Update: Adding a bullet list for clarity.
For reading books on a computer screen, I recommend:

/ End Update

I started reading Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge this weekend. Not only did I check out a copy from the local public library, but I was lucky enough to notice a link to a free (and probably unauthorized) full text copy of the book as well. The last (and first) Vernor Vinge book I read, A Fire Upon the Deep, also had a full text copy to be found in a dark corner of the Internet. I read the paper book at home, and occasionally made further progress using my electronic copy at work while I’d wait for reports to generate or queries to return results.

But reading electronic copies of books without one of those nifty E Paper readers like the Amazon Kindle can be less than pleasant. For A Fire Upon the Deep, I opened the text in Microsoft Word, enabled the blue-background/white-text option, and switched to Reading Layout View. It wasn’t as nice as a real book, but it was a great way to pass the time until my speakers chimed to tell me my work was ready for me again.

Now that I’m reading another book with an electronic copy available to supplement my paper copy, I wanted to try to improve things a bit. First of all, I knew there had to be something better to use than Microsoft Word, and I found it in the free program yBook. It gives me to two facing pages like Word’s reading layout did, but being designed soley for on-line reading, it makes all the available settings more accessible and focused. I changed from the default settings to get a dark background with white text, as well as a larger font size to compensate for my high screen resolution.

I also searched for and found a great font for reading lots of text on a computer screen. Constantia was released as one of the new fonts bundled with Windows Vista, but there are at least two free Microsoft products that can be downloaded to get the font legally on Windows XP. I appreciate a good font, but I’m no typography expert, so I won’t even try to describe why I’m so fond of Constantia for reading books on a computer screen. I will say that you should give it a try if you have large amounts of text to be read electronically anyway.

I know sitting at a computer desk and staring at text on a screen is not the optimal way to be reading a book (although those who still can’t imagine it being anything but painful, it’s notable that white Constantia text on dark blue in yBook makes text so easy on the eyes that what’s painful is the switch back to default colors and fonts of other programs like Outlook). But when I’m in the middle of a great novel, and have stretches of time where I can’t be doing anything productive anyway but still need to look like I might be being productive, the lure of continuing my reading on a computer screen is hard to resist.

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