I couldn’t care less how people read. Hardcover, paperback, Kindle, Nook, iPad, whatever… I don’t care. Hell, you can read your books etched in stones if you want. (Though I question the practicality of that particular format, for both portability and storage reasons.)
As I’ve mentioned a time or a thousand, all I care about is encouraging people to read. The how or what is far less important to me.
However, a whole lot of people do care about the manner in which people consume books.
Jonathan Franzen and his cronies, for example, have stated that “serious readers” don’t read digitally. Other people have accused digital readers of heading to their Kindles or Nooks because they want to hide what they’re reading. Sometimes I can’t help but feel that I’m perceived as a less-serious reader or a traitor to “book culture” because I prefer a digital format, and honestly, that really bothers me.
Whenever I come across another sweeping statement—which happens at least once a week—about people’s reading format preferences, I get my feathers ruffled. (The same feather-ruffling happens when 20-something digital natives accuse folks who prefer paper of being Luddites. Choice is a good thing—which is also why I think the possibility of print-on-demand is very intriguing.)
In the effort of doing my little part of thwart the sweeping, inaccurate statements that pepper the web about the way people choose to consume books, I thought I’d delve a bit more into issues related to ereading and digital “stuff” (i.e., digital design, etc) in general, since I spend much of my time embedded in a digital environment and am an avid e-reader. I’ll start with talking about why I elect to primarily e-read. Contrary to the popular commentary, it has absolutely nothing to do with being embarrassed by what I read—instead, it involves a lot of factors, both sheer preference and the practical.
A few years ago, I injured the tendon in my right hand due to repetitive stress caused by a bad mouse (I worked for a government entity that bought super-cheap, non-ergonomic computer equipment—seriously, people, invest in a good mouse, even if you have to buy your own) an developed a really bad case of tendinitis. It is a very, very painful condition (though I’ve alleviated it a lot by committing myself to quality workspace design and simple stretching) and it’s aggravated by any sort of awkward weight in my hands.
As a result, hardcover books that are over around 250 pages are incredibly uncomfortable for me to hold for any length of time. I can only read a chapter or two before my hand starts to ache pretty severely. As a result, awhile back, I completely gave up on hardcovers, which limited my access to new books, since so many are initially released in bulky hardcovers.
Then, my husband got my a second generation Kindle, and my book world opened up again. I could read really, really long books again! I imagine a lot of other folks with conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome probably appreciate the physical accessibility of the ereader.
I also appreciate that I can set my own typography, as my wacky vision means that the strange contrast created by cheapo paper used in mass market paperbacks makes me squinty and that the tiny type that’s, again, popular with mass market paperbacks makes me squint. Being able to set my type and spacing the way that works best for my eyesight allows me to read more, for longer stretches. (Though, folks, it is very important to take reading breaks! Don’t mess around when it comes to eyesight.)
I know some folks will think it’s whiny that the physical limitations of paper books is some bothersome for me, but it’s the reality of imperfect eyesight and hands.
(An aside: I hope that someday 1) text-to-speech is perfected and 2) publishers allow text-to-speech on their books because this will do wonders for opening up options for visually-impaired folks.)
I live in a very small house. And I’m not talking about “small” as in the way psychopaths on House Hunters define small in the thousands of square feet—my house is around 800 square feet. Because of this, I have boxes and boxes of books stored at my mom’s house. At my house, I have the space for approximately two good-sized bookshelves. That’s it. I read around 150 books a year, so even a year’s worth of books is un-storable for me.
As a reader, I think it’s very important to participate in the book economy (if we don’t buy books, books won’t be published—it’s a simple formula), and ebooks are a great option for me because I’m able to support the creation of books without also creating a storage problem for myself of drowning in a sea of books, Hoarders-style. I save my paper book purchases for my very favorite authors so that I can easily lend out these books (hey, publishers: let’s make it easier to lend ebooks, okay?) and so I have a stash in case of a catastrophic earthquake that knocks out power long enough that my Kindle loses its charge. (Obviously, ample reading material is a major priority for me in a post-apocalyptic scenario, since I’m not really equipped for any hunter-gatherer type activities.)
Frankly, I’m just not that attached to the book-as-object mentality (I know I’m in the minority here) to give so much of my limited space real estate over to the storage of the number of books I acquire each year. If I buy a paper book, it’s because it’s really special to me and I want to share my love of that book with others.
