Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A nerdy post about book formats

For my birthday last year, I got a Kindle. I toyed with it a bit and still rely on it when I travel, but Dennis has since become the power user of the Kindle. 

Our subscription account (originally Dennis's) is 5 years old, and I think Dennis got to pick 5 out of the 60 titles. In other words, I took over his audible account.

For my part, both the MP3 books and Kindle struck me as a great way to resolve the dilemma of what books could you not do without on a long business trip or vacation, and having to slight hardcover books because they would weigh you down traversing airports. And now, the idea of being green (and not boycotting bookshelf purchases) makes it even more attractive.

But I've discovered a couple of things about the way I absorb and appreciate narrative. The biggest downside of the Kindle, I found, is that I actually subconsciously recall and organize narrative by the physical progress I make through the book. I'm reading Zadie Smith's White Teeth (***) right now and I realized that I recall that Archie's story comes first, followed by Samad's, by the feel of the bulk of pages in my left hand. I'm also in the middle of John Le Carre's A Most Wanted Man (should be ****, but I'm experiencing it more like ***) on the Kindle, and discovered that I have a hard time recalling what events were revealed in what order--and this is one of my absolute favorite authors, so I really shouldn't have trouble being engaged. Finally, I just finished listening to Carolyn Chute's The School on Heart's Content Road (****)--a lyrical and unironic book written about a politically incorrect outsider community that in MP3 format took 17+hours to get through. But no problem recalling the narrative thread despite not having a book in my hands, perhaps because as I listen to these books I pay more attention (I tend to read very fast visually, whereas listening forces you to a certain pace) and I even remember the order of narrative by where or what time of day I was walking.

Which is all by way of acknowledging that even when it comes to what are arguably much more similar media--physical books and the Kindle--the way my mind processes information has very strong, and unexpected preferences. 

I wonder, even as we rush helter-skelter to a world without physical newspapers, physical bookstores, perhaps one day even no more paper books, whether we'll discover that content is not all, and that form does--or did--matter.


shade said...

Very interesting. I know that when leafing back through a book trying to find an earlier reference to a character or incident, I can often remember whether the relevant passage was on the left side (i.e., an even-numbered page) or right (odd), as well as whether it was at the top, middle or bottom of the page, but can't remember whether it was ten or two hundred pages back!

I haven't warmed to the Kindle. I started The Winds of War on it via the free first chapter download and found it tedious whereas on paper I immediately dug it.

My favorite e-book experience is using the amazon "Look Inside the Book" feature to make headway during idle office moments in books I'm reading at home. If you know the right tricks, you can often read 100 pages or more before it cuts you off.

mashenka@dc said...

I can remember where passages are on the page too. And I'm beginning to think that the contextual information (smells, temperature, touch) when I read becomes part of my experience of reading and adds to it ... Now if Kindle could figure out other contextual information (the way Amazon provides a different bookstore experience than physical bookstores), then maybe ...