How are ebooks changing the way we read? Jennie Walters

I've been thinking about this question a lot recently - mainly since giving my younger son a Kindle for Christmas. (OK, I'm a slow thinker.) Up until then, pretty much the only two books he'd read for pleasure were Hurricane Hamish:Calypso Cricketer and Hurricane Hamish:The Cricket World Cup, by Mark Jefferson, which he polished off at the age of ten. Nothing else seemed to compare to those two. Twelve years later and post-Kindle, however, he has been devouring books almost continuously. The screen seems to have turned books into a pleasure, rather than a chore which he associated with his parents' generation. Recently I was talking to the boyfriend of a young cousin, just back from a tour of duty with the RAF in Afghanistan, who said the same thing: he never used to like reading but now he loads up his Kindle before he goes and finds it passes the time brilliantly. (It's also easy to carry in a uniform pocket and resistant to sand and glare.) Schools are reporting hugely encouraging results after giving Kindles to reluctant readers. The format seems less daunting; partly, perhaps, because you can't tell how many more pages there are still to read. All you have is the screen in front of you, with a manageable chunk of text on it. And none of your friends can tell what you're reading from the cover, so you don't have to worry about being teased. (Such anonymity has been used to account for the rise in sales of erotica amongst women, too.) 

Now he'd be reading a Kindle on that lilo
Format issues are something I've noticed myself. Returning to a paperback in a fairly small typesize, I found there were too many words on the page for my current taste. I've become used to fewer paragraphs which I can linger over. Being a fairly fast reader, prone to skim-reading and forgetting what I've read about five minutes later, the Kindle slows me down. Sure, I miss the feel of the page, the smell of the paper and the lovely wide, clean margins of a printed book, but I like the digestible rate of delivery with the Kindle.     

Another phenomenon I've noticed which is perhaps less positive, however, is the way that acquiring books (particularly free ones) seems to have become an end in itself. I might be wrong, but I wonder if people are so overwhelmed by the massive library of books they've accumulated, they're actually reading less. There are people on Goodreads with literally thousands of titles on their 'to-read' lists; no wonder they can't bring themselves to start any of them. A couple of adult reviewers of my 'Swallowcliffe Hall' books (which were originally published for teens) have specifically said they chose them because they were short. My husband tells me that robotics are the next big thing and that in the future we'll acquire foreign languages by means of a translation chip embedded under our skin, but at the moment, there's no such handy shortcut. You just have to sit down and read. There are so many stories out there - downloadable in a few seconds, dirt cheap or free - that we're drowning in them, and perhaps we're valuing them less. Still, too many books are better than too few, I suppose. Maybe after ebooks have been around a few years, we'll become more temperate about them.

What about you? Have you noticed ebooks changing the way you read?

Jennie Walters

Picture top right from


Anonymous said…
I've been very surprised at how quickly and completely I've gone over to e-reading. I was a bit of a luddite at first, I couldn't understand why anyone would use an ereader instead of a proper book, but since I've had a Kindle I've barely picked up a paperback.
I quite often find that a sporting biography has somehow crept into the stack of books next to my side of the bed. When challenged on this "give it a go, it is not just about sport" says my gleaming-eyed partner. Having been through this many times, I can say that yes he is generally right, they are not JUST about sport, but they are MOSTLY about sport and you have to be a keen mathematician to follow some of the story lines.

I've only just acquired an Android tablet with a Kindle app and it is too early to tell how it might be affected by my book stacking habits but until the household sports fan learns to hack into it I can be assured that there won't be any little surprises on there.
Lee said…
This is of course such an interesting question, and I can only report on my own habits. My print TBR piles are far larger than my virtual iPad ones, but I love reading in bed with a tablet. As a whole, I tend to use my iPad for lighter fiction or to test whether I want to add a particular title to my permanent real-shelf library. For slow, careful rereading - and rereading - and for heavy-going nonfiction, I still prefer a book in hand, which I can mark and notate in pencil. For me, there's something about printed text which encourages greater concentration - force of habit, perhaps? what we learned as a child?

There's also the dystopian niggle: what happens to our books if there's a breakdown in the way we do things? Or the technology changes so radically, and only certain texts are converted? This doesn't address the question of how we read, but it's a worry.
Paeony Lewis said…
I find it harder to keep track of what I've read because, unlike with a book, I don't keep seeing a cover with the title and author. Also, novels merge in my mind because everything looks the same on a screen.

Like you, Jennie, I've now become used to reading on my ereader and I'm finding myself reluctant to read a hard copy of a novel (sadly, it now feels weird). However, I still prefer hard copies of books that are illustrated, non-fiction or antique. It's only everyday adult fiction I want to read on my ereader.

By the way, I have a Sony ereader and at the bottom of every screen it gives you the page number and number of total pages - I'd hate not to have that as I need to know how far I am in a book.

Good point about reluctant readers not being embarrassed because nobody can see what they're reading.
Jennie Walters said…
Thanks so much for your comments, everyone. So interesting to hear about other people's reading habits. We seem to be agreeing that the Kindle is user-friendly and good for novels but somehow more ephemeral than the printed page - which stands to reason, I suppose. I agree, Lee, that there is a worry about surrendering our words to a medium which somehow seems less secure than a book no-one can change. And yes, it seems completely right to turn to print for research. Let's hope both forms continue to flourish. (Even those sports biographies, Amanda!) And Paeony, completely agree about novels being more forgettable when you don't keep seeing the cover. Such an interesting point that had never occurred to me!
madwippitt said…
Yes, it does encourage you to stack 'em high ... but at least it's a virtual stack. The piles on the bedside table are already quite high and wobbly enough without adding more.
Debbie Bennett said…
Somebody said on a blog I read recently that when you buy a paperback, you buy a book. But when you buy and ebook, you only *lease* the book and the supplier can take it back at any time. I suppose you could copy the file somewhere else for safekeeping, but what happens when the kindle file format goes the way of the vinyl record? At least a book is a book forever.

But I am equally happy with print or screen now. Don't think I could read much on an ipad but the no-glare e-ink of the kindle is easy on the eye.
Lee said…
Debbie, the quality of an iPad screen is great for reading - as long as there's no direct sunlight or reflections! I'd probably chose a different tablet next time round, because I dislike the Apple iTunes policies, but mine was a gift. And you know what they say about gifts.

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