Most PDF e-books are formatted in a portrait layout—tall and skinny. Most computer screens are oriented landscape-wise—short and wide, and these days, even wider.
Those PDF e-books tend to be set up to print on standard printer paper (Letter in the US, A4 in, well, on Planet Earth), and most people find it uncomfortable to read a paragraph after paragraph of 7-inch-plus lines—so the books are often presented in a two-column format.
This means that, unless you have a huge screen that can actually display a full page at readable font sizes, you're constantly paging up and down on the same page to follow the text. I don't know about you, but I find that Adobe Reader gets cranky and glitchy when it has to redraw a page over and over, particularly one with complex graphics.
Thus, e-books are profoundly uncomfortable for me. I find myself scrunching, my brain certain that I can see the parts of the page obscured by the screen bezel if I just get the right angle. More, I like to curl up with a novel; it's one way of getting away from a desk. Of course, now I have a laptop, but still: the limited screen-height is both uncomfortable and taxes the software.
Yesterday, I had opportunity to suggest the works of novelist, blogger and copyright activist Cory Doctorow* to someone looking for "more modern" references for a Cyberpunk game setting. Mr. Doctorow, as mentioned, is a copyright activist, and has released all of his novels freely, in a variety of formats, under a Creative Commons license that expressly allows his audience to reformat, remix, and redistribute the contents, so long as they do so freely.
The PDFs on Mr. Doctorow's site are formatted in two-column portrait layout.
However, he also has plain text and straight HTML files available.
Yesterday, I downloaded the HTML version of Makers. I read the first few pages in FireFox, but decided that the lack of pagination and bookmarks would make it difficult to find my place if I put it down and came back to it later.
OpenOffice, the open-source application suite that's the default office application on nearly every Linux distribution, can distill PDFs with the press of a single button, and reads HTML flawlessly.
I opened the Makers HTML file, set the page layout to landscape, fiddled with the margins, knocked up the font size, and then, realizing that this was my copy and I could do whatever I wanted with it, reset the text font from Times New Roman to the more elegant and readable Genitum.
This turned a 299-page file into 705 pages, but since each "page" was a tidy, legible screenfull, what of it?
I curled up on the couch and spent the evening reading.
In fact, I was up until 1 AM, and almost finished the book.
I have discovered e-books are entirely readable—if I can format them to my preferences and comfort zone. This, of course, requires that I have access to HTML, or, less-ideally, ASCII text versions of the document.
Such as those found on Project gutenberg or The Baen Free Library.
... you know, the goal for this week was to reduce my online distractions.
*Yes, cpxbrex, I know. He's hopelessly bourgeoisie, writing about middle-class characters caught up in middle-class concerns for a middle-class target audience, and if identifying with that target audience and those characters because of my own hopelessly middle-class upbringing compromises my integrity as a socialist, I apologize.