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Sony Reader Adventure: Stephen Fry in America

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I think eBook readers are the best thing since the invention of the PDA and cell phone. They have the potential (someday) to revolutionize education and make extinct the 50-pound backpack, which is the bane of every high school and college student. I’ve been an avid eBook user for two years, and it’s the only way I read (for pleasure). My weapon of choice has been the Amazon Kindle (I have the original version), but my purpose here is not to compare them, but to “field test” the Sony Reader Pocket Edition (PRS-300).

I’ve wanted to read Stephen Fry’s Stephen Fry in America: Fifty States and the Man Who Set Out to See Them All since I’d first learned that he was to turn his BBC series into a book. Fry is known in the UK as a raconteur, author, and all-round brainy guy. Starting off after graduation from Cambridge as a sketch comedian with writing partner Hugh Laurie (yes, that Hugh Laurie), spending the late 1980s and 1990s starring with him in British television classics as Blackadder, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, and Jeeves and Wooster, Fry acquired a reputation as an author of some renown, with several novels to his credit.

In 2007, he set out across the U.S., visiting every state, riding in the most recognizable of British vehicles — he black London cab.  

I was delighted to find Stephen Fry In America for download in Sony’s eBook store. Procuring the book for my new pocket E-Reader was simple enough. It works much like an iPod works with iTunes. Find what you want; download it and then plug the E-Reader into the computer. After quickly syncing, the book magically appeared on the reader, ready to enjoy.

(Sony provides eBook Library software, which has a simple user interface with direct access to Sony’s eBook store. But you also have the option of purchasing books online at any one of several eBook stores, including ebook.com. The vast library of free Google books is also readable on the device, and the eBook reader is able to read both “ePub” and PDF formats.)

In America is Fry’s love song to the U.S., a place with which he is obviously in love. Telling readers that he was nearly born an American, his love affair with the U.S. began when he was a boy. Fry takes the reader on a tour of all 50 states, but not comprehensively. This is no Fodor’s Guide; he has picked spots in each state to sample and share — tastes. In Maine, he goes lobstering and details his adventures from baiting the lobster “pots” to preparing and then eating them. Comparing them to giant insects (which indeed they certainly resemble, come to think of it), however, does not turn him (or us) off on consuming the tasty crustaceans.

He treks up New Hampshire’s Mount Washington (the highest point in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River), where even in summer, the winds, unabated from the North Pole make the temperature seem like winter (I can attest to that, as I’ve visited Mount Washington in July — Fry’s was in late autumn).

In Illinois, he only speaks of Chicago: its architectural delights (Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe designed there; the view from the top of (what was until recently called) the Sears Tower — the world's tallest building (also until recently). He extols the virtues of the Chicago “hot dog,” helps fashion an Oscar statue. (The factory is located on Chicago’s north side.) He also visits Buddy Guy's club, one of the last original bastions of Chicago blues, and the famed Second City, where the troupe forced Fry to rehearse and appear with the improvisational sketch comedy group — something he did not like. At all.

Fry shares facts for each state: its flower; its motto, its famous (and infamous) native sons and daughters, enthusiastically waxing wittily (and sometimes poetically) both on his experiences and what he has learned from diverse people that dwell in our country. In America is a nice peek into the diversity of our great country: its physical beauty and the beauty of its cultural variety by a quintessential non-American. It’s really quite a love-letter and a joy to read.

Reading In America on the Sony Reader Pocket Edition was wonderful in many respects: its “e-ink” display is easy on the eyes. With no backlight as on a computer or smartphone screen, there is considerably less eyestrain. The only drawback (and very minor — and true of all eBook readers) is that you do need a light source to read. But even in dim light, if you bump up the font size, it’s quite readable. The Sony pocket edition has three font sizes: small, medium and large, and if you flip the orientation to landscape, the print can grow even larger. You “turn” pages using a cursor located beneath the display. The pages turn quickly, but not as quickly as on some other devices I’ve tried. It’s not a big drawback, because page turning is still quick enough, although it’s not instantaneous.

There is one drawback, however, and that is in viewing the book's photography. Although it’s not a photography-heavy book, In America has many photos of Fry trying out bits of Americana. The photos in the Pocket Edition eBook reader seemed fuzzy to me. Maybe the display size affects the clarity of the photos; maybe it’s a drawback to all eBooks.

I would recommend the Sony Reader Pocket Edition as a great option for those getting their first eBook reader. It’s simple to use; holds 350 books, and is about as compact an eBook reader as is available these days. Sony’s other readers, including a touch screen device and a wireless device that leaves you untethered to your computer are more expensive, but are more versatile and boast many more features than the Pocket Edition. But if you're looking for a device to pack along on a vaction, slip into a coat pocket for that your daily commute, or stick in your purse for that long wait at the dentist's office, the Pocket Edition is a good choice.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.