Avid reader Christine Shaw Roome compares the feeling of reading an ebook to the experience of reading a traditional book. And the winner is…
I have finally read my first ebook. Being an advocate for the independent book store and a romantic when it comes to the antiquarian monograph, I was understandably resistant at first. But I am employed at an academic library and am consistently coming into contact with the digital versus the three dimensional hard copy.
Choosing a book was my first course of action. It had to be something that I either did not want in my living room library or at the very least one that I didn’t need to have. Since I was late to the table of ebooks, it is only fitting that I chose the first book of a series that has already been analyzed to death – Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. Donning my polarized post-colonial, feminist glasses, I set forth to read a novel whose contents I knew would contain dubious messages about race, femininity and masculinity.
I noticed many things about my e-reading experience. First and foremost, my eyes grew tired faster. This was particularly true of the days that I spent in front of the computer screen only to take a “break” from my work in order to look at yet another screen. This did not feel like reading a book. On one occasion, I was reading on the couch while my four-year-old was watching a YouTube video on my iPhone and my two-year-old was watching Cars on our iMac. My husband walked in the room de Apple and then promptly walked out muttering, “Well, I can see you are all busy with your technological devices. I’m going downstairs.”
I was huffy in my response, “I’m reading a book!” But, was I? I was missing the tactile features of the book, which often comfort me. The smell and feel of the book and the way you can see how far you’ve read by measuring the thickness of the pages. When I buy a book, I always take time to look at its design — the type face, the page weight and colour, the way the ends appear to be torn or are cut precisely. The texture of the cover and the photography or illustration that accompanies the title all draw me in and are part of the experience of enjoying a book. Sometimes, I buy a book just because I like how it feels in my hands.
There are many downsides to an ebook. Using a hair dryer on a wet e-reader does not have the reparative effects it does on pulped up fibers of wood, rags or grasses. Hence, I was paranoid to drink tea while using my iPad. Twilight is an easy-to-read page turner and I would often find myself glancing in the top-right hand corner to assess the remaining power. Paperbacks don’t need to be re-charged. Another minor irritation was the sensitivity of the screen. Sometimes pages would seem to turn independently.
Ebooks are also harder to lend out, pass on or share. Engrossed in my guilty pleasure narrative, force of habit would direct me to lick a finger to turn the page only to smudge the screen with my mucky prints. I was never bothered by an old food or coffee stain on the pages of a paper book, but I found that if my iPad screen was dirty I had to stop reading to make it pristine.
But, I don’t suppose it was all bad. Twilight boasts 544 pages of volatile romance between Edward, a stalker “vegetarian” vampire, and an incredibly insecure young woman, Bella, who is obsessed with being clumsy. My iPad was much thinner than the very thick novel and it was hands-free at the gym.
I had the added bonus of being able to track some of the words and expressions that both irritated and made me chuckle. For example, using the search function on my iPad, I was able to determine, in seconds, that Meyer used the word “smoldering” to refer to Edward’s eyes six times. She also described Edward as “perfect” 44 times. I have exact page references too, if you’re curious. I can’t abide by burning books and I even have troubles recycling the chewed up hard-to-read board books that have been devoured by my toddler. I haven’t done it, but somehow putting my electronic copy of Twilight in the desktop trash can doesn’t feel like book destruction. So, is this really a book?
At the end of the day, I can see the merit in using ebooks for textbooks and some non-fiction, but the next time my favourite author comes to town, I won’t be carting my iPad down for a signature.
“Portrait of the Author reading her iPad”, by Corbin Roome