The Book Catapult

What Kind of Reader Are You, Anyway?

NYT, Brian Snyder/Reuters

I think I’ve stumbled onto actual written proof of the fundamental difference that I’ve always believed existed between the readers of traditional paperbound books and the eBook reader: highlighted in technology writer Nick Bilton’s article for the New York Times, Deciding on a Book, and How to Read It. Bilton took up the noble cause of reading a book – the same book, Caleb Carr’s The Alienist – on a variety of electronic devices (as well as a paperback version) to decide which one gave him the best reading experience.


Pretty much right away, I could tell that this guy was a different reader than myself. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – I’m just sayin’. His biggest complaint about the Kindle was the lack of internet browser: “you can’t hop off to the Web to look up facts, which I often wanted to do when reading a historical novel.” When I read, I use that time as a chance to disengage from the digital world I spend so much of my waking day in. (I mean, look at me right now, typing this over breakfast before I go to work as the web coordinator at the store.)

As for reading on his phone (an experience that makes my skin crawl):

Despite the small screen on a mobile phone, I find reading on one to be simple and satisfactory. Maybe this is because I have become accustomed to mobile screens, using them for hours at a time to check the news, sift through e-mail and navigate social networks.

To me, again, the reading experience warrants unplugging, especially from devices that have access to other bits of information. If I were to be reading a book on my phone, what’s stopping me from checking my Twitter feed after 10 seconds? I can better understand the Kindle, actually, as a dedicated reading device, free from the distractions of the interweb. Nick’s Apple iPad experience illustrated that difference as well:

…iPads offer an immersive reading experience. I found myself jumping back and forth between my book and the Web, looking up old facts and pictures of New York City. I also found myself being sucked into the wormhole of the Internet and a few games of Angry Birds rather than reading my book.

This is the big difference, to me – the “immersive experience,” as he calls it. The pages of a book are much more immersive for me than anything the internet can offer. Even when just browsing websites, I’m continuously distracted from whatever is right in front of me & I often drift off down some other rabbit hole of nonsense. This tends to not happen when I’m reading a regular book. (Maybe this would be the case with a dedicated eReader as well.) In the end, his experience with the paperback was the most telling:

For the last chapters of the book, I read the paperback. It took barely a paragraph for me to feel frustrated. I kept looking up things on my iPhone, and forgetting to earmark my page.

There’s clearly a place for both types of reader out there – those that, like Nick, prefer an experience where the reader is willing to be distracted (maybe a poor choice of wording, that) and those, like myself, who feel that the experience of reading an unplugged, printed book is fully immersive in itself.

By the way, this article also ran in the paper version of the New York Times on Thursday, August 11. That’s got to mean something, I just don’t know what.
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7 comments on “What Kind of Reader Are You, Anyway?

  1. Bridget Sharp
    August 11, 2011

    I was thinking about this subject today on my way back from lunch, where I read on my nook the entire time. I was dining alone, mind you. When people ask, “What book are you reading?” is my answer, “nothing.” I'm not reading an actual book. Just stories on ereaders.
    For a person with two jobs and zero free time,I will take reading wherever ever I can get it. And many times, that is on my phone. In the potty. Let's be honest, we all love it. Thanks for the comparisons!

  2. Seth Marko
    August 11, 2011

    But how well do you concentrate on what you're reading, B? That was what I was getting at – this guy admits to being easily distracted by Angry Birds when “reading” on his ereader. Do you find yourself fully immersed when reading on your Nook? More or less so than with paper books? I get it, actually, the idea that reading is reading is appealing, of course. I love that people are still reading, but I honestly wonder how much they're actually engaging with the words when there's so much more flitting around in front of them.

  3. Ike
    August 11, 2011

    I think this distinction (I'm hesitant to call it a critique) applies to the Ipad (and maybe the Nook color) much more than it does to the more dedicated devices like the Kindle. I identify myself as someone with a foot in both camps, and I'm reluctant to say that this needs to be an either-or situation. The only 'connected' features I use in my Kindle (other than highlighting the occasional passage for later perusal or reference is the built-in dictionary, which is quite handy and, in my experience, less distracting than going to an actual dictionary. Other than that, I read books pretty similarly whether it's in e- or paper form. Then again, Words with Friends games do tend to interrupt my evening reading, whether paper or otherwise, so I guess I'm guilty on that count.

  4. Amy
    August 11, 2011

    Say what?? I read on a Kindle often – mostly because I travel for weeks at a time for work and I quickly run out of suitcase space. And I sometimes read on my iPhone just because it's there and hey, if I run out of paper books I will read anything anywhere! But stopping to look things up on the web? And being frustrated he can't with paper books? Jeeeeez. No no no no no. I start reading and I'll tune out the world and realize when someone scares the life out of me tapping my shoulder that everyone else on the flight has already deplaned and I didn't notice. You can't keep me out of a book to search things. How ridiculous!

  5. Emily
    August 12, 2011

    It absolutely baffles me that he sees reading on an iPad as an “immersive reading experience” even though he readily admits to getting “sucked into the wormhole of the Internet and a few games of Angry Birds” while “reading.” Instead of proving that electronic devices make for better reading experiences, I think he just proved he has ADHD.

    I have a nook, and while it is not the same experience as reading a paper book, I get just as immersed in what I'm reading. Of course, I don't use it as a means of distraction, either.

    Interesting article. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Anonymous
    August 12, 2011

    is it possible to read say “War & Peace” and play Angry Birds as you read “War & Peace” ? it seems really subjective, but personally I remember the speed reading craze of the early 60's, mostly because JFK was a speed reader…and the comment was from a famous speed reader, “War & Peace” it was about Russia……well I read War & Peace 2 times now, about 15 years apart, and it is not just about Russia in my opinion or I would not have read it twice.

  7. Ruby
    August 23, 2011

    “forgetting to earmark my page”?! *cringe*

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This entry was posted on August 11, 2011 by in http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, Kindle.
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