Why the iPad is a (Mostly) Awesome Reading Experience

The Fellowship of the RingI have now read an entire book on my iPad. I’d started Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi and gotten a fair way into it, but I ended up getting distracted by other books and not coming back to it. (Great book from what I’d read, though–the fault in me not finishing that one is all mine.) But my library has this beauty of an offering: we have an account with Overdrive that lets patrons download audiobooks and ebooks from home. You get to keep them for a week or two, and then the file stops working. Better yet, there’s an Overdrive app, so I can get the books really easily on my iPad. First up: The Fellowship of the Ring.

I have a confession to make: I typically only buy books by authors I know these days. I know many librarians who are absolute book-aholics, buying tons of them. I wish I could. But when I work in a library and have access to all those books every day, I just don’t feel the need to personally possess them. It’s a lot like how I’ve stopped buying DVDs now that I have Netflix. Yes, I still buy certain films, but for the most part, I don’t. Why buy something when I can stream it instantly, or when I can have it in my home in two days anytime I want? But I buy books by authors I know because . . . well, I know them. I like to support friends.

Anyway. This is just to say that using my iPad as an ereading device wasn’t going to happen if I had to shell out $15 for digital copies of books. But using it to get library books from home? That makes it a whole lot more reasonable in my miserly mind. Now that I’ve read a book on it, here are my observations:

  • ebooks don’t really feel that much different than physical books. It’s a tad harder to feel like you’re making progress in the book (no physical feel of one side getting thicker while the other gets thinner), but other than that, I was reading, plain and simple. For me, when I’m really reading, the book disappears in my hand, and I’m totally into the story, somehow seeing and interacting with characters in a way that’s hard to explain. (It’s this sensation that served as the basis for an entire novel of mine: Ichabod.) As long as the medium doesn’t get in the way of that sensation, then what does it matter what medium it is?
  • An backlit screen is awesome for reading in bed when you’re married. I mean, epic awesome. For the past ten years, whenever I’ve really wanted to stay up reading, I have to go to another room eventually. Even reading lights are pretty light, after all. With my iPad, I just turn off my light and keep reading. That was pretty cool. I know some people have complained that an illuminated screen is distracting or something–I didn’t notice that at all.
  • It took me a lot longer to finish the book than it would have if I was just reading the book. This is perhaps the biggest problem I have with my iPad as a reading device right now–and it’s one I might be able to get over with practice. The thing is, each time I went to read, I had all these other distractions to get through first. My iPad can do so much, that I’d pick it up and do all sorts of other things before I finally got around to reading. Check email (work and mine), check Twitter, check Facebook, make some moves on Words with Friends, check the news, check the weather, check sports scores, check Twitter again, think about watching some Netflix, remind myself I want to read, check Facebook one more time–you get the point. With a physical book, picking that thing up is making a commitment. You’re going to do one thing and one thing only: read. Doing something else requires putting it down. Not so with my iPad. I can go from reading to Twitter and back with just a few touches. I hope I can get over this. I love reading. I’d rather have read a book than check Twitter fifty times. And yet the distractions are so small and so omni-present that it’s hard for me to resist them. This is perhaps one reason why dedicated ereaders like the Kindle might be better suited to ebooks. The fewer distractions, the better. Or maybe I just need to get better at will power. I will say that once I start reading, the distractions tended to slip away. It was just actually starting that was difficult.
  • I love how I never lost my spot. Ever. I would start the book up again, and I was right back where I’d left off–no need for bookmarks. That might seem like a silly perk, but it felt pretty nice to me.
  • I think reading an epic fantasy on my iPad would be great–mainly because it can be as long as it wants, and I don’t have to lug the whole thing around. I mean, Way of Kings is a hefty book. It’s sometimes hard to wield it in a comfortable fashion. With my iPad, I could have the entire Wheel of Time in my hands and there’s no difference. That’s a small thing, but noticeable.
  • I have no remarks about reading outside vs. inside. I rarely read outside. End of story.
  • If prices for ebooks drop enough, I could easily see me changing my mind about my reluctance to buy an ebook. I get apps on my iPad for $5 all the time (well–often). It’s a small price for a lot of fun. Buying an ebook, I wouldn’t have to worry about finding space for it–my bookshelves wouldn’t have to be periodically cleaned off, there’s no dusting involved . . . So the jury’s still out on that. But $15 for an electronic copy seems awfully steep, even as an author who’d love you to buy his book for that much. I tend to think what will eventually happen is that ebooks will start at a high price point and then drop over time. Maybe that’s the way it already is–I haven’t really looked to see. Then again, I also see all sorts of opportunities for the platform: enhanced ebooks. Brandon Sanderson writes chapter commentaries for each of his books. It would be cool to buy an ebook of his books that comes complete with the commentaries hyperlinked to each chapter. With my own book Vodnik, it would be really cool if I could have an edition that included pictures of all the various places in the book–that sort of thing. Sort of like DVDs have all the extra features. I could see that being worth a higher price for the ebook. Time will tell what happens . . . 
So there you have it. All my observations for now. Will I read another ebook? Sure thing. I’m already in the middle of The Two Towers. How about you? Have you used an ereader? Which one, and what did you think? If you haven’t, why haven’t you? Do share.

2 thoughts on “Why the iPad is a (Mostly) Awesome Reading Experience”

  1. I use a Kindle, because it was a Christmas gift from my Father-in-law. I generally like it (especially since I can just hop onto the Amazon store if I’m out somewhere, have finished my book, and still want to read something). I don’t like that you can’t check books out from the library on it, but that’s supposed to change later this year, so that won’t be a downside any more. My main objection is that it’s really hard to skip to the last page to see how it ends on books that have too much tension for me. In a paper book, if I can see how it ends, even (or maybe especially) when the ending doesn’t make sense without the context of the part of the book I haven’t read yet, sometimes I can get past the part that is frustrating me, or freaking me out to be able to finish the book. But that’s me. That, and I can’t flip ahead easily to see where the next chapter is so I can estimate how much longer I can keep reading and still get a decent night of sleep if I’m in the middle of a good book.

    That said, I have a bunch of books I’ve read on my Kindle, and have enjoyed the experience, for the most part.

  2. Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond to this–it’s been a crazy week. I do hear that Kindle should be getting library check outs (via Overdrive) soon. As for flipping ahead to the end or seeing how many pages are left in the chapter, both of those are really easy to do on my iPad, so I haven’t noticed the trouble there. But I can see how it could be frustrating.

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