Two Libraries, No System
While we’ve got thousands of paper books which are beautiful and brilliant, but cause us endless space problems, I’ve also got quite a lot of digital books. Kindle is spectacularly crap at managing them. The manual creation of collections and adding books is tedious beyond all 21st Century technology except perhaps the Amazon Prime app on our TV. I buy a lot of books through StoryBundle and Humble Bundle, Tor give away lots of free books, and anywhere else I see them. I send web pages and articles straight to Kindle, and add my own files and stuff (stories and poetry for events) to a place I can access them easily. They’re just on a computer so they don’t really exist – it’s not like they’re in giant stacks in the spare room or anything. I have been in dire need of organisation, and I love organising books.
Calibre became my saviour last year. It’s a combination of eBook creator / formatter and library app. You can add Virtual Libraries, manage multiple devices, add and delete book. It’s everything I was looking for. I used it to create an eBook version of Watchers just for fun. Simply having a programme to store and browse books by title and author is a pretty good start. Removing and Adding books from my library to Kindle is brilliant too – it’s better than endlessly paging through book lists on the Amazon website. It gets a lot better than that really fast though – there are many amazing plugins that people have built to make life better. I quite like the Goodreads Sync which helps me remember which books I’ve read, and whether I liked them. Calibre can pull alternative covers and metadata from dozens of web sources so that browsing my Calibre library becomes like reading the back covers of paper books.
The thing that impressed me first off was the DRM-stripper plugin you can add. That means I can buy books for Nook, Play Books or in any other format and convert them to Kindle. Handy. When I buy a book in real paper I can just read it and stack it in whatever book shelf I want. I want to be able to do the same thing with eBooks. The second brilliant feature was being able to group series of books together. So I can find all of my Dresden Files books and see what order they’re in. Of course that doesn’t necessarily translate to the Kindle itself, so I’ve taken advantage of the DRM stripping to rename the books, e.g. ‘Dresden Files 01 – Storm Front’. Now I can see we exactly which book is next.
Along the way I’ve picked up lots of stand alone short stories, like the ones Adrian Tchaikovsky has published on his blog over the years, plus a tonne of stories scanned in from ancient copies of ‘Asimov’s Science Fiction’ and ‘Fantastic Universe’. Those were all floating around as separate books. EpubMerge has let me concatenate them into single volumes. It tidies up an awful lot and now I have a lovely ‘Sci Fi Anthology’ Tag, so I can find them when I want to read ’em. This has been very useful for combining all 50-odd of my pirate stories into a single volume, which will make poetry evenings a lot easier to handle.
That was all quite helpful, but the plugin that has just bowled me over and made this into a vital bit of kit is ‘Kindle Collections’. You can impose collections based on how you set up the plugin onto the Kindle directly. Apparently it’s having trouble with Kindles more advanced than Kindle 4 which may require some additional Kindle hacking, but I’m alright for now. You can generate collections based on almost anything – Author, Series, Tags or interesting custom combinations of your own. I’ve gone with ‘Series’ and ‘Tag’. eBooks have a billion tags and floating bits of meta-data, to make them useful I’ve begun the seemingly endless task of re-tagging books into groups that suit me. There were about thirty variations on ‘SF’ alone. Calibre let me rename all the similar ones and delete the duplicates – it was just a start.
The trick to tagging books along genre lines is to use as few Tags as possible, otherwise when I create Collections based on Tags I’ll end up with a million Collections and I may as well not bother at all. All I really do That creates and populates Collections on my Kindle of (for example) ‘Dresden Files’, all the books are in the right order because I’ve renamed them. I also get a nice Collection called ‘Paranormal Fantasy’ and ‘Detective’.
A lot of my books are science fiction and fantasy. I’ve made a slight distinction between ‘Science Fiction’ and ‘Science Fiction Adventure’. It’s not a hard and fast distinction and I’m using it mainly for authors like E.E. Doc Smith and Edgar Rice Burroughs – stuff where it’s the adventure that is the main context for the story, not the science. I’m instantly getting into genre hell – everything overlaps but I reckon I’ve hit on a fantasy/science fiction distinction that holds, at least for today, until I find another book that trashes it. Science Fiction books have a setting that is explainable, frequently the result of scientific advances: Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth books have a universe that has been made possible by science and sciencey stuff is frequently part of what drives the story on. Fantasy books have a setting and context that is not explained – it just is. I’m thinking of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ‘Shadows of the Apt’ series – much of the plot is the result of technological development in that world, but it is fundamentally a fantastical realm where the links between man and insect is never fully explained. Like I said, it works for some of my books…
My aim is to be able to find the kind of book I want to read, when I want it and avoid the current problem I have with our paper books. Calibre is the best thing I’ve seen for handling eBooks so far. The guy who has developed it, Kavid Goyal is a modern day hero. It’s free – you pay if you want to help support the development; you can develop your own plugins. The UI is pretty self-explanatory and the help guides are great. Thank you Calibre!