Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Stearns on Electronic Reading

Michael Stearns of Upstart Crow Literary shares a personal quibble about reading on the iPad. Excerpts:
[I]n my experience, when I look at my iPad, I don't see books. I see an iPad. On the device is Middlemarch, a Jonathan Ames novel, a Charlie Huston mystery, a couple of P.G. Wodehouse books, and a half-dozen nonfiction books I thought I wanted to read once upon a time.

This could just be a sad side effect of the way I consume books: Some people buy and read books on a strictly one-at-a-time basis. Me, I tend to buy three at a time and leave them on the bedside shelf so that I have an array of choices when I finish one book and move to the next. ...

[I]nstead of making reading more of a presence in my life, [the iPad] has the opposite effect: It makes reading just one more media application. Provided I even remember the dozen or so books I have downloaded on the device.
Read the whole thing. I love blogging and reading others' online output, but I must admit to never feeling quite comfortable with electronic text. Yes, dry eyes have something to do with it, but so does Stearns' dilemma. The cavernous hard drive on my laptop doubtlessly holds files that will never see the light of day; the same would hold true for an electronic reader, I'm sure. Stacks of physical books, though, are no guarantee against mismanagement. I had a roommate whose collection of historical and theological titles were literally rotting, and I know relatives with bookshelves stuffed full of titles with multiple editions, none of which have even had their covers cracked. Ultimately, the only thing that can make us read is an internal desire to do so.

(Picture: CC 2010 by
Jesus Belzunce; Hat Tip: Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent)


Deka Black said...

wel.. i feel quite comfortable reading on a screen. About my personal library, is big, and some books are in good shape. others... not.

Jim Murdoch said...

It’s what you’re used to. We think nothing of watching films on TVs these days. The whole idea of getting in the car and driving to a large building to sit in the dark with a few hundred other people is old-fashioned. Our TV died last week and so we bought a new one. As a test run I watched the last Star Trek film and I cannot honestly ever see me venturing inside a cinema ever again. It’s also an attitude thing. A computer is a tool, a TV is a tool, an iPad or and eBook reader is a tool. War and Peace doesn’t become any less no matter what media is used to display the words. I honestly find books with yellowing pages and poor-quality printing harder or my eyes that working on a laptop all day. I had one of the first eBook readers, the Rocket, and I liked it. If it could handle PDFs I’d still be using it.

Take music for example. I have thousands of CDs and tapes – literally bookcases full of them – and their physical presence makes me feel good. All of them, every last one of them, could be held on the 1TB drive I have sitting next to me right now, it’s no bigger than a book. Kids these days don’t think of music in physical terms but experiential. The iPods and such are simply tools to facilitate that experience. Marketers have for so long concentrated on the packaging and less on the content. But things are changing.

Loren Eaton said...


Big book collections are fine as long as collectors are actively reading through them. But nobody wants them to get so big that they swallow our lives.

Loren Eaton said...


Our highfalutin tools do facilitate very similar experiences to the old-school stuff. But in some instances there a subtle changes. The advent of the iPod has elevated the single above the album; scattershot has become the new normal in music collections. Now, I think that's more than balanced by the improvements in audiobooks and ease of transport. We'll see if ebooks manage some kind of happy medium.