Ebooks and iPad and PDFs: Some Freebies

by John Holbo on December 21, 2011

Following up my previous post, here are some free PDFs. Enjoy (or not). I’ve tried to optimize these for the iPad. I would be interested to hear about any problems/unsatisfactorinesses, perhaps due to the fact that you are using a Kindle or whatever.

First, two Dickens Christmas books:

“The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In” (PDF, 35 megs)

“The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain” (PDF, 11 megs)

I included the original illustrations but made them larger in two ways. First, the illustrations are mostly full-bleed. That is, they go to the edge of the page. This is not how they appeared originally and it looks a bit strange if you view the PDF on the computer screen. But it looks fine on the iPad because the device itself is a bit like a picture frame. Pictures want to go right up to the edge. On the other hand, text still needs a white border. I omitted header and footer stuff, since the device shows you page numbers and title if you tap it.

Second, you can zoom the illustrations to take in the detail. I encoded them at 600 dpi for “The Chimes”, 300 for “The Haunted Man” (that’s why the former is three times as big. Does anyone care whether eBook files are large? 34 megs is still pretty small, right?) I think the 600 dpi option is quite noticeably better. But I care about 19th Century illustrated books, so maybe it’s just me.

Also, the files have nice tables of contents, and pages listing illustrations and illustrators, with links.

Next up, an experiment that was sort of a waste of my time, honestly, but now it’s done, and I learned a thing or two. The Internet Archive has complete scans of all six volumes of a nice, Walter Crane illustrated edition of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. (Sort of an expensive set of books if you want to lay hands on paper.) Anyway, the scans are pretty good, as random scanned stuff you find on the internet tends to go. So I made a cleaned up edition of the first volume, in three parts. Part I, Part II, Part III (all PDF).

Now, the first problem here is that, frankly, it’s Edmund Spenser. For a lot of people, that’s a deal breaker. But I like the Walter Crane illustrations and I’m not going to argue with you about poetry just right now. The second problem is that the scans just weren’t quite good enough. (At least 600 dpi, people. 1200 dpi, if there’s fine detail.) It takes too much time, if you can’t do it right in the end. But I have a bunch of nice, 19th Century illustrated books sitting here beside me. I’m thinking it might be nice to make some clean, facsimile editions, optimized for iPad. Do the scanning right. Give ’em away. Still, it’s time consuming to do this stuff (although I can listen to audiobooks while I’m doing it.)

Scanning issues aside, I think it’s still a pretty ok and basically readable iPad edition of Spenser I’ve made. Again, note how the layout is weird, if you view these pdf’s on your computer screen. I basically punched iPad screen-sized chunks out of original pages – which were, I think, 8.5″ x 11″ or so. Per my previous post, maybe people ought to resize material for the iPad more often, if they intend the PDF’s they make to be viewed on these devices, not printed (probably). People think PDF’s are bad for tablet readers because PDF’s aren’t formatted for them, but they easily can be.

Last but not least, just as I was building myself this whole ‘PDF’s are great for iPad!’ bandwagon, for my lonely self, I stumbled on a nice little site that lets comics creators, illustrators and such folk, sell their stuff as PDF’s: The Illustrated Section. So I re-formatted some past stuff – last year’s “Mama In Her Kerchief and I In My Madness”, and good ol’ “Squid and Owl” – for iPad and submitted it. So you can get my stuff for a couple bucks. Here are some free samples:

“Mama In Her Kerchief and I In My Madness” (PDF)

“Squid and Owl” (PDF)

I’m reading comics on my iPad these days and generally liking the experience. The slightly greater screen resolution of the iPad makes a huge difference, I find. I’m quite happy with the way my stuff looks now. I don’t expect to make much money this way, needless to say. But I hope the Illustrated Section succeeds. Or something like it.

One reason I’m worrying my head about all this stuff is I’m winding up to make a fresh edition of my Plato book, which I have reserved the e-rights to, and which I would like to do up in a suitably bang-up e-way. That’s a subject for another day.

Hope some of you like Dickens and/or Spenser and own iPads and/or similar devices.



Jonathan Lundell 12.21.11 at 6:57 pm

iBooks (though, sadly, not iTunes) picks up the title and author from the PDF metadata (you have to open the document once, though). However, the Haunted metadata is a copy of the Chimes ditto, and there’s none at all for Squid and Awful.

Good news, on balance; it’s annoying to have to enter this stuff via iTunes, and it’s good to know that it works at all.


Magnus Ramage 12.21.11 at 8:11 pm

I don’t have an iPad but I do have one of the ill-fated HP TouchPad, bought through the firesale for a silly low price. It has a similar screen size & resolution to the iPad, and the two Dickens books work very well on it. Both look great, lovely illustrations, and I’ll look forward to reading them when I get the time. Thanks for doing it.


eddie 12.21.11 at 10:18 pm

“I’ve tried to optimize these for the iPad.”

