Recently, Slate featured an excerpt from Andrew Piper’s book Book was There: Reading in Electronic Times. This excerpt was titled: Out of Touch: E-reading Isn’t Reading. The article goes on to describe how St. Augustine’s conversion came about because of reading, and to explain the profound importance of holding a book in your hands, a real book mind you, not an e-book. Using a lot of highfalutin words and distracting descriptions (at once describing a traditional book as a vertebrate animal, and an e-book as an invertebrate) mostly to complain about how reading on an e-reader is not real reading because of how your hands interact with the device. Up until recently, I would have agreed with Mr. Piper. Then, I got a Kindle, and while I agree that reading on the Kindle is different than reading a print book, I do believe that e-reading is still reading.
Mr. Piper talks about hands, how important they are, how reading a regular book allows your mind to wander and real learning to begin. These things still happen even with electronic books. Reading isn’t just about the physical experience, about reading the words on a page or feeling the paper underneath your fingers, reading is about mentally and emotionally engaging with an author’s work. There are many different kinds of reading; reading a comic book or a blog is completely different than reading a novel. I think what Mr. Piper is forgetting is that reading is an individual experience, and different people will relate to books in different ways. Would Mr. Piper also say that listening to an audiobook isn’t reading? While it may not fit the technical definition of reading that most people have, I’d argue that listening to an audiobook is still engaging in the author’s work, so yes, it is reading.
One part of Mr. Piper’s argument talks about how a print book fits in your hand, while an e-reader isn’t as natural. Well, I actually have found the opposite to be true. My Kindle has a 7 inch display screen and fits in my hands better than most hardcover books. I can hold the Kindle with one hand, and maneuver around the cats who like to jump on and off my lap. Reading on the Kindle is intuitive; swiping my hand across the screen to turn the page reminds me of traditional print books. I find reading on the Kindle kind of exciting, and a little more accessible then reading a print book. I can see how children would be especially drawn to using e-readers, and I think that these are a way that we can reach reluctant readers of all ages. If we as book lovers treat e-book readers as though they are not really reading, how many potential readers are we going to discourage?
Another argument Mr. Piper makes is that it’s easier to tell how much of a print book you’ve read because you can physically see how much is left behind your bookmark. My Kindle tells me what percentage of the book I’ve finished just by pressing the screen once, so I can easily see how much I have left to read. Again, it is different than seeing the pages left before me, but the process bar at the bottom still gives me a sense of how much I have left.
I’ve only read a few books on my Kindle, but I am about 36% of the way done with a new one, and I can’t wait to get back on the Kindle and keep reading.