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Posted by Kate, September 24, 2012

My Name is Kate Wilson and I Am a Print Reader

At the weekend, I read this blog post by a reader who finds books on her Kindle less compelling than printed books… so she finds she has a lot of unread stuff on her Kindle as she’s distracted by the print titles she has to hand.

I rather hesitate to admit it, but I think that perhaps I feel the same. Regular readers of this blog may vaguely remember a blog post I wrote in summer 2011. It was really about Frances Spufford’s engaging and clever book, The Child That Books Built, but the post was illustrated with a photograph of the 33 print books (and we had two Kindles and an iPad too) that we had, as a family of four, taken on holiday. That holiday, I read a lot.

But this year when we went on holiday, while the children did bring print books, Adrian and I brought a single paperback each and a Kindle each. The result? We read for pleasure much, much less (and we worked much more) than we had the previous year. Somehow, not having the shelf of books catching your eye in the holiday cottage made reading for pleasure less of a temptation. And we hadn’t gone through that process of selecting and buying books especially for the holiday: we’d chosen the cottage in part because it had Wi-Fi so we knew that we could download anything to the Kindle whenever we wanted to. But somehow, we never did want to: there was always an email to answer or a blog-post to write or an article or manuscript to read (of course, reading manuscripts is reading too, but it’s not reading for pleasure). I hadn’t sort of committed to any books before I left for the holiday, and that meant I read less.

In the course of the holiday, I started a couple of ebooks, but I have to admit that the only book I finished was the print one, which was Thinking Fast and Slow as it happens. It’s actually a good example of the kind of book I’d only buy in print form. I have had bad experiences of buying the kind of books that require tables and diagrams or pictures or columns (as Thinking Fast and Slow does) in ebook form, and now I never take the risk: it annoys and baffles me that publishers make available ebook versions of books as varied as Guy Deutcher’s The Unfolding of Language or Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle’s Down With Skool that are, in parts at least, unreadable. Sorry – tangential grouch over.

I don’t dislike reading ebooks, and there are places – public transport, for example – when I really only read books now on my phone or my Kindle. And of course I understand – and speak publicly about – all the advantages of ereading, But I don’t seem to find ebooks as tempting as print books. Is it just because I can’t see them? But I am “tempted” equally by chocolate “hidden” in the fridge and chocolate on my desk, so I don’t think it can be that simple.

You may, rightly, think that I am knocking on a bit, so I might be struggling to adjust to reading ebooks. I don’t think that’s the issue. But, in any event, I asked my elder child, who’s 13 and who has a Kindle (she got one for Christmas 2011: she really wanted one), why she preferred to read print books rather than ebooks (and she manifestly does). She said, “I don’t feel that ebooks are ‘mine’ in the same way that print books are: reading ebooks is like having a library card with Amazon. I read before I go to sleep and I put the (print) book under my pillow, but I’d be worried about crushing the Kindle if I did that to the Kindle. I like seeing how books are presented – what the jackets are like – particularly through time. For example, I like comparing my Folio edition of Bleak House with the paperback I have. Then there are books that you can’t get in ebook form at all, like The Gruffalo. And you can’t browse in Amazon like you can browse in a bookshop.” I asked if she ever thought that she might see a book in print form in a book shop and then order it on Amazon. She wasn’t aware that she could do this, but she didn’t seem gripped by the idea.

I’m aware that it’s odd that a strong advocate for reading digitally (particularly enabling children to have compelling reading experiences on tablet devices), should be a bit draggy-feet-y when it comes to ereading myself, but the Fluttering Butterflies blog post about the draw of print books relative to the draw of ebooks did chime with me, so I thought I would be honest.

This is my experience. What’s yours?