Monday, March 21, 2011

Column: The E-Book Experience by Linda Rohrbough

The Business of Writing:

The E-Book Experience

by Linda Rohrbough

Now that I’ve read several novels on e-book readers, both the Kindle and the iPad, I have some observations to make about the experience and how it’s different than reading books on paper.
I took advantage of my e-book readers while recovering from several surgeries this year. I noticed an e-book reader is lighter and easier to manage, especially when I’m tired or a little out of it. It was great to just touch a button or the screen and get a new page. I especially loved my iPad for this, propping it up using the stand I bought for it, and touching it with my finger when I wanted to turn a page. I found reading on the iPad with the stark white background hard on my eyes, until I learned I could change the background color of the paper to a light parchment.
However, one thing I find disappointing about the e-book experience is the loss of the anticipation that happens when I get close to the end of the book. Holding a book, I have continual tactile feedback for my progress, as the pages thin on the right side, building tension in the story as I get nearer to the end.
E-book readers don’t offer that tactile feedback. I can touch the screen to get a ruler of sorts that shows me what percentage of the book I’ve read and what’s left. But it’s not the same. I miss the anticipation, and didn’t realize how much a part of my reading experience that tactile feedback has been until I read e-books by some of my favorite authors.
One more point is you can’t get an e-book autographed, which is something I like to do since I know a lot of authors.
And e-books are tough to give as gifts. You can give someone a credit to buy their own e-book, but you can’t make sure they get the book you want them to have. This is a critical point, since the holidays are the biggie in publishing and a huge percentage of books purchased are sold during the months of November and December each year.
The other day, I told someone about a book I was reading and they asked to borrow it when I was done. But they didn’t have a Kindle Reader. That felt crummy. I didn’t realize how much connection there is in sharing books with friends.
However, I realized later there won’t be any friction in my friendships because autographed books was returned, got lost, or dropped in the bathtub. There’s a fourteen day loan on a Kindle book and then it’s mine to read or loan again. And now I’m hearing there are ways to share books with family members and borrow Kindle books from libraries. I love the inside of a library and checking out books. However, returning books is a pain and no trek to the book drop is very attractive.
My biggest gain overall with e-books is I can read without looking at the artwork on the cover. I create in my head images for the setting, the appearance of the characters, all of it. Back when I started reading as a child, books rarely had much art or even fonts on the cover unless they had a dust jacket, and I didn’t see those very often.
When all the artwork started on book covers, I found that a little disappointing. I try to ignore the art, though I come back at the end to see if what I have in my head matches up with what’s on the cover. But usually what’s in my head is better.
I said all that to say e-books give back to me the experience I had as a kid of making stuff up in my head. That’s true even with the iPad, where I can see the color front covers as icons, but without much detail. So I don’t have to work to hang on to what’s in to my imagination, which I like a lot better.
Bio:
Linda Rohrbough has been writing since 1989, and has more than 5,000 articles and seven books to her credit along with awards for fiction and non-fiction. Her latest book, co-authored with her surgeon, is Weight Loss Surgery with the Adjustable Gastric Band from Da Capo Press. She has an iPhone App of her workshop “Pitch Your Book” and her first novel The Prophetess I: At Risk, both coming out in Spring of 2011. Visit her website: http://www.lindarohrbough.com/