Monday, April 20, 2009

Revolution in reading

The explosion in e-books seems to have had this happy result: Those who download and read them on a Kindle or iPhone or iPod Touch or Blackberry "buy significantly more books than they did before owning the device, and it's not hard to understand why: The bookstore is now following you around wherever you go. A friend mentions a book in passing, and instead of jotting down a reminder to pick it up next time you're at Barnes & Noble, you take out the Kindle and -- voilĂ ! -- you own it."


Reading e-books this way allows the user to be distracted easily, to check the stock market or post a tweet on Twitter in mid-chapter, to buy and download a new book on a whim. One's attention span suddenly is fragmented.

"As a result, I fear that one of the great joys of [printed] book reading -- the total immersion in another world, or in the world of the author's ideas -- will be compromised. We all may read books the way we increasingly read magazines and newspapers: a little bit here, a little bit there."

These are among the provocative insights in a Wall Street Journal article today by author Steven Johnson, "How the E-book Will Change the Way We Read and Write."

(A tip of the e-hat to half a dozen Twitterers for the heads-up.)

LATER MONDAY: I was a book review editor for 33 years and never heard of "fore-edge painting," but there's an enlightening Web site devoted to it. (Thanks to Shelf Awareness.)


  1. I read with interest the article about the E-books. If this Google searching of sentences and paragraphs does become a large contribution in the book world, what about context? It seems to me that everything would be taken out of context, which would change the whole meaning of the original.

  2. I read the E-book article and while the author has a point, I think the flip-side of his point is also true. How many people love to read but never have the time? If the Kindle lets them read in bits and pieces, isn't that better than not reading at all?

    And what about the people who always read multiple books at once? My daughter always, always, always reads three books at a time. It doesn't affect her ability to comprehend the stories and appreciate what the author has done.

    I could go on and on, but I'll spare you my soap box. =)

  3. IMA Reader, you have a good point there. This sort of distracted reading does result in fragmentation of understanding, and this may be one reason why certain political types (I won't mention predilections) often seem as if they have cherry-picked bullet points to support their arguments while ignoring others that don't. It does not sound good for political discourse.

    Deidra, some people can multitask with ease, as if their brains are running with Open Spaces preferences (you have to be a Mac user to understand that reference). Your daughter is lucky to have that talent. Most of the rest of us don't.

    I agree, reading in bits and pieces is better than nothing, but it may have untoward consequences for some.

  4. Funny I should read this. Right now I am reading WHAT'S THAT PIG NEXT DOOR by some famous author during breaks at my one job, MEMORIES OF LAC du FLAMBEAU ELDERS at my breaks at the Nature Center, and MOON OVER LAKE ELMO, by Steve Thayer at night while home. Always scared my wife how I could do that.

  5. I love to read books on my iPhone and I find that once I'm "in" the reader app I don't stray often from my story... ok maybe if I get a buzz for an email or a txt.... but not always. And if the iPhone told me what that email subject line was without exiting the app I'm in I'd be able to ignore 90% of the incoming messages.

    I think I'm just as distracted when I combine a print book with the iPhone in my lap.