The Unsuspecting E-Book Reader (Part 1)

When you read a printed document, you take part in a private two-way conversation with the writer, a writer who has written a novel, a story, a poem, even a company’s white paper or bylined article, making his or her meaning as clear as possible, yet leaving it open to your interpretation. That’s the way it should be: just you and the writer, with no one intruding or listening in.

Such conversations, however, are no longer private if you’re reading a book on your electronic reader, whether it’s one from Google, Barnes & Noble, Amazon or Apple. Now, somebody is secretly noting not only the kinds of books you’re reading but how long it takes you to get through each one, whether you stop reading before the end, and what you highlight or bookmark on the pages (oops, I mean the screen) as you go through it.

Although I find the hard-and-inflexible and appliance-like feel of these electronic gadgets distasteful, I like using e-readers for the most part. We have both the Kindle and the iPad. On each, I quickly can get the feeling of reading a book, not hesitantly questioning whether the device is missing something important to the reading experience.

I don’t care for the smell of most printed books, so I don’t miss that about them when I choose an electronic book over a printed one. They smell stuffy to me. And I’ve never been a fan of old, dusty, used books, even though I’ve always thought it would be nice to have a collection of rare editions—new, rare editions, I would prefer. And I don’t like the idea of not knowing who owned a book before me and where it’s been lying around for the past number of years.

When reading printed publications, I like the feel of paperbacks more than hardcover editions. I like their flexibility and usually their size. But mostly, I like the way they feel inviting, as if they’re asking me to come in for a conversation and a cup of tea.

Last week, though, I bought a hardcover book (it’s wasn’t available in a paperback or electronic version) that had a great feeling. The paper was a pleasing off-white, with a slight tinge of green, not stark and jarring; the pages were comfortable, thick with just a slight texture; the spine lay completely open without a push, leaving the pages flat, not curved, for easy reading on my desk.

But the e-book works well for me, too. At least, it does until I think about some third party participating in my reading; some third party trying to figure out if I fit in to the demographic the publisher wants for the book; some third party more concerned about whether it can learn something from me beyond whether I’m enjoying the book, something that might help him help sell more books tomorrow.

(Read Part 2 of “The Unsuspecting E-Book Reader” at http://ow.ly/cuP4P.)

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