Monday, 9 August 2010

How then shall we read?

I'm like most people older than, what, 20? 30? 45? who imagine they would rather read from a book any day than from a reading device. But what if that device closely resembled a book in texture, weight and palpability?

In spite of the fact that I'm intent on producing ebooks, I haven't warmed to any of the devices I've met so far, in life or (more largely) on screen. They seem a bit, well, forgive me, but, blokey. I mean designed by blokes. Unlike the men I know, they are hard, cold and rigid. If you caught them on the corner of the table they'd go clack.

I suspect that in a year or few, most of us will own more than one device on which to read ebooks. Prices will have plunged. One of those (come with me a moment on my small ereader fantasy) is the one we'll take with us to the beach, to the bath, to bed, to the sunny corner or the fireside — anywhere we wish to read undisturbed by incoming emails, skype bloops, or the flicker of the newest blog. It will come to be known as 'my book', and it will be just that, and 'my library'. A thousand books in one.

'My book' will be bendy; as light as a small paperback; of a size to be tucked into a handbag or jacket pocket. The cover (of a firm, fleshy texture) will be perfused with the cover of the novel/poetry volume/biography I am currently reading.  Alternately it will have an imperishable suede-like cover in, say, indigo or crimson.  When you catch 'my book' on the side of the table, it will go thugh.

What do you want, if we say that digital reading is an inevitability? What would be your device of choice? Connected or disconnected? Large or small, hard or soft, personal or impersonal?

If we dream strongly enough and talk longingly enough about the perfect reading device, about 'my book', someone will be compelled to go and create it. Won't they?

Now if it's given you an ache simply pondering the brave new world of ebooks, go and read Tim Jones's poignant little story, ironically online, on his blogsite of the same name, Books in the Trees.


Grace Dalley said...

I think there are huge battles being fought right now by the producers of e-readers, to try and capture the market. It has to do with a lot more than the physical feel of the device, but to do with usability, legibility, cost of the device, cost of the book-file, DRM, and other features within the device. Some people will want an e-reader that can perform other tasks, like an iPad.

And there are technical constraints. It may not be possible to make a soft, floppy e-reader for the same reason you can't buy a floppy laptop -- it just wouldn't work.

I think there will always be a market for books made of paper, but that market will continue to shrink.

I used to read e-books on my palm pilot, back in 2000. It was small, and a bit uncomfortable to hold, but it fitted in my pocket, and it also downloaded whole pages from newspapers I subscribed to. It was incredibly convenient. Using the "backlighting" setting, I could read it in the dark while my partner slept.

I think we have to stop wishing e-readers were like bound books, and work out how we can use their electronic capabilities to do new things.

Penelope said...

Thanks, Grace. Important points. Will say more in next blog.

Tim Jones said...

Thanks for the link, Penelope!

Pam Morrison said...

My book will go thwop (font size variable). It will be handled enough (by me) to feel something like my own skin, or at least one of my favourite familiars. I will grow to love it more and more, the more it delivers writings that please or inspire me. I will love the way I can change its font size (!) and yes, a setting to let me read under the covers, like I was doing all those decades ago with my torch.

Penelope said...

Hi Tim and Pam, nice to see you here. Pam, I think it might be like Slow Cooking; the edevice for Savouring Readers.