an unexpected consequence of e-readers


I didn’t want an e-reader. I mean I really really really didn’t want an e-reader. I would read paper books only. And that was that.

Until I bought an iPad. Then I discovered how easy it is to read with a reader. And how wonderful it is to have books available all the time. Heck, my library even lends e-books! I discovered how comfortable it is to read curled up half hidden under the blankets with the lights off–reading in the dark!!! Who would have thought? My inner child was smiling in delight!

But I noticed something the other day when I was looking for my next book to read: I’ve become fussy. All of a sudden I can sample an endless supply of books without doing any work at all. I don’t have to go the bookstore or the library. I don’t have to spend hours looking at titles and reading the flaps and the first pages and decide if I want to bring something home or return it to the shelf. I don’t have google reviews and decide if I want to add the book to my cart.

I can read a few pages without any sort of commitment at all.

I noticed this, and I noticed that I would literally read a line or two sometimes and delete the sample. Sometimes a paragraph. Most of the time not even a page.

This wasn’t a conscious decision. And this is certainly not something I would have done before. Read one line and give up on the book? Never. And yet, here I am doing it.

As a writer, I questioned myself: What kept me reading past those first lines? And more importantly, why didn’t I keep reading?

The answer was that I wanted immediacy. I wanted to be brought into a situation right of the bat. If there was descriptive prose, it had to be linked to something or someone. It couldn’t be words for the sake of beauty alone. So, not only have I become a fussy reader, I’ve become an impatient one. I don’t want to sift through pages and paragraphs to get to the story, I want to be in it with the very first word.

The take away message here is this: Writers, if we thought those first lines were important, e-readers have made them even more so.

16 thoughts on “an unexpected consequence of e-readers

  1. As you say, you connected with your inner child…and this is how kids read, don’t they? As a children’s writer I have to please my little readers with the very first words of the novel, grab ’em quick and lure them into the story or they’ll hurl my book into a corner and never pick it up again. E-readers, I guess, turn us back to that “fuss-pot” stage where we have no patience and want to be entertained straight away.

    1. I love this insight, Maria! 🙂 🙂
      And I think you’re right!

      It’s a change in the modern reader. We are the age of immediate gratification, even in literature….

      1. I agree. it’s sad really, because in the past I’ve come across books that were really “slow burners” and only got going after chapter 2…when they turned out to be great.

        There’s another aspect to this issue: Kids, I guess, have this real instinct for what will be an amazing story-journey to go on, while adults get distracted by book jackets telling us “Booker Price/Orange Price/Village-Idiot-of-the-Year Award”, you know what I mean. As soon as grown ups see somebody’s given something a review, they think it’s worthwhile reading. Instant gratification strikes again.

      2. Perhaps so, Maria. I also know a lot of adults who won’t read a book if it’s won a prize. We adults do tend to develop of predispositions.
        It’s one of the reasons I love being around kids so much–everything is seen through fresh eyes 🙂

  2. I know what you mean … Somehow first pages on e-readers seem different than in paper books, but I’ve learned to give e-reads more than a page … Case in point: I just discovered a new-to-me author, Sophie Hannah, and I am LOVING her novel LASTING DAMAGE, but I almost set it aside. Then I decided, No, and made myself give her a chapter at least. SO GLAD I DID. The media is not the message and I hope people won’t let the volume of e-reads available at a touch and the tendency to skim e-reads the way one does webpages accidentally cause them to forgo great reads.

    1. Very interesting, Ev.
      I never put two and two together, never correlated it with skimming websites. I don’t surf much, but maybe just enough to affect my habits.

      How did you decide this book needed more from you that went back to it?

      I stil read paper books, and certain books I reserve for paper. Books that I want to linger over. I wanted to read Why Men Lie by Linden MacIntyre on paper but got it on my reader. I almost didn’t read it, didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much on a reader as I would a book, but I did! Although I read it much quicker than I think I would have in paper. Although I have no idea why that is lol.

  3. Interesting comments. Here’s mine. I discovered authors of YA novels have the knack of pushing you full steam into their story. I’m looking forward to being an ebook owner this month, and I’m sure I’ll find it won’t be much different than reading a paperback. If the story doesn’t catch me with the first three pages, I don’t waste my time–I just find one that pulls me into the story quicker.

    1. Three pages, I think that’s about what it’s claimed agents and publishers will look at!

      I agree with you about YA books, they’re all story, nothing superfluous. And as an adult fiction writer it’s something I aim to emulate.

      I have to say that I find the experience on a reader very very different from a paper book. I just can’t express yet the how and why. I’d love to hear what you think when get yours!

  4. I’m going to write this without reading other comments, and hope I’m not the only one out who doesn’t read the first pages of books as a way of choosing one. I skip to any random page and start reading to see if I like the flow of dialogue, narration, etc., also to see if anything there peaks my interest. I might flip through a few other sections before deciding, but invariably, I don’t expect the first sentence or paragraph of any book to shoulder the burden of drawing in a reader, or at least this reader.

    1. Jessica, I have never heard of anyone doing this before!!! The thought of trying is kind of scacry–do you ever land on a part of the book that gives away all the hidden surprises? I’d hate it if that happened. lol

  5. Hi – I, too, was against having an e-reader. Until I moved to a smaller house and discovered that there was not much more space to put books.
    Suddenly a Kindle seemed the perfect answer.
    And, miracle of miracles, it is.
    It hasn’t stopped me buying ‘real’ books, but I consider carefully which ones to buy and most are books I already have on my Kindle.
    Now I cherish my Kindle as much as any of my real books, and so far it contains about 150 novels and about 35 non-fiction books. All at my finger tips in my handbag.

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