In December, 2007 and again in April, 2009 I did some guest blogging at ForeWord Magazine's ShelfSpace Blog. While ForeWord Magazine is going strong, they have discontinued doing that guest blogging. So, I am going to rerun those posts here at Tea Cozy. Any edits to remove confusion about things like dates is in brackets.
E-Books, PDFs, and Audiobooks, Oh My
Are some forms of reading inherently "better" than others?
When people start talking about an e-reader such as the Amazon Kindle2 or the Sony Reader, reaction seems to fall into two camps: "I want" versus "but that's not reading!"
I admit that I have techno-lust for an e-reader: they are so sleek! So shiny! So small! Think of how uncluttered my house would be if the books were all in this one small reader!
The other camp points to the physical aspects of the book: the feel of the pages, the weight of the book, the durability and lendability of an actual print book.
And I agree… I'd still want some of my books around. Books have memories; it’s not just owning The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, it's owning the one I read as a kid. It's being able to take it off my shelf, reread, lend it to someone with an "OMG you'll love this" that just cannot happen with an e-book.
Or can it happen? I don't have an e-reader; so I cannot say, firsthand, the differences in reading an e-book. But, wow….the size appeals to my desire to simplify my life by decluttering my living space. And then there are the trees that would be saved. Did I mention how cool they look?
A similar conversation about reading is going on concerning review copies for book review blogs; if you had a choice, would you review from an Advance Reader's Copy or a PDF? If you think bloggers are new and techy, think again. A surprising number say, "reading on the computer isn't the same. I want the book." Bloggers spend enough time on the computer; a book is a break from that.
The Kindle2's text-to-speech function has brought another issue into the "what is a book" argument. A synthetic, computer voice can read aloud the e-book. Understandably, the Author's Guild got a little worked up about this feature, fearing that it may negatively impact audiobooks.
I love audiobooks; I'm a "listen while I drive" person. While a bad narrator may make me stop the book, I don't abandon the book. Rather, I go back to the traditional print book. A good narrator, on the other hand, can make a book come alive. It also forces me to really listen to the words, rather than skim or skip a descriptive paragraph or two.
Because I'm an audiobook listener, I personally think the Author's Guild fears of a computer voice are unfounded. Honestly, audiobooks are superior; when readers have a choice, they will go for the book that is recorded, narrated, directed, and edited by professionals. Not all books are available in audiobook. The Kindle2 provides a nice option for those books, magazines, and blogs that don't have an audio version.
You know what would be cool for the next e-reader? Being able to download audiobooks to it. All my audiobooks and e-books on one device? Sweet!
So what does "reading" mean?
I want to say, "read any way!" People have different preferences; and what works for one person doesn't work for another. To say "listening to an audiobook doesn't count" (as I've heard teachers and book club members say) is a disservice to those who get more out of an audiobook than a print book. (It also is insulting to those whose only choice is an audiobook, in that it says their reading experiences will never count, but that, dear reader, is another topic). "It doesn't count" shows a surprisingly narrow world view; "if something doesn't work for me, it doesn't work for anyone." Ditto for e-books and reading, with people who believe, "I wouldn't want to read on a screen, so no one would."
It's good to stretch our ways of reading. I want to say, "read any way." I do say it. I listen to audiobooks during my commute; and find that sometimes I pay more attention to the story than if I was reading a book. I prefer children's books that I can finish in less than a week. I've found that sometimes reading on a computer, where I can play with font size, is easier on my eyes than the small print of books. I'm open to an e-reader, and just found out that my iPod Touch has an e-book application that I'm going to try out. To truly respect the different ways people read, we should try them out.
And yet… I have to confess; I was recently asked to do the foreword for You Don't Look Like a Librarian: Shattering Stereotypes and Creating Positive New Images in the Internet Age
by Ruth Kneale. When asked, "do you want a galley or a PDF" – dear reader, I said a galley. I knew, to give the book a good reading, I needed the physical pages.
When it comes down to it – despite using other ways of reading – my own, personal preference is the old-fashioned book.
This was originally posted in April 2009 at ForeWord Magazine's Shelf Space blog.
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy