Wednesday, August 24, 2011

E-reading Revolution

I was lying in my bed reading one Saturday morning, the room all buttery and sunny. In came my daughter who plonked herself on the bed next to me. She wanted to show me her new iPhone. Being at that stage a customer service person at Telstra, she always had the latest. She blithely showed me a copy of Wuthering Heights that she’d downloaded for free.

Next she was clearly entertained by me, the sobbing wreck next to her. I was emotionally overwhelmed by the sci-fi idea that I could get a book on this palm-sized device. This was revolutionary, me in The Jetsons. Books have been my life. I love them. I’m surrounded by them at work, at home, on holidays. I simply have to read. I can’t function without books. And it was all changing.

This phone was amazing. Later, I met my daughter at her shop and signed up for my own iPhone. That was three years ago. (Good sales pitch, Didi.)

Still absolutely love the phone, love having access to all its cleverness, but I’ve only just got around to actually reading an e-book.

Sure, I’d downloaded Stanza, eReader and Kindle. Marvelled at the wealth of classics all there for me. Free. Notwithstanding the seventy bucks a month I’m still paying off to own the phone, the electricity to charge it, the potential brain cancer. But hey, Tarzan of the Apes at my fingertips.

I’d made a bit of a stab at A Tale of Two Cities, but didn’t get very far. I decided that I was more likely to read an e-book if I was reading something I really wanted to read. I bought Geraldine Brooks’ Caleb’s Crossing on Kindle – it was cheaper than the other e-readers – and started.

But it wasn’t that easy. A hard copy edition of The Fry Chronicles distracted me. Oh, and all three volumes of The Hunger Games. I kept making little forays into the e-book, on the tram, in a doctor’s waiting room. But it felt seriously odd reading the one paragraph that fit on the page then tapping it off to the left with my index finger. Four thousand more pages to go.

However, with sick determination – I actually was sick in bed – I poked my way into the story. Found myself tapping more quickly as the narrative drove me. Loved the convenience of being able to press on a word and instantly access a dictionary definition – although Brooks’ propensity for archaic words stymied me a few times.

I finally finished the story last Saturday, chasing the first bit of Melbourne spring sun across my garden. Kept my back to the sun and sheltered my little iPhone under the shadow of my chest. Yeah, slightly awkward but it did the trick.

The verdict? I love reading, paper or screen. Might even buy myself a Kindle for the sake of fitting a few more words at a time on the screen. Yes, there’s all that tactile stuff about reading, browsing the book section in shops, fondling, handling, sniffing – why not? - lining one's walls, writing notes in margins. I can make notes on an e-reader too, but don’t know how I’d go teaching a novel using an e-book. Don’t think it would work as well as my own paper text, stuffed with sticky-notes. Still, might give it a try.

New e-books are generally cheaper than hard copies but they’re single use really. I can’t share them around my family and friends in the same way, so if, say, I want my digitally challenged mum to enjoy something I’ve just read I’m going to end up buying a hard copy anyway.

Happily, at this stage I have a choice. I’d call that being able to have my cake and eat it too.

I'd welcome any suggestions re teaching print texts using e-readers, BTW.

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