Does the Concept of “Fat Books” Still Matter in an eBook World?

eBooks

Photo courtesy of 3D Photoshop Actions

 “I never read fiction online. I read for substance, and to me there’s no substance in a pixel. ”
–Jonathan Franzen, BarnesandNobleReview.com (ironically), 2008
I’m basically as different from Franzen as it is possible to be–I pretty much only read fiction (and everything else, for that matter)–online.  And as I was reading yet another book review for some massive new book–I think it was the new translation of Haruki Murakami’s “1Q84”–it struck me how often in book reviews the reviewers mention the length of the book: “It’s a thick book”; “it’s a slim volume”; “Rowling’s books are getting longer and longer”; and so on.  And I got to wondering:  in an eBook world, does anyone really care?
As opposed to Franzen, I love reading stuff online.  For three years, my job required me to commute back and forth between Austin and California, and carrying a book or books was, to put it mildly, a pain in the ass.  But having my whole library available in one device?  Heaven!  Yes, the iPhone screen is a little small, but after a surprisingly short time, I found that I was turning pages and not noticing it as much as I ever did with a hardcopy book.  And I’ve been doing this since my Tapwave Zodiac days, so going back to about 2004 or so.  Quite a long time, as the Internet flies.
One of the things that I’ve noticed over time is that the idea of a book’s size has, for me, completely lost any meaning.  I simply don’t notice. If a book hooks me, it hooks me, and I find I’m never thinking, “Oh god; there’s 600 pages to go!” (or whatever).  And that’s been a huge blessing, because a lot of the authors that I like to read are, to put it mildly, loquacious.  Neal Stephenson.  The latter George R. R. Martin books.  The later J. K. Rowling “Potter” books.  The aforementioned “1Q84”.  The Teddy Roosevelt trio of books by Edmund Morris.  Them’s a lot of pages.  But I simply haven’t noticed, because downloading a 1000-page spine-cracker vs. a 120 page novelette has no effect on my iPhone’s weight, and who pays attention to the page count at the bottom?  I sure don’t.  (I have thought, on occasion, “Wow, I sure got through that new Elmore Leonard book fast!”)
It got me wondering:  for everyone but Jonathan Franzen, how have your reading expectations and habits changed based on the concept of an eBook.  Do you notice when you have a “fat book” on your Kindle or iPad or iPhone or Nook, or (like me) do you just keep plowing through it one word at a time?  Or do you hate eBooks for some completely different reason?  Tell us below!
(And in response to Franzen:  a tiny pinprick of ink laser-embedded in a page has no substance either, pal.)

About the Author

Douglas Moran
Doug is a nerd from way back, falling for a Commodore PET at the age of 15, and never looking back. Riding the nerd wave, he got a Computer Science degree and entered the tech industry at a young age, deciding after a year and a half of front-line phone technical support that he should try something, *anything* else. He settled on technical writing, and has been cranking out documentation for companies like Unisys, SGI, Cisco, Juniper, and many others ever since. He is nothing short of ecstatic to be working for H-P from his home base in Austin.

2 Comments on "Does the Concept of “Fat Books” Still Matter in an eBook World?"

  1. I do prefer knowing how much effort will go into reading a book before I start. I have 1Q84 on my Kindle for a few weeks but, with everything going on in my life at the moment, I want to wait before I get started on something so big – this seems like a great book for the week at the beach this summer. There are many times that I decide on a book to read based on how short or long it is.

    My one quibble with the Kindle and Kindle apps – I’d love to know how many page turns I have until the next chapter. There are many, many times that I wanted to know exactly how far away the next break is.

    But I think that Jonathan Franzen is not too technically literate. He’s made silly statements like this since then. He’s recently said that ebooks are dangerous for society because they are easily changed, or the readers easily broken – he loves the permanence of printed books, because they can survive a spill of water. Well, my Kindle will survive bookworms better, and who exactly is going to change the content of an ebook? (I could change the content of a printed book with white-out and a pen.) He’s also recently gone on a rant against twitter that makes it obvious that he doesn’t quite understand what it is, or could be. For example, he seems not to understand that you can tweet a link to a longer comment. Anyway, I don’t take Franzen’s luddite opinions all that seriously.

  2. Kindle books have tick marks as well, though some aren’t divided by chapter, but by section. Still, that’s a visible indicator, it doesn’t tell me how many page turns that I have left. Also, I believe that the marks are not available in the Kindle apps.

    It’s not that big a gripe, really.