Jul 1, 2011

Paper or pixel? Book readers want to know

I have a bookmark that reads, "You are never lonely with a book." Books have been my allies for as long as I can remember. Getting immersed in a story that takes double-digit chapters to resolve or following someone's theory or life over hundreds of pages adds a break from life like nothing else. And unlike other pauses in life, what you read in a book can stay with you for years, and maybe even change your life.

Alice has written about the paper-based book and has linked to an article whose author feels that a Kindle would be as distracting as his computer apparently is.

First of all, anybody who wants to have a good read will shut their computer off. You are not a Real Reader if you can’t figure out how to hide away (i.e. have an arsenal of sneaky tricks and good excuses) from things and tasks and people and clocks so you can Read!

Secondly, when I’m reading something that really interests me, I lose all sense of time and place, anyway. (Which is absolutely wonderful!)

So, what about printed versus digital? Paper versus pixel?

Both, I say. It depends on the technology and your own preferences.

I was off on a quest a couple of months ago and didn’t want to wait for shipping for a relevant book, so I downloaded the Kindle software from Amazon (it’s free) and bought the Kindle version of my desired book and have read a couple of books now on my iPod Touch. Not a bad experience. I liked the software but eventually missed having a bigger screen, something more page-sized, something that was closer to how the author/publisher wanted the book presented.

I have just held my new Kindle in my hands. It is just as advertised: Thin, light, gray, and very, very easy to read. In fact, it reminds me of the monochrome LED screens of the handheld devices of the 90’s. It’s plain, the display has no color or shades of gray, and the interface is so old-school that menu items are highlighted with underscores. I have fiddled a bit with it, read the getting-started articles, and was basically done with the “novelty” after 10 minutes. As others have noted, there is no sense of reading from a screen; it really does feel like reading from paper.

Surprisingly, the Kindle is not giving me a sense of moving forward, of entering a more advanced or complicated technological era. Rather, it is giving me a sense of simplicity and nostalgia. It’s taking me back to when most things were printed, photocopies were only in black and white, computer screens were monochrome, and computers themselves were limited in what they could do because they ran only one program.

The Kindle focuses on letting the reader read. The wireless connection is for synchronizing between devices and buying more books. Other than that, you can turn off the wi-fi and just do what you usually do: Page back and forth, bookmark a page, highlight a passage, jot down a note in the margin, look up a word you don’t know (without having to keep a separate dictionary with you).

My new toy is charging (update: It charged in 90 minutes, not the 3 hours suggested) and will be used tonight for reading in bed. I’ll find out if the hype about the electronic ink is really All That.

I agree that technology shouldn't intrude on reading, but technology per se is not a deterrent to reading. People have different needs and technology has made it possible to meet more needs. Some folks don't read; they listen to audiobooks. Some need large-print books. I have had my reading enjoyment spoiled by lousy typography in a printed book. A digital reader can let me adjust type-size, and it can read out loud to me. It saves space in my shelves so I can actually own more books. I'd say there's room for both paper and digital; the most important thing is to Read.

PS: Something else has just happily occurred to me: I have a friend overseas who also has a Kindle. We can actually borrow books from each other! Wirelessly! How cool is that?

13 comments:

gekko said...

Agree that technology should not intrude on reading. Also agree that just because something is higher tech than paper does not necessarily mean it will be intrusive. And I would disagree with someone who claims that a computer, iPod, or Nook (which does more than just be an eReader) intrudes -- it doesn't have to. It's simply a medium upon which one can read books.

I don't have a Kindle and probably will never get one. I do have Kindle software on various devices.

I like the eReading experience a great deal. I am preferring it over paper in most situations, in fact. When I read a novel, I get engrossed and it doesn't matter what medium carries the words to me. Few things distract me from a good novel. I won't be clicking words to look them up (much) (or putting the book down to go look the word up in the dictionary, much). Etc. But I like being able to slip the novel into my pocket or purse, and easily hold it in one hand when I need to. I used to always carry paperbacks around that way. But it's more difficult and cramping for my hands to hold a paper novel with one hand and still flip pages.

A small eReader resolves that. A 4" smartphone, a 7" tablet would be wonderful.

When I'm reading non-fiction or technical books, I love the ability to flip to and from footnotes effortlessly, or to highlight and research a word or phrase via a built-in browser or dictionary. The eReader is indispensible then!!!

However. I love taking books to the beach when I am near a beach. I hesitate to take an eReader to the beach. I love taking books when away from electricity for a length of time and I don't have to worry about batteries. And those 10 minutes on the plane when all portable electronic devices must be shut off ... books can still be opened.

