The Ways We Read

We see versions of this sort of thing in various places on social media from time to time. Here is another example. On Instagram, this writer details why she “loves” ebooks

[From Instagram.]

Let us see why she thinks they are “incredible.” First…

[From Instagram.]

That is certainly true. It is basically a “computer” after all. And we know we can resize PC fonts.

It is also worth recalling that there are “large print” paper books, too. Also Braille text is obviously out of the question on any screen, unlike in a paper book.

An aunt of my wife’s now can no longer read my books, really, as her eyesight is so poor – be they on a Kindle or paper. She “reads” now for pleasure with audio “books” (and, unfortunately, none of mine are as of yet audio books). With an audio “book,” a listener needs to see nothing of the written words, of course.

[From Instagram.]

That is also not unreasonable. A Kindle is certainly great for travel. Unless you are reading ONLY one book and bring only that one book along, it is better to have your Kindle to “kill time” waiting for your flight, etc., than having “six” books jammed into your carry-on.

However, I feel it is worth pointing out that while clicking open an ebook on my phone or iPad or opening my Kindle is convenient to read for a while, I find it easier overall to read through complete books, and “big” ones in particular, as paper books…

[The first page of War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy, 1869. This English translation approved by Tolstoy.]

For example, a few years ago, I gave up on War and Peace in its Kindle form. However, when I got a print copy of the same translation, I found it much easier to read it to the end. (Although, it took me about 18 months – which is another story. LOL!)

[Leonid Pasternak (1893). Natasha Rostova’s first ball. Illustration of events in Leo Tolstoy’s novel ‘War and Peace.’ Public Domain. Wikipedia.]

I suspect one major reason may well be that an ebook is “flat” and “endless.” On the other hand with a paper book we have an idea of where we are in the story, and so may pace ourselves accordingly. That is, I feel, a qualitative difference that favors a paper book.

Second, as readers “unconsciously” we tend to skim ahead and even “over a page” with “one eye” as we also read. In comparison, with an ebook we cannot “see ahead” very far (other than a bit down the page). So we are not gently “carried forward” by the narrative, I think, with an ebook in the same way we may be with a paper book.

[From Instagram.]

It has been researched, and looking at screens just before bedtime may interfere with sleep. I try to read only a paper book before going to bed. I put away my screens.

Relatedly, there is also this issue as to “your book” on a Kindle:

[Photo by me, January 2023.]

Those books were gifted from my (now long dead paternal) grandfather to my father, and my dad some years ago gave them to me. (That Kennedy book is from 1964 and the Civil War histories are from the early 1950s. They are essentially irreplacable now.)

In comparison, you cannot “pass on” ebooks or otherwise give them away because, technically, you do NOT “own” them in the same way as a paper book. When you “buy” the ebook, you are, basically, merely “borrowing” the content from Amazon or whoever makes the ebook. If you read the Kindle “fine print,” you cannot give the book to anyone else. (The law clearly has not yet caught up in this department. It is similar to your Spotify or other streaming music services. While you OWN CDs and LPs in much the same way as paper books, and may give them away or pass them down to kids or others, you do NOT own streaming music that you pay for.)

I maintain that is a seriously under-discussed matter. You do NOT actually OWN any of your ebooks. I do wonder how many ebook “buyers” know they are enriching publishers and actually owning nothing in return.

[From Instagram.]

There has been a lot of controversy about ebooks’ pricing since the early 2010s. Ebooks by major publishers shot up in price due to publishers (they claim) trying to maintain profitability – as they see it. It is all too much to explain here, but Vox has an excellent piece on ebooks and pricing from late 2019:

“Why are ebooks expensive? It’s not because Amazon is vicious. It’s because there’s no competition at the wholesale level.”

Moreover, readers have come to expect “cheap” books in part due to the once lower prices for ebooks. That is not unsurprising as if you have a choice of buying a “$2.99” ebook series or a “$21.99” paperback, most of us would likely choose the much-lower-priced ebook series. And as a new-ish (particularly independent) author, it makes sense to price books “lowish” in order to attract more readers who may be willing to take “a chance” on a lesser known or even “unknown” author for a $1.99 ebook when they would never imagine paying $9.99 or $14.99 for that same ebook.

