, or Kindle... without the Kobo hardware!

You can, if you wish, load a Kobo (or Kindle) emulator onto your laptop... or iPad, iPhone, Android, Mac, PC, BlackBerry PlayBook or other smartphone! (Details at KoboBooks.com/apps) However, for some reason, it won't let you read the full range of free books. (The "real" (silicon and plastic) Kobo DOES let you read the full Project Gutenberg (etc) library.... well, as many of the 40,000 books there as you can find time for. And while some of their texts are obscure or dry, none are the rubbish which turns up elsewhere.)

So now that you've caught your Kobo...

First, of course, you have to set things up. I'll regale you with my experiences in a moment. If you already have yours set up, and want to know about Using It, you can skip down to the Using Kobo section. The main treasure there is advice on loading free books from outside the Kobo site.

As understand things, here's the Kobo plan...

You have an account at Kobo. Which ebooks you have in your Kobo, i.e. the physical device, or the emulator on, say, your smartphone, and where you've got to, etc, etc, are stored with your account. It is one of those "in the cloud" things. So wonderful, in theory. Like cell phones. (Didn't they sound fun? No one mentioned dead zones, did they?) Of course, the information as to where you've got to in a particular book will only be as up to date as the last time you synced your Kobo and your account at Kobo. (And, which you're not quite ready for yet, but I'll mention: The Kobo account "doesn't know about" free books you've put on your Kobo from other sources. More on that later.) ANYWAY....

... I'm sure they "meant well". For me, the whole "in the cloud" thing isn't a bonus. But it may help you follow what is going on if you are aware that it is part of the story here.

Before I go further, let me explain something about the way I use my Kobo. Mine is the wireless Kobo, so, in theory, I can connect directly to the Kobo server. I prefer to do my downloading through my PC, and haven't explored letting my Kobo "talk" to anyone, except my PC, and that by the USB cable supplied with the Kobo, also used for charging it.

So. I got my Kobo. Followed the instructions for setup. They started with installing the "Kobo Desktop" software on my PC, by running "kobosetup". (Don't you wish more people would put their name on their setup packages? How many "setup"s do you have littering your machine? And which one sets up what?)

Once the "Desktop" software was installed, I launched it, followed instruction to connect Kobo to PC. No apparent effect. No "Next" button.

Went back and forth with "Exit", plug/unplug. Restart the Kobo Desktop software... eventually "got in"... Was invited to log into my account. Problems over password,

Time out!: I am giving you this blow- by- blow not to say that I don't like my Kobo. Things may very well go more smoothly by the time you are going through this. And I did get everything up and working eventually. But perhaps by reading my experiences, you will see little bits you could do better, or at least be given courage, to see you through to the end.

Initially, it was curiously laggy. Repeated odd behavior, failure of software/pc to "see" reader. Some of this may have been a sync function going on with no indicator. After initial bad experiences, things have been much better of late.

Connecting Kobo DID result in LED by On/off lighting up... not much else for AGES... perhaps 5 min? Eventually, while I was "clearing decks", writing this, etc, the "eReader" tab of the Kobo Desktop s/w (which I had clicked... to no effect... earlier went not-gray. And screen of Kobo said... at last... "Connected and charging." Sigh.

The "Congratulations.... set up in just a few..." window (not a window in browser) re-opened, with the "Get Started" button was present again. Clicked it again. That took it to "Connecting"... but this time, with "progress dolphins", and before long I was invited... again... to sign in to my account... despite the fact that I was already signed in. Sigh.

However, this time, sign in was successful, and took me to "step 3 of 4, Configuring and syncing"

Endured an "eReader upgrade" download, part of step 3.

(At this point, reader visible to Windows Explorer as a virtual hard drive.)

Waited a while through "loading content"... I'd used Kobo Desktop, on a different PC, in the past... probably filling my reader with books currently on the PC I'd used the desktop on... this would be an example of the "joys" of "cloud computing". Fine if you WANT all of your machines to have the same books. But couldn't it at least be optional?

N.B.: The reader should be "ejected" before it is unplugged. Eject via the Kobo Desktop software, if that's an option. Otherwise, in Windows, use the "Safely Remove Hardware" icon in the system tray. Other environments will almost certainly have similar provisions.

So now that you've caught your Kobo...

The rest of this is for people have a "real", silicon and plastic, Kobo reader. It does not, sadly, apply to those who are using a Kobo emulator on, say, a laptop. Pity that. Maybe Kobo will realize they are shooting themselves in the foot here. Maybe there's a technical difficulty they can't solve.

Here's how I get books which aren't available directly from the Kobo site. (Try there first. There are notes about searching the Kobo site further down.

Loading books, using a windows computer... I was on XP at the time I wrote this, not that it should matter...

Option A: All without Kobo software, or their "Desktop" software, or their website....

Being able to access free books without "permission" from your ereader's manufacturer is one of the reasons I bought a Kobo, rather than a Kindle. The Kindle is very good... if you want to be their vassal.

Go to Gutenberg. Find something. Download ePub format version to computer. Be sure Kobo Desktop NOT running on computer. Physically connect Kobo to Computer. Tell Kobo, "Yes, you want to connect and manage files". On PC, a Windows Explorer window should open. Leave that open to the root folder of your Kobo.

What I found there....



I would STRONGLY advise that you be VERY RELUCTANT to "mess" with these things.

I THINK (pretty sure) that "pg2166-images.epub" was a file I put there earlier, King Solomon's Mines, from Project Gutenberg. I deleted it manually the day I was writing these notes, as I had finished reading it. The "images" in the title, by the way, means, I think, "WITH images". I think that file had all of the text, AND the images.

