“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.)
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