Interestingly, what has also been learned since 2010 is ebook readers are not mostly younger people in their teens and twenties, who it was assumed would fervently embrace Kindles and e-readers (because they love tech) and turn their backs on paper books as relics of the “1900s.” In fact, Kindle owners are often ages 40 and older – which utterly defied “2010” predictions of the “ebook revolution” among the young. Mum (in particular – men continue to lag behind women as novel readers as men have for over 200 years) now loves her Kindle, and although her “kids” do love social media and their tablets, etc., when they choose to read a novel it turns out they actually PREFER to read a PAPER book on the beach or by the pool or in their lounge. Who woulda thunk that about our present back in “2010,” eh?

[From Instagram.]

Reading is, to me, not supposed to be like scrolling the net. I believe a reader should be immersed in the story and not clicking around for definitions, etc. Maintaining a “reading flow” is central to enjoying a book.

So I feel you as a reader should not need – except maybe in extraordinary circumstances – to look up definitions while reading a novel. I do my best to contextualize words, so if one catches you out as to its meaning if you stay with the narrative you will eventually understand it – and may as a result even pick up some new vocabulary. All words should make sense within the context of the novel and should not routinely “baffle” a reader to the point they need to resort to a dictionary (unless, perhaps, English is not a first language, which is another issue).

Most of my book sales are through the Kindle, yet I won’t declare here that ebooks are “incredible.” On the whole, ebooks are merely “another” way to read, and if they work for you, that is great. ALL book types have their positives and their negatives.

Have a good day, wherever you are, and however you read. 🙂

2 comments

  1. They’re both different ways of reading, like you said! Both work for me for different reasons. There’s some books I’ve finished on kindle that I would not have been able to finish on paper. They do have their advantages.

    A couple thoughts about your points:

    About the fonts: It IS possible to buy paper books in more accessible fonts and size, but it’s impossible to adjust these mid-reading. I always prefer small fonts, but I love to read while walking, so it’s convenient to make the font larger just for one walk. Or make it larger for a single evening where my eyes are tired, to give my vision a break.
    Also it’s hard to find large-font books when they’re not popular/mainstream. A lot of indies/small press only have 1 edition or font option. My paternal grandmother only reads large font, but I can’t find options for most of my favourite books… therefore I got her a kindle & adjusted the font. She would not have been able to access them otherwise.

    About seeing the e-book as endless: On the lower left, my kindle shows me the page number. On the lower right, it tells me how much % of the book I’ve completed. You can adjust these settings, to hide them completely or have them show different statistics. (Sometimes, I set it to calculate my reading speed and tell me exactly how long I have left in a chapter/book)

    About e-readers being compact: it’s not just convenient when travelling (I hate travelling, too much stress), it’s convenient while moving! I’ve moved homes about 10 times in the past 10 years & physical books are HEAVY. It’s a lot easier to move a kindle than it is to move 400 books by myself. Some years, I had no help and physically injured myself. Also: my grandmother has gifted me all her old books and encyclopedias, but they’re stored at my father’s because I don’t have a room to keep them. It takes up space.

    About the light: kindles (mine, at least) use e-ink technology which is a lot more gentle on the eyes than traditional screens.

    About the dictionary: you touched upon this, but English isn’t my first language. It’s easy to gather the wrong meaning for a word based on context. If I was reading a paper book, I would pull out my phone and interrupt the reading to research. That’s a bigger interruption than simply clicking on the word on my kindle. It’s more harmful to the reading flow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi! Thanks for your comment!

      I do use a Kindle, as I wrote, but I think of it as an additional reading platform and not as a replacement for anything else. I do see all your points and I don’t generally disagree. (One thing, though: I had tried, but I cannot get past a Kindle as “flat” regardless of what the remaining “%” or page displayed may be of reading. It just feels – to me, anyway – “endless.”)

      My view is largely as I summed up in my second to last paragraph: I think all ways of reading have their positives and negatives. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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