Kobo Libra 2

Mentioning e-readers in 2023 feels like a forbidden subject and recommending an e-reader is almost sinful. It’s like committing a crime by breaking a pact of silence and then following that up by being incredibly boring whilst you do the crime.

Hasn’t every topic, every thought and utterance, already been uttered about ebook readers?

At some point we all agreed that, hey, that whole future-of-the-book conversation was quite silly and it got a little out of hand. Ebooks stalled way back in 2009 and all that promise of a future book stalled with it, so let’s just sweep all those half baked e-readers and our dreams of cool iPad magazines under the bed and never talk about any of this ever again. At least in polite company.

But let me break the pact, if only just for a bit.

A while ago I picked up a Kobo Libra 2 and that promise of the future book flashed before my eyes again.

I’ve read everything on this little device: fantasy novels, biographies, cringey and yet somehow endearing love letters from Oscar Wilde, the whole lot. It’s just a great device and about as good as ebook readers can be; it’s so much faster than the competition, it lasts forever, there’s physical buttons to navigate between pages, and you can even load custom fonts on this bad boy! On the first day, and with just a few clicks, I uploaded my trusty GT Alpina and I’ve been happy ever since.

Also, perhaps the best feature: when you set the device down it just shows the last book you were reading. No ads for random flirty romance novels that you don’t care about, no ads for upsetting self-help books. In that way it feels respectful of your time and attention, if only a little bit.

There are some quirks that you have to put up with, sure. Like each ebook has to be manually typeset each time you boot it up. I’m no ebook specialist so maybe those are the settings that come embedded with the file? But you can eventually get great typography on this thing if you tweak it for long enough. So I’ll take that.

Every time I pick this thing up though I can’t help think about that future-of-the-book stuff. The annoying what-if stuff. Like, what if ebooks were just a little better? What if the physical design of the Kobo was a little more Teenage Engineering and less generic, throw-away-able plastic? Where is the fun in the interface? Where is the (ugh) delight in the heft of this thing as an object? Why can’t I quickly pull in every book from Project Gutenberg? Why can’t I navigate the web but in a super-focused, monochromatic way?

Years ago I argued that RSS is the promised land. Not just for the web, but for e-readers too. So I wish this device wasn’t land-locked into a paywalled garden of selling you half-baked text docs called ebooks. I wish RSS was a core part of this device somehow and I wish that connecting with writers wasn’t...like this.

There’s still that hypothetical future-device in my head, a truly beautiful one; a device that builds off the open web, a device that connects you with other readers and writers, bringing in great industrial design and all the ideas from Readmill before it tragically died.

That future device bounces around in my head all the time and so, as good as the Kobo Libra 2 might be, it just ain’t that.

But it’s the closest thing we’ve got.