Gutenberg likes you to retain their filenames, I think. (And I think it is a good idea.) I like filenames to be a little more informative, so I made an extra copy of my copy of "Kim"...

Project Gutenberg title: pg2226.epub
My secondary copy's title: Kim-pg2226.epub

... and copied BOTH to the root of my Kobo... as an experiment.

I then did the Windows "Safely Eject Hardware" for the Kobo... the Windows Explorer window will tell you what drive letter it had today. It was described, on the PC, simply as "USB Mass Storage Device"... which suits me fine... I'd rather learn how to work with the basic system tools than be trapped in proprietary and locked down systems.

Be careful to remember the "Eject" process, whatever it may be on your machine. If you are running the Kobo Desktop software, there is a way to request an "Eject" within it.

I then (physically) unplugged my Kobo, and, hurrah! All was well!

Went to Library... everything was there... two copies of Kim... And the Water Babies I'd downloaded from Project Gutenberg even had cover art. I suspect the presence of cover art is merely a function of what is in the ePub file, nothing to do with where you obtain it, how you transfer it to your Kobo.

In other words, you can simply copy ebooks to your Kobo as if the Kobo were a thumbdrive. I've only tried ePub format files, to the Kobo disk's root. I can't think why you'd need to tempt fate with other actions.

Remember to "eject" with "Safely Remove Hardware" or alternative.

King Solomon's Mines, ePub version, didn't have any ID on it in my "Library" on the Kobo... which I would have expected. Also didn't show on PC as part of my "library"... which I would NOT expect. Rather nice it isn't, in fact... reduces "sync" burden.

If you change the format of the list of books in your library. (Icon in upper right, as I recall it), the alternative way of presenting what is in your library has icons and text. The King Solomon's Mines icon didn't change, but the text was helpful, did say "King Solomon's Mines", among other things.

Option B: Using Kobo "Desktop" software, and their website....

It DOES work! (At least it did, 25 August 12. If you can get there! Sigh. Lucky I'm stubborn... 'cause I'm not smart enough to understand the Kobo system!)

My thanks to...


... for giving me hope and the strength to plow on.

Read to end before starting...

First, I connected my Kobo to PC, and elected on the Kobo to CONNECT to the computer, not just let it charge.

Then I fired up, on the PC, the Kobo "Desktop" software. Logged in to my account at some stage. Waited (not short) for sync to complete.

Tried searching for free books. No Joy.

Fired up my web browser, Firefox, went to...


(It may have been then that I logged on)

Used search box, upper right, to search on a topic or author.

AFTER search, once you are in "Displaying results for...", THEN, just above the first result, and at the right-hand side of the screen, filter and sort boxes come up: Set the filter to "Free only"... and you might want to sort by Rating or Best Match.

You have to re-set those each time, by the way. Sigh.

Find a book you like. The Kobo descriptions I've seen are almost useless, and using "copy" to pick up the title is fiddly, but if you head over to Amazon.com, and check titles there, you can...

a) Find out which things have never seen the light of "the real world of BOOKS", and then
b) Get information on books which have appeared in traditional form.

Once you've found a book you like, there are sometimes "Download" AND "Add to my Library" options. So far, I've only tried (by this route) "Add to my library".

After you've added books to your library while in your browser, and at kobobooks.com, an annoying little horizontal pull out arises in the lower right of your screen. It may be some kind of "cart". It may be an obscure "pending" indicator... I couldn't discern the rhyme or reason of what appeared there, what didn't. Some... but not all... of books I THOUGHT I'd added to library were listed. Some books I'd looked at the (sketchy) "details" for were there, with a way to change my mind, add to library. Sigh.

I'd had my Kobo connected to computer, and Kobo Desktop running while I navigated the kobobooks.com site.

I went back there without closing the web browser.

Clicked on "Library" tab... no changes showing. Fair enough, I guess. I think in the browser I'd transferred the books to my "Library" ON THE KOBO SERVER, "in the cloud"....

In Kobo Desktop, used icon, upper right, Yin-yang half circle arrows, to invoke a sync.

Seemed to go okay. Now on my reader: What I would have expected. Included the books in the annoying pull out, if they were labeled "Library". All but one had "covers", one was just a generic icon of a book. Changing the library display with the icon at the upper right gave thumbnails of the covers (or in the case of the one, the same anonymous icon) AND text descriptions, e.g. "Jungle Book, Kipling".

A book I'd put on my Kobo previously was still not shown in Library, at least via the Kobo Desktop App.

I then shut down the Kobo Desktop AFTER USING THE "eject" BUTTON ON THE "eReader" PAGE. Unplugged eReader from PC. (Screen of Kobo was saying "Connected and Charging". I did NOT do a Windows "Safely Remove Hardware" on top of the "Eject".

Searching for books at the Kobo site...

"Kipling Rudyard", free, turns up 18. Not including "Kim". Searched for "Kim"... not found (at Kobo). Gutenberg: No problemo.

Not only could I not find things I wanted, things which are available for free, but a bunch of things I did not want were pushed at me. Why "The Fantastic Breasts" came up as a result for a search on chemistry, I don't know. It didn't seem to be a treatise on silicone. Nor did "Sex on the beach"

But, people... we have to do our bit. Collect some books from the Kobo site, and "rate" them. Maybe we can thereby make the next person's experience as good as it should be.

Will anyone find this useful?

I hope so! It took a few hours to create. I hope it has saved you having to grope in the dark, as I did. I hope it shows you how to access the fantastic treasure-trove at Gutenberg. I hope it shows you that a Kobo can be as good as... better, maybe, depending on your wants... than a Kindle.

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