Monday, October 11, 2010

eBooks and Book Clubs

This past Friday my book club met to discuss Frankenstein. I thought this meeting was a prime opportunity to test out my Nook in a book club setting, especially since Abby and I normally share a copy at our meetings, and I tend to be a book hog (and have so many pages flagged that it can be disorienting for someone who doesn't understand the system).

All I can say is that, while readers are trying to create a book club atmosphere through online sharing and conversations, they fail for me in an actual book club setting.

A few notes before I begin: 1) I used the Nook, so discerning readers might think, "These problems are specific to the Nook; a different device might not have these same issues." While that could be the case, my intuition is that the Kindle or the iPad or the Sony Reader wouldn't fare much better. I will leave that to my readers to decide. 2) When I reviewed various readers before, I mentioned that the highlighting feature on the Nook was rudimentary at best. I'm still waiting on the software update to correct the terrible design of this feature. When this happens, the experience could be improved (I know Sony's readers and the Kindle are already better at highlighting and organizing highlights than the Nook), but I'm not sure how much. 3) The "find" function could be useful in a book club setting, but I didn't have an opportunity to test this out. 4) I didn't care for Frankenstein too much, so it could be the book that caused the bad experience. Time will tell.

I brought the device to book club, but I didn't really use it--at all. Here were my main problems:
  • Reading devices are still fairly new. I was the only one to use such a device, so I felt a bit showy whenever I'd pick it up, even though I bought the cheapest (though, in my opinion, best) device available at the time.
  • When conversation dwindles, like a good introvert I flip through the pages of the book to avoid eye contact, sometimes actually looking for a passage to read, other times pretending to look for a passage to read. In either case, I often find something worthy of mentioning to the group. This serendipitous way of finding passages is much harder on a device since you have to go page by page or drag using the progress bar (in either case not as easily managed as finding your place in the flipping pages).
  • I don't have a photographic memory, but I can often remember where an important passage is located on the page and where it is located generally in the book. With a reading device, all pages look the same, and there's not a tactile way to remember where in the book you are. You can memorize the progress bar, but I don't think to do so, and I don't always remember the exact words of a quote to be able to search for it.
  • The passages I highlighted on the device were poorly organized and not searchable/indexed by my notes, which is problematic (and also fixable with a software upgrade--hopefully soon!).
  • This wasn't a problem for this book, but it could be for other books: page numbers between the printed book and the eBook do not match (unless the eBook is in PDF format, which most eBook devices have a hard time with). Abby and I were both using the B&N version of Frankenstein, but even our books didn't match up. An easy solution for this, I think, would be for developers to include tags in the text that would let users know where pages end in the printed book. (Ideally this feature could be turned on and off--am I too picky?) I had a version of Ulysses that placed the page numbers of the first edition of Ulysses in brackets; this is what I'm envisioning, I suppose.
  • Using a device felt like inserting technology where it didn't belong. I'm not a Luddite, but I feel like for all that technology might add to the book club experience, it takes away still more. We have enough interactions with one another that are faciliated through screens. Even though the reader's screen is meant to mimic paper (and the devices themselves aren't good at much besides displaying text), it seems like the device is "poaching on the sancta" of the physical book.
I'm not sure these are good reasons why a reading device didn't work for me during a book club, but they are my reasons. While I really like my eReader for most kinds of private reading (sometime I'll talk about my experiences reading fiction vs. nonfiction), I think it will be a while--and a software update--before I attempt to bring mine to book club again.

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