I came across this article in the UK Guardian a couple weeks ago. Writer Paul Mason contends, “Yet with the coming of ebooks, the world of the physical book, read so many times that your imagination can ‘inhabit’ individual pages, is dying.” He cites a couple examples of how in just about any edition of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow or Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, he can easily find certain key scenes that stick in his mind.
I became curious about this because if it’s true, it might change the way that writers write ebooks eventually. I know I’ve run into certain issues as a reader and a writer with ebooks that make me think that they are not suited for every book. For instance, table top style books I’ve written (No North, No South… and The Last Fall) have formats that don’t translate well to ebook styles. Their two-column formats aren’t linear and sidebars don’t seem to work well on smaller ereaders.
Mason’s article talks about the short attention span people have developed and because of the Internet and their tendency to skim read web pages. He feels that both of these factors play into reading ebooks, particularly when it’s on a device that many times can also play movies and games. I agree with this. It’s one of the reasons I’ve resisted to urge to get a Kindle Fire. My Kindle Keyboard is just an ereader so I know when I pick it up, I’m going to read.
In response to a readers having a short attention span, Mason writes, “Every major publisher has experimented with short stories, serialised fiction, anthologies and mid-range ‘e-only’ books. By contrast, experiments with fictional forms that only work for ebooks and hypertext have failed to make the big time.”
The context of the article made me think that Mason’s doesn’t think this is the best approach. While I’m still a big reader of novels, I love the shorter novellas that some authors put out. For one thing, it’s very inexpensive and allows me to decide whether I like the writer’s style. I also think that it has led to a resurgence of short fiction in a manner that actually is profitable for the author.
Mason then suggests that the ereader is beginning to change reading habits. “It’s probably too soon to generalise but my guess is, if you scooped up every book – digital and analogue – being read on a typical Mediterranean beach, and cut out the absolute crap, you’d be left with three kinds of writing: first, ‘literary’ novels with clearer plots and than their 20th century predecessors, less complex prose, fewer experiments with fragmented perception; second, popular novels with a high degree of writerly craft (making the edges of the first two categories hard to define); third, literary writing about reality – the confessional autobiography, the diary of a journalist, highly embroidered reportage about a legendary event.”
So do you think ereaders have changed your reading habits? I don’t think mine have changed too much. However, I am much more willing to try out new authors and I have found some that I enjoy and have left their books on my Kindle along with my favorite authors that I used to read in a physical editions.
Here’s the link to Mason’s article if you want to read it yourself.