So paper has its place.

Re: the borrowing. Only those books where the publisher has deemed it permissible. It varies from book to book. I could not lend one of my Kindle books to a friend, alas.

Paula said...

I'm not a paper-book snob any more than I'm an anti-TV snob, yet I just like reading mah trashy romance novels with their lurid covers just like I wanna watch DWTS or whatever sometimes. What can I say? Last night I grabbed a novel at 9:30 and read it straight through in bed until 1AM until done. It was great! I guess I could have done that on a Kindle, but I'm not the least bit inclined to start that up. And then there's the "deep" novel I read a couple pages of here and there because it sits on my table and beckons...

Paula said...

Sorry not a "novel," the deep book. Is nonfiction. The Black Swan by Taleb. I can only take short doses and then must ruminate (moo!).

alice said...

You do make it sound pretty cool. I'll be interested in hearing more about your experience as you spend more time with the kindle.

And another question, that only just occurred to me as I was reading your post: does the kindle (or any other device, for that matter), give you a sense of how far along in the book you are? I like that I can glance at my book as see, based on the position of the bookmark, how much more I have left to go. It's important for pacing.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Gekko, I have found the Kindle to be very easy on the wrist. Easy to hold with one hand for extended times. In that respect, it is better than a book. I wouldn't be bothered by a 10 minute wait on a plane. I'm busy looking out the window or something, anyway.:-)

Keera Ann Fox said...

Paula, the lack of a proper cover is the downside, because I sometimes like to lose myself in the art. Kindle makes up for it by having a rather cool "screensaver": Some random pic from an old book or of an author.

I always have two or more books being read, depending on mood, and it's no different on the Kindle: Current fare is dry philosophical non-fiction, some easy-peasy mystery story, and a book on the food-brain connection. Hit Home, pull up another choice. Seriously, Amazon's gonna earn a lot off me this year! :-D

And oh, god, yes, isn't reading a book through to the end, no matter how long it takes, absolutely wonderful??? *happy sigh*

Keera Ann Fox said...

Alice, on Kindle software you get "at x of y" but no visual sense of how far you are. On the Kindle itself you get a percentage and a narrow, unobtrusive progress bar which let's you see at a glance how far along you are and how much is left.

To all: Reading in bed is good. Need a better light, I find. The Kindle is easiest to read in proper daylight, but so far it agrees with me and I do sleep well. I fall asleep and it shuts itself off. Also, if you want, you can see what other people have highlighted in the same book. Fun to see what other people find important.

Badaunt said...

Way late, but ... snap! I bought a Kindle a few weeks ago, too! In fact (looking at the date of your post) probably about the same time as you did.

I'm loving it as well. I particularly love (and am slightly afraid of) the ability to immediately purchase and download a new book. One of the things I've always hated about my long commute is when I am near the end of a book. To take it or not? To take TWO books? How heavy do I want my bag to be?

Now I take the Kindle. Problem solves. I'm never without a book.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Nice to see you again, Badaunt! Yeah, buying is very easy! I've told myself to set up a budget for Kindle purchases so I don't go overboard. Lately, I'm being "frugal" thanks to desired books not being available on Kindle.

To all: One thing about the Kindle that I am less than happy with is that highlights (like underlining passages in your book) are organized by date added, not by book. Other than that, I am still very happy with my purchase!

alice said...

And just when you thought the conversation might be about to run out of juice, someone pushed this under my nose today: Time for book publishers to fight dirty.

Keera Ann Fox said...

I read the article, and although I agree that electronic gadget with their attendant pollutants vs. recycled/-ing paper needs to be considered, I'm not sure hawking dead tree books is the way to go for publishers. Electronics are here to stay.

alice said...

The either/or premise of the article confused me a bit, since clearly, publishers get paid for all editions of a book. But maybe the author was worried about the book binders?!?

But, I agree -- the publishing world is just going to have to get used to ebooks. I had Nonnie in for a checkup yesterday and her vet and I always talk about our workouts -- and he mentioned that he loves his kindle on the elliptical machine, because he can crank up the text size, set it on the book holder and GO!

Keera Ann Fox said...

Now that I've used my Kindle a bit and have gotten more used to its quirks and how to navigate around, I still like it, and I still think this future is viable and will grow.

What I want now is for publishers to be very particular about the quality of their e-books. I just finished one where the footnotes all have live links (e-books are HTML) so I could click on the footnote, read it on its own page, hit Back and continue reading. That's how it should be done, but so far, I've encountered that convenience in only one book.