Dog-eared books have been passed between dogface troops ever since prime reading material made the jump from papyrus and parchment. But now with everything from pulp fiction to fine literature in the digital domain, it's easy to slip entire libraries into a duffle bag in the form of a simple, lightweight e-reader.
While smartphones and tablets make handy e-readers as well, there's something to be said for the simplicity of a one-job-only device.
The U.S. market clearly agrees. A recent study showed that 12 percent of households own an e-reader — a threefold jump from a year ago.
Prices for e-readers have fallen rapidly, and new models are released regularly as manufacturers seek to cash in.
Here's a rundown of some of the more solid options — so whether you're in Baghdad or back home, you can let slip your own dogs of war with some kick-back dog day summer reading.
What's black and white and read all over? Amazon's 6-inch Kindle, which kick-started the e-reader revolution. It's the gold standard. In the past few years, Amazon has released several more models. You'll find it with or without 3G connectivity. You'll also find subsidized models; they'll save you a few dollars if you're willing to view ads and offers. One of our favorites is still the Kindle DX, a larger version with a 9.7-inch E Ink display. The screen is easy to read, even in direct sunlight. 3G lets you download books no matter where you are. Wireless delivery is free and takes about 60 seconds. There's a keyboard for annotating books and looking up words. The DX holds about 3,500 books. The Read-to-me feature lets you listen to participating titles, and the screen rotates automatically as you turn the reader.
Nook Simple Touch Reader
Barnes & Noble offers several versions of its Nook e-reader. The latest model, the Simple Touch Reader, features a 6-inch E Ink display. Unlike most e-readers, it responds to touch — simply swipe to flip pages. You can also use the touch screen to highlight passages and look up words. Barnes & Noble claims you can read up to two months on a single charge. The Nook supports a variety of formats, including ePub. This means you can borrow books from your local library. There's also Wi-Fi and built-in storage for about 1,000 titles. Store thousands more by adding a microSD card.
iriver Story HD
Just released in July, the newest kid on the e-reader block is also the first to integrate Google's open eBooks platform. The Story HD has a 6-inch high-res XGA E Ink display, keyboard and built-in Wi-Fi for downloads from the Google bookstore and library of more than 3 million free books. The manufacturer says the 7.3-ounce device should last about six weeks on a single charge.
Pandigital Novel Color
Pandigital's 7-inch Novel Color Multimedia eReader uses an LCD screen instead of E-Ink. That means battery life will suffer. However, its color touch screen will appeal to many readers. You can listen to music and view photos and video in addition to reading popular e-book formats. Onboard storage holds hundreds of e-books; it can be expanded with a standard SD card. You can surf the Web and send email, thanks to built-in Wi-Fi. You can also look up words, highlight text and add bookmarks. The Novel lets you download e-books from Barnes & Noble's e-bookstore.
Sony Reader Daily Edition
Sony's Reader Daily Edition features a 7-inch touch screen with a virtual keyboard. As the name implies, it is particularly suited for downloading newspapers and periodicals. You can read in horizontal or vertical format. Use the built-in Wi-Fi and 3G to download publications and e-books anywhere. The Reader Daily supports various formats. You can download from many stores, including Sony's own. Store up to 1,200 books with the built-in storage. Add an SD card or memory stick to carry thousands more.