Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Read faster, caveman - Nick Green

Recently I had to borrow my wife’s Kindle (thanks to the biggest bugbear in the ebook system – no longer can two people share a simple book without handing over their entire bookshelf. Sort it out, Amazon.)

My own Kindle is one of the early models with keyboards, the e-reader equivalent of the brick mobile phone, so at first I could only slam her Kindle Paperwhite against a rock while grunting, ‘Where controls? Me need make words.’ 

Me have kindle fire!
Eventually the rock bumped the ON switch, and I was away. I’d been looking forward to reading Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’, partly to dispel my suspicion that Donna Tartt was actually one of those spoofonyms like Eileen Dover or Claude Boddy (respective authors of ‘The Great Descent’ and  ‘Lion Taming For Beginners’). For instance, ‘The Baker’s Hat’  by Donna Tartt… Aaaaaaanyway, I got reading, and soon noticed a nifty little feature boasted by the newer Kindles. A message at the foot of the page said, ‘Time remaining in chapter: 14 minutes’.

That’s handy, I thought. I do most of my reading on trains, and it’s good to know whether you’ll finish this bit before terminating at Leighton Buzzard (I know some readers with a borderline phobia of breaking off mid-chapter). What I didn’t expect was that this prompt would become a source of distraction, stress and ultimately humiliation.

There are stories of people driving dangerously fast to try and beat the estimated time of arrival on their SatNavs. It’s throwing down a gauntlet, isn’t it? 
I accept your challenge...


I turned to page two of ‘The Goldfinch’ and the Kindle said, RECALCULATING. TURN AROUND WHERE POSSIBLE. YOU ARE IN A DUCKPOND. Actually it didn’t, it said, ‘Time remaining in chapter: 17 minutes.’  Hmm, I thought, that’s odd. Isn’t it supposed to go down as I read more? Maybe Donna beamed in some last-minute bonus material via the Cloud.

I put it from my mind, and let myself be swept up in crystalline prose and transatlantic angst. But on the next page I couldn’t help noticing: 20 minutes remaining. Twenty? This was getting absurd. I have less to read now, you dumb e-reader. I should take less time, not more.

Next page: 22 minutes. Then, 24. It felt like being in a sinking balloon. I’d blame Donna, she isn’t the briskest of reads, perhaps because she spends about a decade honing each book to perfection, but I knew I wasn’t dawdling. I read at a speaking pace, in that I say the words in my head exactly as if I were reading them aloud. When a book is particularly well crafted, like this one, I also like to drift back over pages and paragraphs as I go, savouring the turns of phrase, chewing over multiple interpretations and so forth. It’s wine, not Vimto. But now I was starting to read as if the very whips of Sauron were behind me. I was well into the chapter now, and the cheeky little slab was telling me I now had 30 minutes to go to the end of the chapter. Twice as long as it predicted at the start. What was going on?

Donna did her best to help out by offering a bit more in the way of page-turning action, but the finish line kept stretching off into the distance. Forty minutes now. Fifty. Would I break the hour barrier? Five pages later, with a moronic boom, I did. I began to think the tide would never turn. 
STOP! In the naaaame of love...


Finally, at 1 hour 4 minutes to the end of the chapter, the predictions stabilised, wobbled a bit in both directions, and finally began to slip down again, until it reached 59 minutes and my train pulled into the station.

Here’s the thing. I presume that this particular Kindle has calibrated itself to the reading speed of its usual master, i.e. my wife. Which can only mean that she habitually reads at least FIVE TIMES faster than I do. I knew she was a quicker reader, but by that much? Given that I proceed at speaking pace, that can only mean that when she reads she musthearthewordsinherheadlikethis. Is that normal?
I always assumed critics were exaggerating when they claimed to have ‘devoured the book in one ravenous sitting’. Now I wonder. Could it be that I’m just an exceptionally slow reader?

