Reading Paper is Weird

I read in my free time. I don’t think I read a ton: I average between 12-30 books a year. Some of the books I pick up are just long reads (R.R. Martin, Rutherfurd, Michener) while others I rip through mercilessly (Grisham, Tolkien, Rowland, Massey) and manga is almost immediately consumed, but the one thing that I’ve noticed across all of my reading is that I’ve long since abandoned the paper-based book.

For the last few years, whatever books I’ve been have typically been consumed using an eBook reader on an iPad mini with Kindle or some other software. Manga I read on a Surface RT because it has a larger screen than the mini yet is still very lightweight compared to full laptop PC’s.

In fact, there have been very few books that I’d consider reading on paper. The ones that get through the embargo are mostly tech books because it’s really hard to fit even a single page of a larger book into an 8″ display and still have it be legible. Even on the Kindle reader, I’m typically 2 or 3 clicks away from the smallest font, to get as much text on the page as possible.

However, occasionally a book comes along that simply isn’t available in electronic format. I know, you’d think this impossible. And why would I want to reach a book that has committed the cardinal sin of being analog only?! Simply put, old books that are long out of print. One example is Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story by Cameron Crowe which I’ve only successfully tracked down from the local library. I mean, Amazon third party people want $70-$180 for a copy, which feels like a lot. The book has been out of print for forever and while you know and love the movie, the book is a bit different. In fact, the story behind the book is what hooked me. Crowe went to a local high school “undercover” and watched, well, everything that went on for a single year, which became the foundation for the movie but – as is often the case – the book goes way, way deeper into the year long gig. I enjoyed it so much that I actually pinged Crowe’s literary manager, asking them to re-release the book in electronic form but sadly, I don’t think it will ever happen. Another example is the book I’m reading now, What? Dead Again? by Dr. Neil Shulman which was the basis for the movie Doc Hollywood. Yeah, I know, I see the trend too, but that’s not germane to the conversation. This comedic book was released in 1979 and the experience is a repeat of Crowe’s movie/book: the book goes deeper than the movie which I felt made it worth my while.

But this post isn’t about that either. No, this post is about how… how frustrated I’ve become with reading paper-based books, even though it’s all I had for the majority of my life, and I’m amazed that I don’t feel ashamed by it.

Maybe I shouldn’t. For a long time, I’ve taunted people when they claim that “curling up next to the fire with a good, hefty book in your lap, lazily turning the pages is something you can’t replicate with electronics.” I mean, it’s true, I guess. But you can lazily slide the page over which should suffice so screw that.

You see, by reading the What? Dead Again? book, it has exposed some habits that I’ve developed while reading electronic books that I can live with out but don’t want to live without. For example:

  • This morning, after reading a chapter or two, I realized that I wasn’t aware of what time it was, so I instinctively looked to the upper left corner of the book, to see what time it was. The book looked back at me and said “hey, idiot, there are no clocks in books! Get your fsckin’ Kindle if you want to know what time it is.” I was not amused by this.
  • Last night I wanted to read in bed and realized that I had to leave the light on to read. The book didn’t mocked me this time but I found that I was very annoyed with all the “ambient” light and went to bed much later because I wasn’t getting sleep in the sunlight.
  • And in that bright light I was able to bask in all of the random stains on the open pages because this library book is old. Like first released to the stack of Burien Library in 1980 old. I know this because the checkout sheet (complete with handwritten tallies) is still attached to the first page of the book.
  • Then when I went to go to sleep, the book slid to the side and closed before I could note what page I was on, leaving me with no clue as to where I was supposed to resume reading from.
  • Bookmarks?! I mean, really?!
  • At some point, there was a word that I didn’t recognize. I actually pressed-and-held it for at least a second before I realized that there’s no damned dictionary popup that’s going to open.
  • Which later dovetailed into “I wonder what that was about” and realized that Wikipedia was going to require something cellular and electric before I could research it. At least I didn’t tap the page this time.

Yes, all of these things actually happened in the last three days. I’ve also been confused by the extra weight in my bag because paper weighs way more than the iPad mini does, but I remind myself that I should know that and expect it. I mean, unless you’re reading listening to an audio book, it doesn’t matter which version you’re reading: be it analog or digital, if you drop the book on your face while you’re reading it, it’s going to hurt. A lot.

Oh, and you can quite easily bring an iPad mini when you’re fireside, so I call bunk on that theory; it’s only by the pool that an iPad falls short and that’s what eInk Kindles are for!


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