How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love E-Reading: A Teen Tech Week Post

I’ll admit it: I don’t like to do what everyone else does. I waited forever to join online social networks (by the time I got on MySpace, the rest of the world was on Facebook); I scoffed at the cost of the first iPods while happily polishing my scratched CDs; and I was known to hug and pet books in my book collection even while my friends were raving about e-readers. I certainly never thought I’d be excited to hear that the Harry Potter series is (finally!) being released as e-books–but I let out a “squee!” along with everyone else. How was I, a confirmed lover of paper, ink, and the smell of books, converted to The Dark Side, you may wonder? Well, it all began with a long Russian novel.

Right around the time I got a brand-new Kindle (2nd generation) as a birthday gift, I was attempting to read The Brothers Karamazov. “Attempting” is the operative word, because I balked every time I saw its hulking mass on my nightstand (or tried to hold it up while reclining in bed). I decided to try it on the Kindle. Which brought me quickly to…

Reason #1 to love e-reading: a small, light device

Take that, Dostoevsky! You’ll never cause me carpal tunnel again! And once I was liberated from needing a pillow prop for a big book, I realized that there were all kinds of advantages to reading on a single surface that didn’t require a special angle to stay visible. I’d quickly stumbled upon…

Reason #2 to love e-reading: look Ma, no hands!

Suddenly, I found myself with way more reading time. I’d never liked wrangling a book while eating, but setting down the Kindle and turning pages with one poke made it easy. I’d also been taking ages to finish a book due to my compulsive note-taking. Unable to let a favorite quote or thought go unrecorded, I lost a lot of time with pens and post-its. But the Kindle had me covered: I could highlight and store favorite quotes with barely a second lost. I also saved a lot of time not having to look up words, which brings me to…

Reason #3 to love e-reading: the built-in functions of a mini computer

Can I just stop here and nerdily gush about having a built-in dictionary? Just point the cursor at an unknown word and the definition will appear. Words that I would have skipped over are now added to my vocabulary, because, again, it only takes seconds. Want to know the passages referenced in the discussion questions of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (nominated for a 2011 Alex Award)? No worries–each question includes a hyperlink back to the appropriate page. What about how much coffee Mikael consumed in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? There’s a search function: “coffee” appears 117 times. Now, TGWTDT was a natural page-turner, but I still read it much faster than I expected, and that brings me to my final and most nebulous discovery…

Reason #4 to love e-reading: the flow

Without a physical feel for how many pages I’d read and how many were left, I felt like e-books pulled me through the story in a much different, and more powerful, way. I don’t know the science behind this feeling — if it has to do with page size, white space, or just the removal of the book as an object of a certain size or time commitment. It was easier to sink in and read at a nonstop pace, experiencing the story as a flow rather than a series of hops, skips and jumps.

True confession: In spite of all these compelling reasons, I never did finish The Brothers Karamazov. But I zoomed through The Mockingbirds (which made the 2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults list), Ender’s Game (a book I’d been meaning to read for years and an Outstanding Book for the College Bound),  Anna and the French Kiss, and Okay for Now (both Best Fiction for Young Adults nominations). Now that Amazon is (finally!) offering e-books for library lending, I search for those before I head for the library shelves. And don’t even get me started on how many books I can have with me when I travel. Yep, I’ve almost fully converted to the Dark Side, and not even Harry can win me back — though you can bet I’ll be re-reading his adventures via e-book.

— Becky O’Neil, currently reading Unbroken, by Lauren Hillenbrand

15 thoughts on “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love E-Reading: A Teen Tech Week Post”

  1. I have not yet gone to the dark side, but you’re making it seem more and more attractive. Next thing I know, I’ll be speaking Parseltongue and cavorting with Jabba the Hutt.

  2. Great post! Gotta love e-books. But shame on you for not finishing Brothers Karamazov – one of the greatest novels ever written. ;-)

  3. I read 3 in a row once (yes, I feel the zoom and consume thrill too) and the headache was extreme. E-books work well for me of fiction and biography. I almost always hate them for non-fiction though since I often like to jump around in those books more, go backwards to check graphs and tables etc. More than the format though I worry about the direction that ebooks move us away from libraries and bookstores. I think the world of literature is going to shrink immeasurably when “Amazon recommends” becomes the new guide to what’s out there.

