Monday, 30 July 2012

In defence and celebration of e-books

I may be a little controversial here but I do feel strongly about this topic. The debate on e-books continues and falls mainly into two camps.

  1. Readers (human) who swear by the printed book and who shudder at the thought of not holding a 'proper' book in their hands.
  2. Readers (human) who use a reader (electronic) to read the printed word digitally.

I want to look at some of the pros and cons of each.
Paper books.
Now, don't get me wrong, I like a book in my hand as much as anyone; the suspense as you hurry through the pages, turn the page, and stay gripped while you chew on a sweet, take a slurp - sorry, sip - of wine, bite your nails etc., is not to be underestimated. The joy of running your finger along the spines of a row of books on the bookshelf, pausing to select one, pull it out, and browse, cannot be described fully.

But wait! You want to read your current book on the train or plane. The book you are in the middle of is quite bulky, you struggle to fit in in your bag or case, horror of horrors, your case is overweight and you have to leave it behind. Even if you do manage to fit the book in to your bag or case, while you sit in your confined space on the aeroplane there is little room to spread out while you turn the pages. The passenger in the next seat turns the page of his/her newspaper and knocks your drink over - all down the page you are reading. Disaster!

Enter the e-reader. A quick and convenient way to carry a book for other situations than being curled up in bed or a chair. And, do you know? You can load a massive number of books onto that little oblong item. It could even fit into your pocket. Increasingly, at airports men pop their Kindle into their jacket pocket in-between airport checks or pop them into their hand luggage. Ladies can easily slip them into their briefcase or bags. (We ladies don't seem to have the wealth of pockets that men do somehow.)

Some people find them much easier to use when reading in bed. There is no problem turning pages and holding them down. A quick flick of a button or touch on the screen  and, job done. There is no glare on a Kindle when reading outside in sunshine as there is with a Net book or laptop.

Another aspect of e-readers is the versatility.

It is surprising how many people say to me at book events " Oh, I don't read books."  They probably read newspapers and magazines and search the web to read information, but books? Shock horror! I do wonder if they have a reading difficulty which was not addressed in school or even worse, were they made fun of in class because they were not as fast as others? That is a huge barrier to reading. One which an e-reader can help them to overcome.

A stack of pages between two thick paper covers can  be daunting - a lot to digest. A bit like a huge plate of food that you are expected to eat when really, you would prefer to help yourself to a little at a time. It is the same with an e-book downloaded onto an e-reader like Kindle, iPad, Kobo, even an app (Kindle,Kobo,iTunes etc.) onto your PC. All you see and have to digest mentally is one page at a time. All you actually see while you are reading is one page at a time. It is non-threatening. You feel that you could perhaps tackle that story which everyone is talking about. It makes no difference whether there are two pages, twenty-two or a thousand. All you are being asked to digest mentally and psychologically is one page.

A scenario.
Actually, you have been clever. You do not have an e-reader but you do have a smart phone. You are quite savvy with all these technological innovations and find that downloading from the Internet is child's play. So here you are with a 'book' tucked away on your phone. No-one can laugh at you now; you could be reading anything. It is private and you can soon switch off if someone comes.

Soon, you are absorbed in the story. You are sitting on a park bench; you may be strap-hanging on the tube; you are reading.

And that is the important thing. Reading;finding information;getting lost in a story which transports you away from daily cares.

Another scenario is that you might have sight difficulties and find that the small print in most books is hard to see. Even with spectacles. Your eyes are tired after a long day at work. You possibly need a large print. You do not go into the library to ask for a large-print book. "Good heavens no." I can hear you say. "That is embarrassing." It is also another barrier. So you do not bother. What a shame. You are missing out on so much. There is a hazy screen between you and that huge world of information out there. It is like being on the edge of a forest and you are frightened to venture in.

An e-reader has a useful function of making the size of letters larger. The letter size is called the font size. (The font is the style of the letter.) You can also change the background from white with black letters to black with white letters or sepia - a fawn colour - with black letters. You can make the reading experience your own as you adjust everything to suit.

"But with a printed book, I can put a bookmark in it to tell me where I am up to." Well, you know what? You can do this with some e-readers. And you can make notes as you bookmark pages. Excellent for research and reference.

I for one do not believe that digital e-books will ever replace the printed word. E-books allow another type of reading experience and do, I am convinced, reach out to a new audience. That is why I have published all my books in all formats ( Print, Kindle,*PDF and e-pub ) for a wider readership.
It is the reading that is important. I cannot imagine what it would be like not to be able to read and interact with people as I absorb information and news. Or go off into my dream world as I escape daily cares and relax.

Reports say that those who read e-books actually read more than they did before. That is interesting. It appears that they are enjoying the experience.Some people may want a physical copy of the one they have read digitally.  Who knows one day, they may feel confident to venture across the threshold of an actual bookshop, browse the shelves, and buy a book. A 'proper book'! And while they are there, they may, if they are lucky, be able to download another e-book or two onto their e-reader.

You see, they want some books in print and some stored on their reader. For different situations. But they want books. They want to read. Let's celebrate that!

Enjoy.

Rosalie xx