Is it different reading an ebook?

Recently I've been reading an ebook, my first experience of such.

The ebook, by the way, is the very good Jester Leaps In, by Alan Gordon, part of the Fools Guild Mystery series, which has an interesting premise: the Fools Guild is a secret society of professional jesters, who in fact are spies working to keep the politics of mediaeval Europe on an even keel.

I'm reading it using Kindle for PC, which works fine for me because I have a good quality 24" LCD monitor hung in portrait mode on a wall bracket. It's like someone is holding up the book for me to read. I can see the day coming when I might acquire an ebook reader, but I've resisted so far.

Speaking as a techie for a moment and not a writer, single-use devices are a doomed strategy. Except maybe for your toaster; it's unlikely you'd want to surf the web and do word processing on your toaster. But there are many years of experience now to show that popular single-use devices—like, for example, a phone— are eventually replaced by general purpose devices which do the same thing and more, as soon as someone works out how to do it.

For that reason I wouldn't expect any of the current batch of ereader designs to survive. The only possible exception is...here comes the inevitable mention of the...iPad which actually had me interested. I might have bought one, until looking through the specs and hearing some user experience convinced me it's a lifestyle toy. No keyboard? Then it's unusable for writing. No multitasking? Do I really want an ereader that I can't also use for writing and email?

Also the iPad lacks the one and only feature which makes the ereaders so very attractive: E-Ink. E-Ink was invented at MIT, I believe, and spun off as a company. When you buy an e-reader, no matter which, you are actually buying access to E-Ink; everything else in the box is dross on the side, only there to support the E-Ink so it can show you a book.

But the iPad is nevertheless a step in the direction of the future.

It seems obvious to me that the right thing to do is put an E-Ink screen on a lightweight, general use laptop, with the E-Ink screen in portrait orientation.

Something I've noticed about reading an ebook: sometimes I find myself skimming the story in a way which I never do with a paper book. Has anyone else noticed different reading behaviour, ebook vs paper?

23 comments:

Amalia T. said...

Now, if the iPad came with a stylus and allowed me to hand write in an easy way-- they might be on to something with the lack of a keyboard. I could get on board for something like that as an alternative. I'm pretty disinterested in e-readers in general. I have a hard enough time settling on one thing to read without having my entire library available to me at my fingertips as a distraction. Plus, rebuying all those books in an e-format? No thanks, I'm good.

_*rachel*_ said...

I like real books. Not only are they more fun to read--if harder to hold open--you can use several side-by-side and lend them out.

Now, if I could get a free conversion of all the books I currently own into ebook format, I'd seriously consider getting an ereader. Used, of course, since the only reason I've got higher pay this summer is that minimum wage went up.

I do have Kindle for PC, since it was free and Robert E. Lee's son's memoir was $1 in the Kindle store. But I'm still ticked at Amazon over the MacMillan stuff, so I don't want a Kindle anyway.

Besides, what about really old books? Where's the joy in cradling an ebook in your arms, knowing it's older than your great-grandma?

Stephanie Thornton said...

I don't have an e-reader, but I've had to do a lot of online reading, both for online classes and as a beta reader. I have to force myself not to skim. My brain has been wired to look for short, punchy paragraphs when I'm reading a screen. I'm like a magpie- I want shiny and flashy writing on a screen.

Loretta Ross said...

I wasn't aware that there was a Kindle for PC or that it was free. I'll definitely have to check into that! I haven't bought an ereader because of the cost and because I figured the early generations of them are going to have a very limited lifespan.

That said, I like the concept enormously. As much as I love the feel and smell of real books, I've been overwhelmed for shelf space since I was about twelve. My house is full of books, my car is full of books, my locker at work is full of books. If I could have a library of an unlimited number of books that only took up the space of a normal paperback, I'd be in heaven! And then I could clear off the shelves and just save them for special books, like the antique children's books I collect and a few first editions (including yours of course, which I expect you to sign for me someday ;)).

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I have a nook, and e-Ink is very nice. I haven't noticed a difference in the reading per se, once I'm immersed, but perhaps the material was entrancing. I did notice more mechanical "interruption" in having to turn the page - whereas the physical turning of pages is "invisible" to my brain. But I think that would change as I read more on the nook.

The nook is a device that I knew would only last a year or two, when I got it. But it's allowed me to explore and get a feel for this new, coming, e-book world. :)

Gary Corby said...

Amalia, I do sometimes write longhand on (gasp) paper, but if you can touch type - and I guess most people reading this can - then typing is the fastest method of writing yet invented.

Gary Corby said...

Hi Rachel, you're not alone. It seems the great majority prefer real books, and so far, I agree with them.

So you have a book older than your great-grandmother? Now I'm intrigued. What are your oldest books?

L. T. Host said...

I'm firmly anti-e-reader, personally. I adore having a book in my hand and get frustrated reading on a computer or phone. It's not the same experience.

I feel like the technology isn't quite there yet, either.

Now, Apple doesn't have a monopoly on tablets. I'm writing on my HP tablet right now and I love this darn thing; if only I could find out what happened to my stylus pen! But it can do everything you describe, Gary, except it doesn't really have e-ink, either. It's close, but not the same. However, it does have a keyboard, and the screen turns around and flips down and puts it into portrait mode. If you don't lose the stylus pen, like I did, you can handwrite and draw right on the screen, which I've found to be dead useful for plotting and mapping and a whole other slew of things. I'm missing the ability to do that right now, actually. It of course also has the ability to multi-task.