I have gazed into the Kindle Paperwhite, but the Kindle Paperwhite has gazed also into me. You know, I’m not sure I care particularly for books that read me while I read them. What next? Iris-scanning emotion detectors that gauge whether you’re enjoying it enough? Sweat sensors in the screen to see if Stephen King is properly scaring you? God forbid, interactive intelligent books that actually delete the bits it notices you skipping, so that you get distilled fight or sex scenes as applicable?

Oh, what’s this? “Time to Chapter End On/Off’.  *Tap*. That was easy.

23 comments:

Kathleen Jones said...

Loved it Nick!

Lee said...

Terrific post,as usual! (BTW, I refuse to buy a Kindle, and you've just added another reason to my list. For the moment, I'm quie happy with my SONY.)

Dennis Hamley said...

Terrific, Nick, Laugh out loud as usual.

Chris Longmuir said...

I'm afraid my Sony languishes at the bottom of my bedside cabinet drawer, Lee. I much prefer to read from one of my Kindles. I like them all, even the Keyboard one that Nick refers to as a brick. But I also have the Touch and the Fire. Nothing like moving with the times. I would hate to get left behind, the electronic world moves at such a fast pace.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

This made me laugh so much! I love my Kindle Paperwhite more than any other gadget I've ever had - in fact I'm quite stupidly attached to it, it's such a beautiful thing - but you're right about the reading speed. I'm the only one who reads on it so I never thought about it calibrating to my particular reading speed. If you're reading something exciting, the kind of novel where you're fairly galloping along, you're sometimes aware of the time going down and down. And when you're really into and enjoying a book you start to think 'oh noooo!' I find it handy for bed-time reading though. You know - when you're feeling very drowsy and you think 'I'll just get to the end of this chapter' and then you see that it's a long way off ...My phone has taken to telling me how far away from home I am. Then it started to tell me how far away from the last place I visited. THEN a little message popped up saying 'is this information of interest to you?' I said no, it wasn't. So it stopped doing it. Scary.

Lydia Bennet said...

Enjoyably funny post Nick, thank you! I still have my original Kindle Keyboard with 3g as well as wifi and I still love it, though surely its days are numbered. the keyboard is a bit rubbish and awkward, but with the newer ones, the keyboard on screen takes up half the page surely? also I want to avoid backlighting. I've always been a fast reader, I can devour a standard sized novel in a few hours, in fact I might be slower now - I read the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy in a week, a school week what's more, as a high school student. if I want to savour the language, I'd rather reread after the first gallop through. But I hate satnavs telling me what to do, so I can feel your pain at your nagging borrowed Kindle! (I think you can lend a kindle book for two weeks, but you might need to be on Prime for that).

Bill Kirton said...

Loved it, Nick. Thanks.

Lee said...

Chris, why don't you like the SONY? It does what I want without being tied to Amazon.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Valerie, the backlighting isn't really a problem. You can control the light level and adjust it to the light level in the room. Nothing like a computer screen and much easier on the eyes. Chris will probably know more than me about how they do that! Also the keyboard isn't on screen all the time. And it's very easy to highlight and add notes if you want to. But to be honest, mostly, I just download the book and read it without recourse to any of the extras. I tend to use my Kindle almost wholly for reading for pleasure. Although I'm reading an excellent piece of non-fiction about the tech revolution at the moment and am finding the 'notes' absolutely brilliant.A tiny number in the text which you touch and up pops the reference if you want it.

Chris Longmuir said...

Well, for one thing it lost all my books once and I couldn't get them back. It's all to do with the DRM they use for their books. Plus the Adobe Digital Editions they use to keep track of the books, lost my account and despite trying they never resolved it so all my books went up in smoke. I also find the buttons a bit sorer on the fingers than it's nearest relation the Kindle Keyboard. The other thing is I'm not tied to Amazon with my Kindle Ereaders I can get books anywhere and sideload them onto the Kindle. In general it's an easier system and even if all your books vanish off the Kindle you can still access them and download again from the Amazon Archive.

