Is E-reading really reading?

e-readerAs we head into the holidays, some of you may be thinking about e-readers.  Thinking about giving one?   Asking for one?  Still on the fence?   Here are a few recent articles about e-readers to get you thinking.

You know by now I’m an avid e-reader.  My Kindle is all my favorite books rolled into one, a trusty companion.  But I’m a little on the extreme side.

Last month, this article in Slate got my blood boiling.  It tries, in a long over-blown way, to argue that e-reading isn’t really reading, because “How we hold our reading materials, how we look at them, navigate them, take notes on them, share them, play with them, even where we read them—these are the categories that have mattered most to us as readers throughout the long and varied history of reading.”

When you think about what it means to read, how can e-reading not be reading?  Here’s what reading is: it’s your eyes looking rows of letters and your brain turning those letters into sounds and sounds into meaning.  It’s pretty amazing when you think about it.  So what part of e-reading is different from paper book reading?  Does turning a page mean you’re reading?  Breaking a spine?  To me it’s the letters and words that count.

Granted, children’s books are different.  For young kids, the experience of holding a book, turning pages, looking at illustrations, is a critical part of reading.  At work we call that pre-reading — did you know an infant chewing on a book corner is actually developing pre-reading skills?  Absolutely.  I wouldn’t trade paper children’s books for anything.  But I reject the idea that it’s the same for adults.

On a similar side of things, I wanted to share a nicely written post by fellow blogger Giraffe Days about her experiences with e-reading.  Reading on the e-reader doesn’t work for her, and it makes me realize how individual each reader’s experience is.  We all have different things about books that we love, and if for you it’s the feel of turning pages and the dusty smell of paper and ink, that’s great.  For me, after reading hundreds of books on my Kindle in the last three years, I have to say that the e-reader lets me read more and read better.  But, as I’ve said many times, that’s because most of my reading happens standing up on trains and buses and planes, and e-reading has made my reading life a hundred times easier. I also like the features that make me a better reader, like the ability to highlight, bookmark and search.  And the Kindle lets me be a better consumer, because I can read sample chapters before I buy.

I do think the kind of e-reader you use matters, and it matters how, where, and when you read.  I don’t want to read on an IPad and I don’t care for reading on my Kindle Fire.  Buttons or touch screen?  E-ink or backlit?  Large or small?  Dedicated reader or multi-use device?  All of those options impact your reading experience.  Just don’t tell me it isn’t reading.

A recent NPR article cited by Biblibio tells another story about e-reading and it’s one that I agree with.  We’re reading more, not less, and e-readers aren’t replacing books, just adding to our options.

I’m not here to say anyone should buy an e-reader.  It’s just that there’s an e-phobia out there I find hard to understand.  I don’t think e-readers are out to destroy the printed word.  And from what I hear, indie bookstores in this country are still doing well, in some cases even thriving because of the demise of the big box bookstore.

If an e-reader isn’t the reading experience you want, that’s great.  We can all co-exist.  But an article like the one in Slate that tells me I’m not really reading, when I’ve read more literature in the last three years than I have in the last fifteen?  Now you’ve gone too far.

So, happy holidays and to each his own on the e-reader question.  If you’re hoping for one, good luck.  I suspect this is the last year we’ll debate whether e-reading is really reading — but then again I thought we’d all be driving around in airships by now.

7 Responses to “Is E-reading really reading?”

  1. Shannon (Giraffe Days)

    The idea that reading an e-book on an e-reader isn’t reading is utter nonsense. The author of that ridiculous article sounds like nothing more than a shit-stirrer. I know I’m picky when it comes to format, but it’s just a different way of reading a book, like audiobooks (I suppose the author doesn’t think that’s reading either!).

    Brilliant post, love it. My only fear with e-books (so far unfounded) is that publishers will stop printing books and only release e-books (bye-bye choice), but so far there’s no sign that they plan to do that.

    • curlygeek04

      Thanks for your comment! I know there are indie and self-published books that are only e-published, but I figure those books wouldn’t be published at all otherwise. I think the interesting question is what’s happening with the big publishing houses.

  2. Redhead

    What Shannon said.

    if you are looking at letters that make words and sentences and paragraphs and a story, guess what? you are reading. Simple as that.

    E-readers aren’t for me (cuz I’m a dinosaur!), but if they work for you, then go for it! I am finding more and more smaller published stuff that so far is only available E, so one of these days I will have to get comfortable with reading off a screen.

    • curlygeek04

      Thanks for commenting! I know plenty of people who don’t want e-readers, but for me it’s the best invention ever. I think the e-published stuff you mention probably wouldn’t have been published in paper copy, so at least e-readers expand the field.

  3. Horror Crone

    Ditto Shannon and Redhead. I read one of those articles and thought it was a load of hogwash. I LOVE my eReader. I’m a big bed-reader, and I have several small lights to illuminate my page so my spouse can continue snoring peacefully beside me. I remember thinking back in the early 90’s how awesome it would be to have a book that lit itself and I wouldn’t have to turn the pages and reposition the book every few minutes. Did I mention I’m also hella lazy? Anyway, eReaders do that for me. I can read my book in bed while sipping a zinfindel and not expend any calories at all. And, if I do feel the urge for a workout, I can look at my magazines there as well (you have to turn pages within seconds; much more heart thumpingly energetic than books). So, go eReader!

    • curlygeek04

      Hello Horror Crone! The ease of reading one-handed does allow for zinfandel in bed… now why didn’t I think of that? I totally agree about bed-reading, the Kindle works so much better lying down than a paper book.

  4. Stephanie

    To say that e-reading is not really reading is ridiculous! To say that it’s not a true “reading experience” — OK, everybody can define that differently, and reading grew up on holding a book in your hands and smelling the pages, etc. So that may be reading’s “true,” sensory experience. But if you’re not reading when you’re using an e-reader, what on earth are you doing? It’s ridiculous.


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