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The Best iPad Apps for Book Lovers

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Lisa L. Spangenberg, coauthor of The iPad 2 Project Book, readily confesses to being nuts about books. Like many of us, she is gradually becoming more comfortable with substituting digital reading for paperbacks and hardbacks, but she is already hopelessly in love with the many free (or very cheap) apps that let lovers of reading explore the written world in a whole new way.
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I love to read, but our small apartment doesn't have a lot of space. Many of my books are in storage. For the last two years, most of my reading has taken place on my iPad or iPhone. Fortunately, many apps for the iPad are designed for people who love books. You probably already know about Apple's free iBooks app and the iBooks bookstore. But don't overlook the ready availability of other free reader apps. The free app from Amazon.com emulates the Kindle, and Barnes & Noble offers an app that emulates the Nook on your iOS device. The IndieBound Reader from the American Booksellers Association, a trade organization for non-chain independent book stores, is a free app for purchasing Google eBooks from independent bookstores via the stores' websites. You download Google eBooks directly to your iOS device and read them in the IndieBound Reader. You can find independent bookstores with Google eBooks on the Indiebound site. Keep in mind that each app uses its own store and its own file format.

I keep a list of all my books on Goodreads, a community built around books and readers. Goodreads has a nifty free Goodreads app for the iPhone and iPad. The Goodreads iOS app lets you follow your own reading lists as well as those of your friends, helps you find new books to read based on recommendations, and simplifies browsing or searching both your own book lists and those of other people. Best of all, when you want to add books to a list, the Goodreads app makes it a breeze. Use the camera on your iPhone or iPad to scan the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) barcode on a book, and the Goodreads app looks up the ISBN (see Figure 1). You can easily add the book to your lists, along with all its publication data and a cover image. You can also enter a book's ISBN or author and title to search for a book and add it to a list. I have access to my book lists via the Goodreads app even when I'm away from home. The Goodreads app makes it easy to avoid buying books I already have, or to look up a list of the books I wanted to borrow from the local library. From anywhere, I can look up reviews and recommendations by other readers, and then I can buy the book or borrow an eBook from my library.

If your local public library licenses eBooks from OverDrive (you can search by ZIP code on OverDrive's site to find member libraries near you), you can borrow eBooks and audiobooks from your library via the Web. The books are in either Kindle or EPUB format; you can use the free Kindle app on your computer, your Kindle, or your iOS device to read the books, though you need to download the books first via your web browser. (Safari on iOS 5 works fine.)

Alternatively, you can use the free OverDrive Media Console app to read EPUB books and audiobooks protected by Digital Rights Management (DRM) on your iOS device or your computer (Mac and Windows only).

Personally, I prefer to read library eBooks with the free Bluefire Reader on my iPad and iPhone, rather than reading library books with either OverDrive Console app. Although you can read EPUB and PDF files in Bluefire, you'll still need a free Adobe account because of the DRM software in the books that controls access as well as the expiration of your checkout period. Borrowing eBooks (or audiobooks—OverDrive supplies both to libraries) to read on my iPad has been an easy way to read new releases as well as the thousands of free public domain classics without DRM that OverDrive also provides to libraries.

If you're traveling and want to check out the local library scene, try LibAnywhere for iPad and iPhone. You can search for participating libraries near you, browse their catalogs, or use the camera in your iPad or iPhone to scan QR Codes or ISBNs from books and locate them in a library near you.

The online eBook stores, including Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and Google eBookstore, offer thousands of free public domain books, but you can easily convert free legal public domain books from Project Gutenberg, or turn your own HTML and RTF files into books to read on your iOS device. The free Linux, Windows, and Mac eBook management and eBook creation app Calibre is one way to convert your own texts into EPUB books (or MOBI or Kindle books). Apple's Pages for Mac OS X Lion offers an option to export a document as an EPUB book and even a free template to help you format your EPUB book.

Apple recently released the free iBooks Author application on the App Store for Mac OS X Lion. Lion users can make multimedia-rich or nicely formatted eBooks for iBooks fairly easily by using built-in templates (see Figure 2). Alternatively, if you have Mac OS X Lion, there's an Automator "Text to EPUB" action to convert text or RTF files to EPUB books.

After all this digital personal-library building, if you're still in need of a portable catalog to keep track of your books and other media, take a look at My Library by Josh Pressnell ($3.99) for iPad and iPhone.

Bibliophiles are well aware of priceless one-of-a-kind art books. These are almost all in museums and private collections, where they're difficult to see. Museums are taking advantage of iPads, eBooks, and apps to open these collections to the public in new ways. The British Library: Treasures HD app includes high-resolution images, audio, and video, featuring highlights of the British Library's collections. Figure 3 shows a page from Virginia Woolf's manuscript for Mrs. Dalloway, which includes audio of two excerpts read aloud. This is really an amazing app.

Not to be outdone, the Bodleian Libraries created Treasures of the Bodleian HD—a free eBook app with images of a number of their most important and beautiful books, as well as an audio tour.

For the bibliophile who loves art books and the iPad, and for whom a few images isn't quite enough, the British Library is releasing a series of eBook Treasures, digital facsimiles of priceless books such as Shakespeare's First Folio, The Luttrell Psalter, The Bedford Hours, A Medieval Bestiary, and a hand-illuminated edition of Dickens' A Christmas Carol by artist Alan Tabor, with more to come. These are compatible with iBooks on iOS 5, and are available in the iBooks bookstore for $9.99 or less. Many of them have audio annotations and special notes in addition to images of the original books.

Illustrated books, especially comics and graphic novels, are well suited to the iPad. My colleague and comic-book aficionado Dennis R. Cohen favors the $2.99 Bookman Pro comic book and PDF reader for the iPad. He also speaks highly of the free comiXology Comics iPad app, which supports web-based purchasing and reading of comics from Marvel, DC, and The Walking Dead, among other studios.

I'm still fond of the printed book, but reading on the iPad is terribly convenient, not only because the books don't take up space in the real world, but because it's easy to enlarge an image or increase the type size. What's more, I can have a wide range of books to read and several methods for obtaining more books, even when I'm traveling. I don't think the printed book is going away any time soon, but I'm delighted at the opportunities offered by the digital world of books.

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