So, while I'm anti-e-reader, I am very pro-tablet, but the iPad is somewhat of a disappointment to me. I frankly expected more from Apple.

Gary Corby said...

Stephanie, yes, that's exactly what I mean! There's something about the screen that makes me want to read faster, looking for the main bits.

I guess the long experience of reading non-fiction online has trained me this way. But it's totally inappropriate for a real story.

Gary Corby said...

Loretta, you can download Kindle for PC from Amazon. I know you've got a land line though so I'm not sure how long it will take you.

Last time I came back from the US, I had an entire suitcase with nothing but books in it, so I know exactly what you mean about the joy of carrying lots of books in a small box. But the price to pay, at the moment at least, seems high.

Gary Corby said...

Hi Susan, the nook I thought was a good try. It at least runs an open book format so you don't lose everything when that design disappears.

And that's something else I'm sure is a doomed strategy...any ebook reader that locks you into a proprietary ebook format is an obvious, instant loser. What happens when the device is superceded?

Gary Corby said...

Hi L.T., oh yes! Do you have one of the dear old TC1100s?

I think the HP tablet stylus was made by Wacom, if it helps. Any battery-less Wacom stylus should work as a replacement. (Don't trust me on that, try it first.)

I was actually thinking of the HP tablet design when I wrote the post. They need a decent upgrade, but yes, something like the HP tablet, with E-Ink, would be my ideal.

Amalia T. said...

Gary-- Yeah, touch typing is super fast, until you get carpal tunnel and can't type anymore! But if you have a tablet like thing with a stylus, you can break you up typing and prevent repetitive stress injuries by switching it up to hand writing.

(I started rewriting Helen on paper, long hand, at the beginning of the month, and it made me realize how much I delete as I write, and how lazy I am when I handwrite. The chapter I hand wrote was DEFINITELY not my best. Needless to say, I went back to typing)

Gary Corby said...

Oh dear yes, carpal tunnel is bad.

Might you be better off dictating to a voice to text system and then correcting the (inevitable) errors?

L. T. Host said...

My tablet is an Iforgetwhichversion, but it's only about a year and a half old. Which frankly, with computers, makes it practically a dinosaur, but I still love it.

I know I should just order a new stylus pen, but I'm determined to make a bigger effort to find the old one first. You know, moving-all-the-furniture, tearing-things-apart determined. But only because I know it's there SOMEWHERE. And that will bother me.

Plus, the instant I order a new one, I'll find the old one, anyway.

Loretta Ross said...

Just a late thought about multi-use devices. Don't you think, at some point, it gets a bit ridiculous? I can just hear someone saying, "hey! Check out my new phone! It's got a camera, music player, email program, web surfer, text messager (of course!), GPS, electric toothbrush, electric razor, dowsing rod and fold-out Swiss army knife!"

"Cool! How do you make a call with it?"

"Uh, well . . . you can't. There wasn't room for a mouthpiece. But you can use the GPS to guide you to the nearest public pay phone and then text the number to the person you want to talk to!"

Amalia T. said...

I don't know, Gary-- I haven't ever played with dictation, but I do a lot of erase and correct while I'm writing, so I'm not sure how dictating would work out. I think I would have a lot a LOT of junk in the end, and would have to do some heavy editing afterwards. It would definitely be a big adjustment.

Gary Corby said...

Hey L.T. I'm totally with you on the as soon as I order a replacement the original will turn up. It's a law of nature. Could you have left the stylus in a coffee shop? Or in the penguin enclosure?

And from the department of after-the-horse-has-bolted...some people get a cord to tie the stylus to the tablet. So you can lose them both at the same time, you know.

Gary Corby said...

It's a very fair point Loretta.

But a lot of years of marketing and sales data shows clearly that people will almost always buy the multi-use device at the drop of a hat. It's not a technology designer preference: it's how real people behave, and since the designers want to sell their stuff, they build what people will buy.

If people stopped buying iPhones and bought only simple cell phones, the iPhones would disappear overnight. But that's not going to happen.

I predict the same thing will happen with ereaders. When they look like an electronic swiss army knife, they'll sell like hotcakes.

Gary Corby said...

Hi Amalia, dictation is certainly a different way of doing things. I've tried it occasionally into my phone when I've had a good idea and no paper. I discovered I needed to stop and compose the whole thing in my head, then I could speak it. There's a lot more discipline required.

I know of one vision impaired author who has to pretty much speak her books. A very impressive achievement.

L. T. Host said...

I fully expect to lose the tablet itself as soon as I turn my back.

I can't keep track of anything. I need Lo-Jack for my life!

Angst over and moving on. I will search a little harder and then break down and order a new one-- and this one will be tied to the computer, absolutely.

The tablet hasn't left the house since the last time I saw the pen, unfortunately. It's around here somewhere.

Lauren said...

I have noticed a difference in the way I read a paper version of a book versus any digital information.

I actually recently finished reading an insightful book titled Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf about how learning to read changes the way a brain functions, and that reading the quick tidbits of info we get on twitter or text messages or digitally in general is a different form of reading than reading longer pieces of work. And therefore changes the way the brain reads. Interesting stuff.

Gary Corby said...

Interesting stuff indeed, Lauren. I wonder if that means the next generation won't be able to read books the way people in the past have? Or will they find different interpretations of them?