Newspaper article International New York Times

How Do E-Books Change the Reading Experience?

Newspaper article International New York Times

How Do E-Books Change the Reading Experience?

Article excerpt

The writers Mohsin Hamid and Anna Holmes find many advantages in the experience of reading e-books but also disadvantages.

Anna Holmes

When my second book was released this past October, I told anyone who would listen not to buy the electronic version. This was not so much a dig at the publishing house production managers who converted my creation into e-book form as it was an acknowledgment of the medium's many limitations. You see, no matter how fancy the refinements made to, say, Apple's much heralded Retina display or Amazon's electronic ink, an e-book offers little promise of discovery or wonder. Browsers may be ubiquitous in our e-portal age, but an e-book doesn't encourage actual browsing.

This isn't to say that I don't read e-books. I do. (Mostly for research -- love that search function!) But after close to half a decade of downloading and consuming any number of novels, autobiographies, comics and self-help titles in Kindle form, I have yet to feel as fully invested in the pixels on a Bezos-imagined screen as I do in the indelible glyphs found on good old-fashioned book paper.

Part of this has to do, of course, with the ways in which e- books are bundled with or experienced alongside other forms of entertainment.

My iPad, for example, offers an experience not only with the written word, via the iBooks and Kindle apps, but with the moving picture, be it Netflix, Angry Birds or the mesmerizing Google Earth. Deep engagement with an e-book can therefore be quite challenging: It's difficult to stay present with Colum McCann's latest offering when the prose is competing for cognitive space with archived episodes of "Scandal."

Interface is another issue. I prefer static page numbers over percentages. (I am not exaggerating when I say that the mutability of the progress bar at the bottom of every Kindle screen fills me with a specific and highly toxic combination of disorientation, obligation and dread.) Besides, physical, paperbound books provide a sense memory that has informed so many of my most important encounters with storytelling: sight, smell and touch, yes, but also the experience of anticipation, progress and accomplishment. …

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