    1. @Kris, I like your distinction between fiction and nonfiction. I agree that paging back for charts and graphs is much easier in a print book. I’ve also noticed that footnotes can be less accessible in e-books (sometimes appearing at the end of a chapter instead of the bottom of a “page”). Additionally, I usually remember if something of note was on the top or bottom of a page, and this placement sometimes seems to shift on different Kindle viewings. I wonder why this is. Also, I don’t think libraries and ebooks are mutually exclusive, but publishers still have a lot of accessibilty issues to work out in terms of lending ebooks. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

      1. When you talk about Amazon lending books, do you mean with Amazon Prime memberships? I also saw on their website that they have a program through the Cloud that works with libraries that have Overdrive. I am at a Secondary library in Korea so those programs don’t work for me, but it is still nice of them to offer those options. I’m very curious (understatement!) about the future of books, ebooks, libraries, bookstores, ereaders. I know that they don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but in all honesty they do set up divisions.

        1. Yep, when I talked about Amazon lending books to libraries, I was referring to Overdrive. It’s too bad you can’t utilize it in Korea! It’s really taken off as a way for public libraries to offer ebook lending. Amazon only recently began sharing its Kindle-format files with libraries; before that, Kindle-using library patrons had to purchase ebooks on their own. Even now, publishers’ choices about digital rights management are creating the divisions you mentioned — a troubling thing for libraries, who champion equal access. When a library purchases a print book, they essentially own that object, but when it’s only a licensed file, the rules can be changed by the seller at any time. This is where the slope gets reaaaally slippery, IMHO. There is an interesting roundup of where some of the larger publishers stand on ebook lending here.

  4. My comment is something that I read from a poet (Billy Collins?) upset with how e-readers will reformat poems, subverting the sometimes highly structured appearance of a poem on a physical page (think e e cummings).

    1. Yeah, it sounds like poetry (and any work where form is as important as content) is still tricky to format in an unchangeable way. This post from January talks about the challenges; it seems poets in the ebook world almost need to be coders as well. Definitely a pitfall of poetry via e-reader…

  5. For library use, I love the idea of lots of books in a tiny space but am perturbed that the circ period can’t flex. Once the book is checked out it’s out for the whole circ period regardless of how fast the reader finishes. That severely impacts how many patrons can access the book. My readers often turn books around in 2-3 days and the book goes immediately to the next reader.

    For personal use, I love my Nook Tab but am sad that I cannot loan a book to a student without loaning them my Nook (which ain’t gonna happen!!)

    1. The circ period can flex. Depending on the device and program people are using for their ebooks, returning them can occur in different ways, but library patrons can return ebooks early. For instance if you are reading library books on a Kindle and you finish early, all you need to do is log into your amazon account so you can “manage your kindle”. Then you can select the book you want to return and send it back. With a nook you can do this using Adobe Digital Editions, which is the program you use to transfer the books from the computer to the Nook. Using the overdrive app you can do it directly on the app I think.

      1. Interesting. My public library uses Overdrive (and earlier used Ingram) and in both cases, I could delete it from my device to free up space but it wasn’t available for other patrons until the circulation period ended. I could “return” it early and free it up if I had not yet downloaded – but once downloaded, it was stuck.

        Perhaps that was a local system issue.

        1. That could be, but also keep in mind that deleting it from the device does not return it early either way. You have to actively go into one of those programs to do so. I do think this is a newer update on the overdrive app, but it is definitely there on Adobe Digital Editions and in the Amazon account for kindle. Its a bit of a pain, but I suppose it is easier then driving to the library to return a book is.

  6. What a witty, fun and concise applause for e-readers. I am a friend of your Aunt Carol’s, and am “much impressed ” with your article! I am, also, electronically challenged, and needed a reason to pick up a kindle. You used examples of why I should that work for me. Thanks for the nudge. You write beautifully. Loved it!!

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