Bad Book Design
Since much of my work is communications design-related in some way, good design is important to me. I hate looking at generic, typical, safe design—and this just as true for books as anything else I encounter. (I refuse to patronize businesses that utilize Papyrus “font” in their signage and/or logos. I also will not allow any of my students to use Papyrus “font,” or its evil cousin, Comic Sans, in their projects.) Unfortunately, books are filled with examples of generic and safe design at best and straight up heinous design at worst. This includes the dreaded near-kiss and big face covers of which Barnes and Noble is so fond. (Seriously, let’s stop that, okay?)
I recently read a book that I checked out of my local library and it had some of the most bizarre design elements, including a manga-style font for the chapter headers and the same font in all-caps in the first sentence of each paragraph—it was nearly impossible to read. Book design should enhance the reading experience, not detract from it.
Local Bookstores (Sadly) Disappoint
You’d think that since I live in Portland, Oregon, which has a reputation for a “vibrant literary culture” and is home of a Famous Giant Indie Bookstore, that I’d have access to so many books. However, with the exception of the teeny, tiny little children’s bookstore near my house (which I visit for all my novel-in-verse needs, since I prefer those books in print), the selection, well, kind of sucks. I often buy books as gifts for friends or clients and am constantly frustrated because I want to run into the Famous Giant Indie Bookstore and grab a copy for said gift, and if they have the book, it’s invariably housed (along with 30 ther copies of the same book) at the ominous-sounding “Remote Warehouse”—which takes 5-7 days to ship.
Furthermore, aside from the aforementioned awesome little children’s bookstore in my neighborhood, my local bookstores (with the inexplicable exception of the giant BN located at the mall—and I’m not a mall person) are generally staffed by people who have no knowledge of, and often great distain for, the genres and categories I enjoy. This is extremely disappointing. For example, recently I wanted to buy someone a copy of My Beating Teenage Heart, by C.K. Kelly Martin. I checked before I left to make sure that the Famous Giant Indie Bookstore had it in stock. When I checked on the shelf (under “M”), it wasn’t there. So, I went over to the computer in the store, checked to make sure there was still a copy in stock, and finally gave up and asked a bookseller (who was very annoyed I interrupted his time sitting at the customer service counter looking too cool to care) about it. The bookseller rolled his eyes sighed at me, gestured at the teen section and informed me to look with the M’s. And walked off.
Eventually, I found the book I was looking for, shelved with the K’s, no thanks to the bookseller who had no interest in selling me a book. It’s just disappointing that so many books aren’t viewed as legit choices by some booksellers in my community. (Again, the exception being the teeny, tiny local children’s shop in my neighborhood.)
Genre readers are a huge part of the book economy, and it’s bizarre to me that so many booksellers (I’ve had this experience in many, many bookstores) are not interested in selling customers some books, simply because they aren’t in the personal interest area of the bookseller.
Series and/or Author Binges Made Easy
When I discover a new-to-me author or series, I tend to binge-out in a major way. (Recent binges include the Jessica Darling series and the Summer series.) And I’ll read them back-to-back-to-back. As far as instant gratification goes, nothing beats my e-reader. I don’t have to look at all the bookstores in town (often unsuccessfully), don’t have to wait on shipping or on library holds—I can just click and buy and have the book I want.
I know it sounds impatient, but it makes me ridiculously happy to be able have that little bit of instant gratification in my life. Judge away if you want, but this makes my life so much more awesome.
Note-taking Made Easy
I’ve always been an obsessive note-taker. I have notebooks all over my house, in my bag, tucked into drawers and post-its pepper many of my books. One of the unexpected bits of awesome that’s come out of e-reading for me has been the easy highlighting and note-taking functions. I have a Kindle, and all of my highlights and notes are stored in this fancy-schmancy text file, so when I want to refer those notes or quotations, I just pull up that file and copy and paste. (This is super handy for reviews, incidentally.)
By the way, Barnes & Noble: if you added that text file functionality to the new Nook Glowlight, I’d be all over that, because I really like that slick little e-ereader. I’m just sayin’…
(It’s funny, a feature I didn’t even care about has been an e-reader dealbreaker for me—I use it and love it that much.)
Now, that’s not to say, I don’t have quite a few quibbles with the e-reading experience. I do.
Next week, I’m going to talk about some of my biggest frustrations as a digital reader, and some of the biggest drawbacks. (Hint: much has to do with DRM and cross-platform portability.) I’d love to hear about other people’s experience with e-reading (or not—I’m happy to try to answer questions if folks haven’t tried it).