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My Name is Kate Wilson and I Am a Print Reader

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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?

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No Responses to “My Name is Kate Wilson and I Am a Print Reader”

  • I totally agree about preferring to read the printed page.
    As someone who regularly downloads music and movies. Who owns an I phone, I pad, and Mac, I thought I would embrace reading electronically- but no.
    I agree with your daughter about ‘owning’ the book when its in print.
    I love books- I love the feel of them, the smell of them (is that weird?!) They tempt me to read them. An e book just doesn’t.

    Maybe it’s because I’m an artist but that’s how I feel.
    I recently went on holiday and read 3 book for the first time in years (now the kids are older) . I suspect a kindle wouldn’t have grabbed me as much- and yes I did discuss titles with my fellow holiday makers.
    Incidentally the book were- Stonemouth -Iain Banks
    Lucky Bunny- Jill Dawson
    Gold by Chris Cleave
    My soon to be 11 year old wants a kindle for her birthday. I wonder now if she will enjoy it as much….

  • You can tell your daughter that putting her Kindle under her pillow won’t break it – I do it all the time!

    Having said that however, I feel the same. I much prefer to read in print and only buy ebooks for two reasons: 1. we don’t have much space in our flat and 2. they are cheaper/easier to get hold of sometimes (I am one of these people that MUST have the next book RIGHT AWAY – it happened recently with Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler series).

  • I’ve actually found that I read more now that I have a Kindle and that it has really broadened the types of books I read – last week I read a whole book about Kenyan running; I can barely run round the block! I have a long commute each day, and limited space in my handbag so for a me a Kindle is perfect. I do love the physicality of printed books, especially beautifully designed and illustrated books, but for everyday reading I can’t beat my Kindle!

  • There seem to be so many elements of the printed book that we are used to and have taken for granted in the past but that we come to realise we love. Everybody seems to have their individual thing, your daughter said about putting a book under her pillow when she goes to sleep – and what you said about how you want to read a book more if you have spent time buying the physical thing.

    I haven’t got a Kindle yet (probably will get one at some point for travelling etc) but the thing I would miss would be reading in the bath. I’m thinking that’s a bit risky with a Kindle, for personal safety reasons and for the lifespan of the Kindle! (I have a large collection of slightly wrinkled books that have been accidentally dipped in bathwater.)

  • I don’t actually own a kindle yet as I am a bit of a laggard when it comes to technology and I do like the tactile experience of reading. But we do own a family Ipad now so I can finally buy some lovely Nosy Crow apps and try them out on my niece!

  • I totally agree with you. I have about 20 ebooks lined up for review, but I find myself putting them off in favour of my print books. I totally agree with your daughter too – a print book feels like mine, i can touch it, smell the pages, delve inside it. The e-reader seems more formal and less interactive. I have browsed in a bookshop then ordered on Amazon – but the copy from Amazon is still the paperback copy – it’s just cheaper that way.
    The only e-books I do read are the review ones I get sent by publishers, I have never bought one!

    Great post, interesting to see other peoples answers. :D

  • I totally agree with the ownership issue that your daughter brings up, Kate. Loving books for me is also a physical thing. I love and admire them as objects too, and you just can’t get that with an ebook reader. I have an ipad, and I am yet to read anything on it.

  • Really interesting post and comments. I agree with everybody’s reasons as to why reading print books is a more satisfying experience. For me, another reason to read print books is that I get to keep the book afterwards and have it there on the shelf. It gives me a sense of achievement to be able to SEE all the books I’ve read (sad, probably, but true). I also love that collector’s thrill of being able to put the new Zadie Smith, for example, next to the others, and be reminded when I see them all lined up together of where and when I read each one and the response I had to it. I love the physical marks that a reader leaves on a book – the creased spines, turned-down corners, notes in the margin, inscriptions from gift-givers. I have books that belonged to my grandparents and my parents, and I am now passing on my childhood books to my children as they get to the right age for them. I just don’t think you can have that sense of your history as a reader in the same way if you don’t have the physical objects to remind you.

  • I can see why you’ve reached over 1 million page views. You have such engaging posts; it’s hard not to come back regularly to read and comment on them. Congratulations!

    As for this post, I have to agree with you and everyone else, and I’d like to add a few observations of my own.

    1) While I do enjoy my e-reader, I find that I pretty much only buy e-books that are inexpensive (half the price of a paperback typically) and that I only plan to read once. That in itself doesn’t say much for the technology, in my opinion.

    2) The book form hasn’t changed for centuries. Now, within the last few years at least, it seems to be changing daily. Enhanced displays, 3G, 4G LTE, synchronization across multiple devices, back lightning, improved battery life, competing price drops, and new products entering the market every other month … after a while it becomes maddening. I just want to read some stories.

    3) Not long ago a friend asked if I’d read her book and let her know what I thought of it. I said sure and asked her where I could purchase a copy. Turned out it was only available on Amazon as an e-book. I owned a nook, which doesn’t support Amazon’s e-book format, so I couldn’t read it. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that problem, because a book should not be a piece of proprietary software. Books are meant to be shared.

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