Chris Longmuir said...

Oops, forgot to say I was replying to Lee about the Sony Reader.

Debbie Bennett said...

I have a paperwhite too. I love it. Easy on the eyes, gets books from anywhere so long as they're mobis and runs forever on one charge....

I lost the time counter and % tracker at the bottom for a while (I think I switched it off without realising) and suddenly I was rudderless! It's scary not knowing how much book there is left to read!

Susan Price said...

First, Nick - loved the post! Made me laugh out loud.
I replaced my original Kindle with a Fire when it died Love the Fire. It has a touch-screen and is very light and easy to use.
Valerie, the virtual keyboard only pops up when you touch a 'log-in' box, or otherwise indicate that you want to use it. Then it vanishes again.
I loved having the Fire with me when we were in Barra recently. I used it to write a diary, with the Docs to Go app. We identified birds with the Bird of Britain app (lots of photos and their songs, as well as info about them.) We identified the other islands we could see by using the UK Map app. We used the calculator - I was constantly fishing it out of my rucksack.

Susan Price said...

And just to add - it being linked to Amazon doesn't bother me at all. (Though you can get rid of the link if you're prepared to cough up £15.) I just ignore the ads, just as I ignore thousands of other ads that scream at me from hillboards, TV, magazines etc, all the time.

Lee said...

Hi Chris, OK, I see. Basically I load epub files via my PC onto my SONY. Since they're stored on my hard drives, I don't lose anything - at least not theoretically. And with few exceptions, Calibre works just fine for ebook conversions - mobi just about every time, PDFs can sometimes be a problem with formatting.


madwippitt said...

And I always thought it was Claude Bottom who wrote the lion taming book ...
I know I'm always surprised by the times given for audio book lengths. I always imagine them to be longer. "Only 8 hours!" I exclaim and double check to see if it's been abridged.

Lee said...

Susan, it's the mega monoploy aspect of Amazon which disturbs me. Look how they're acting with regard to Hachette.

Lydia Bennet said...

thanks for all the extra info folks! I remember when the paperwhite came out it had some bad reviews for having sort of light and dark bands down it, perhaps they sorted that out.

Chris Longmuir said...

Lee, I loaded my books from the PC as well, but they had to go through Adobe Digital editions after download to the PC and before opening in the Sony library for transfer to the ereader, this was because of the DRM, otherwise all you got was an encrypted book file. Maybe your model is newer than mine. I had one of the first Sony's when they were introduced into the UK. I was on a waiting list for it.

JO said...

That's it - when my much-loved basic Kindle collapses I'll replace it with another simple one, without any bells, whistles or timing gizmos

Lee said...

Chris, I actually own two SONYs, and the one I regularly use is newish - bought in November. As to DRM, there are plenty of people who are opposed to it, in my view for very good reason - transfer between different devices, for example.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Don't get me started about Hachette and Amazon. Oh dear. You have. Poor little 10 billion dollar Lagardere Hachette. Illegal cartels, price fixing, agency model, mutter mutter. All these high earning writers complaining about something that is the responsibility of their publisher who is (understandably) trying to get tough in negotiations with Amazon, but also playing the 'poor little me, I'm a guardian of culture' card at the same time. And now they appear to have climbed into bed with Walmart. Good luck with that then. I'll stick with Amazon until they do something really nasty. Agree about not putting all our eggs in one basket - and Bezos is no saint - but I simply don't agree with the 'let's hate Amazon' propaganda. Especially when it comes from authors who are really million dollar 'brands' complaining that they might have a small drop in earnings and expecting the rest of us to sympathise with them.

Lee said...

Catherine, it's about corporate bottom line on both sides - and both are behemoths, don't forget. It just worries me that the people who control distribution get to control an awful lot of what we read. Probably I'd be a bit more generous towards Amazon - and I certainly do buy a lot of stuff from them - if I better understood how they get away with paying such little corporate tax in the UK, for example.