Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Curling up with a good book e-reader

Since purchasing a Kindle a few years ago, I've switched almost completely to e-books rather than paper. The exceptions would be quilting books, cookbooks and anything else heavy on illustrations or used primarily for reference.

I can honestly say I've read more in the last two years than in the two years before that, as the e-reader makes books much more portable and available. There is never a time when I do not have access to reading material; even when I don't have the actual Kindle with me, the application is available on my phone or ipod, or, for that matter, on any available computer.

This is all good, wouldn't you think?

Tim Challies linked to an article today from the Scientific American that comes to the conclusion it may not be, at least not if you are planning to understand and retain what you read. Not having the tactile input of paper, approaching screens with a different state of mind than we look at paper and the extra effort it takes mentally to use a screen apparently all play into our ability to retain the information we read via an e-reader.

From my own experience, I can give a resounding "maybe" to those propositions. I do read differently on the Kindle, particularly if I'm reading non-fiction. When highlighting on paper, I retain a sort of mental picture of the way the highlight looks on the page - position, straightness (or lack thereof) of the lines, color of highlight. That mental picture makes it easy to go back and find a passage, without necessarily needing to read each highlight until I find the information I seek. I "recognize" the manner of highlighting before I actually recognize the text.

Not so on the Kindle.

The "highlights" on a traditional Kindle appear as underlines - a bit hard to see if you are flipping back several screens to find a given highlight. All highlights can be accessed via a menu, which will show them in page order, complete with the first several lines of the highlighted text. It's taken two years, but using the menu rather than trying to search through the text has finally become habit.

The Kindle Fire isn't much better. While the highlights appear as actual highlights in the text, their position on a "page" isn't necessarily static. If you change the font size, move among bookmarks or (I swear) simply breathe on it, the relative position on the the page of a highlight will change. So again, back to the menu to do a more targeted search.

It's still all good. Using an e-reader may take a different set of skills, but once those are developed, the content of the books make their way to our minds.

And that's the goal of it all, right?


Katharine said...

I never thought I'd use an e-reader,(I love the feel of a paperback in my hands) but I must say I love my Kindle!

melissa said...

That's pretty interesting...the part about needing to actually hold a book.

I enjoy my Kindle, esp. downloading free books, but much prefer the old-fashioned way. To flip through pages, hunting down things and to underline with a real pencil are things I'd never give up.

But I get the enthusiasm of both. My husband uses the e-reader feature on his phone, which I don't get at all. Size for one thing!