Thursday, May 17, 2012

E-Reading Ups and Downs

By Jaden Terrell

I came late to the electronic revolution. Long after my husband had said he might never read another print book (because of the ability to change the font size on the e-reader), I was still insisting that I didn't want to read on a screen. I liked print just fine.

He bought me a Kindle two Christmases ago. (Which means, to be fair, I'm going to have to also invest in a Nook.) Surprisingly, I like it. It's great for traveling, because I don't have to lug a dozen books with me, and it's cheaper and easier to download books than to go to the bookstore--too easy, if you ask my wallet, but that's another issue. Overall, it's a convenient little gadget, and I'm glad I have it.

On the other hand, I've noticed some downsides, and I'd be interested to know if anyone else has had the same experiences.

1. When I read a novel, I often like to flip back and refresh my memory about characters and events. Did I miss a clue? Wait a minute . . . wasn't there a guy with cigar on the park bench when the heroine jogged past? And now he's two tables away at Starbucks? With a print copy, I have a pretty good idea where in the book that information was, and it's quick and easy to flip back to it. Finding the reference on my e-reader is cumbersome and annoying--so much so that I usually don't bother. Sooner or later, Cigar Guy's role in the plot will (or won't, if I was mistaken about the park bench) be revealed. I know you can bookmark things, but how would I have known to bookmark Cigar Guy when I had no idea he was going to be sitting there in Starbucks ten chapters down the road?

2. When I read nonfiction, especially books on writing craft, I often like to refer back to previous chapters. Same problem as above, except I can't just blow it off as a plot device I'll find out sooner or later. The information I need isn't going to show up again. Instead, I have to take notes as I go, and if there's something I think I might need later, I have to write it down--even if I only think I might need it. That means I have to read with a notebook and pen in hand, taking notes I shouldn't need to take, since I own the book. Yes, you can highlight. But again, it's cumbersome, and I've never figured out how to get back to what I've highlighted. And I don't always know what I want until later.

3. I can't tell how long the book is. A "real" book, I can see how many pages it is and how big the print is. I know about how long it will take to read and how close I am to the end. An e-book, not so much. So I'm 5% done. Five percent of how much? The only way I can tell is to estimate how long it's taken me to read a percent of the book ("Good lord! I'm still at 4%?!" or "Good lord! I'm already at 20%?!), and then I know if I have War and Peace or Ten Apples Up on Top.

4. For some reason, it's much easier for me to put down a book I'm reading on my e-reader. When that happens, I may or may not come back to it. Or, maybe it's more accurate to say I may take a very long time to get back to it. I bought a book for my Kindle, a book by an author I love. Read a little. Meh.I'm not saying it wasn't good. It just didn't particularly engage me. A few weeks later, I picked up the hard copy at my local B&N. Just browsing through it, I was immediately engaged, bought it, and finished it in two days. I went back to read it on my e-reader, just to see if I loved it as much. Same words. Same story. Meh. I had no trouble putting it down. (It wasn't because I'd already read it; I'm a voracious rereader of books I love.) There's been some research that says we read and process e-books differently from print books, and all I can figure is that's what's happening to me. You can find an interesting post about one person's anecdotal experience with this here. The comments are especially enlightening.

The upshot of it is that, while I find the e-reader convenient, I don't find it especially engaging. The joy I take in reading a good book is diminished when I read it on an e-reader as opposed to an actual book with pages. I would have expected it to be exactly the same, but for some reason, it feels like a completely different reading experience. (Audio books also feel different, but those I get more immersed in those if the reader is good.)

What about you? Do you experience the digital and print versions of a story differently, or is it exactly the same for you? Do you enjoy your favorite books as much, regardless of the delivery system, or does the delivery system make a difference?


Kay Elam Writes said...

Hubby got me a Kindle the same Christmas you got yours, but I bonded with mine immediately. He, however, was disappointed it wasn't backlit and that I still needed light to read at night. Less than a year later he got me an iPad primarily because it was backlit.

Like you, I have trouble going back to find or recheck something I've already read. After buying one electronic book on writing and trying to underline, highlight and make notes, I decided to stick with traditional books for anything I might use as reference material. It's easier to pull a book off the shelf and thumb through it than search an electronic copy...unless I'm away from home, then it's a little difficult to reach that shelf.

I agree it is easier to put the e-reader down but, for me, it's also easier to pick it back up. So, when I have two minutes I'll pull it out when I might not pull out a book. It's also easier for me to remember my place in the story for whatever reason.

So, yes, the delivery does make a difference. While I love the feel of a book in my hands I like the convenience of an e-reader. I also like the ease of use and increased font size--your husband pegged that one. For fiction, I almost exclusively use my e-reader--except when reading an autographed hard copy written by one of my buddies

Jaden Terrell said...

Kay, thanks for the input. I do like the ability to make the font larger!