Does that mean making them unreadable, uninteresting rubbish, or just censoring out ideas that Dear Leader Jobs might have found offensive?


John Holbo 12.22.11 at 12:50 am

“However, the Haunted metadata is a copy of the Chimes ditto, and there’s none at all for Squid and Awful.”

Oops! Yes, I should have corrected the metadata, sorry.


David Littleboy 12.22.11 at 2:10 pm

FWIW, on the Kindle, the fonts are a bit too small and the figures don’t work. I found that gunching up the contrast one step fattens the font and makes it (The Chimes) readable, albeit at a closer distance than I prefer for my aging and grossly nearsighted eyes. Which is to say: you did a very good job creating about as good a non-flowy text document as would be possible for the Kindle. Kewl.
For the Kindle, you really need flowy fonts so that, as you mentioned in the other note, you can deal with different size devices and different user eyes. (I find the size and battery life make the Kindle a better reader for my needs than an iPad would be, but it really wants flowy text, and really can’t do anything but that.)


John Holbo 12.22.11 at 2:36 pm

“the figures don’t work”

Thanks for the review, David. Do the figures literally not show at all? Or they just don’t zoom, or don’t size right? I should just get hold of a Kindle and see what it’s like for myself.


jrb 12.22.11 at 3:03 pm

I downloaded The Chimes and loaded it into iBooks, Bluefire, and and the Kindle app on my iPod Touch. All three look really good, although Bluefire takes forever to load the illustrations–I’ve noticed before that it doesn’t handle high resolution illustrations very easily. My aging eyes can even read the books quite well in portrait, although it is definitely easier to read in landscape. The illustrations look very good.

By the way, for those people in the previous posting who were commenting about the nuisance of having to use the two-finger gesture to re-size pages on small screens, iBook and Kindle will re-size the line to the size of the screen with a double-tap, and Bluefire has an internal setting to automatically re-size the page when you turn from portrait to landscape, or vice versa, at least on the iPod Touch.


jrb 12.22.11 at 3:10 pm

There does appear to be something odd going on on pages 55-56 of The Chimes, (O let us love our occupations …) which look like they are supposed to be indented, but are instead spread completely across the page.


David Littleboy 12.22.11 at 3:19 pm

They just don’t look great. The Kindle apparently doesn’t have enough resolution. The Kindle has a collection of similar figures optimized for the Kindle resolution that it uses as “screen savers” (the Kindle epaper doesn’t require power to maintain an image, so it puts up a picture before it goes to sleep), and they look quite a bit better. Ah: the pics look fine with the display rotated to landscape orientation, which results in more readable text as well, although not very much text per page, only parts of the pics at a time, and somewhat iffy scrolling.


David Littleboy 12.22.11 at 3:24 pm

OK, I admit it. The Kindle is insane. You have to enter numbers first (by selecting them one at a time with the joystick) and then move to the page-jump icon. Sheesh.


Dave 12.22.11 at 6:26 pm

No one should be without horse_ebooks.


Dave 12.22.11 at 6:27 pm

Rather, horse_ebooks?


Tom M 12.23.11 at 12:14 am

For the iPad these are terrific and I do thank you for them. The illustrations are quite detailed. Were they woodcuts for the original publications? I haven’t tried them on the Kindle app and whynwould I since they look great in the PDF reader.

Thanks again.


John Holbo 12.23.11 at 3:59 am

Thanks for all the reviews, pro and con. What I’m learning is that I have designed some eBooks that look good on the iPad. Not so much, any other reader.


Jeffrey Kramer 12.23.11 at 12:39 pm

Now, the first problem here is that, frankly, it’s Edmund Spenser.

Funny: the three works I have most often seen dismissed as unreadably long and pompous and tedious are The Faerie Queene, Clarissa and Middlemarch. And these are three of my very favorite works of literature.

Yes, I realize that was a flashing neon straight-line.


John Holbo 12.23.11 at 1:28 pm

Clarissa! I really tried to read that one. I did. I like Spenser, without wishing to argue with anyone about it. I’ve enjoyed reading my own PDF, when it was done (and not just because I made it.) Well, sort of enjoyed. I wouldn’t have made the book if I didn’t have some affection. I’ve been thinking of picking up the “Squid and Owl” reins again and one possibility is a Spenser parody. We’ll see …


Freddie deBoer 12.27.11 at 1:56 am

The first two look beautiful on my Nook Color. Incidentally, the device keeps getting better with firmware updates, and inparticular this latest one (1.4.1, whichis still coming OTA to some people) makes the PDF functionality significantly better, among other things.

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