The Many Ways to Read A Book

October 15, 2012

I am part of a book club with a small group of friends and we’re currently reading David Copperfield from Charles Dickens. Truthfully, I was a bit intimidated by the sheer length of the book, 974 pages including notes in the Penguin Classic paperback version. I was also concerned that the language and writing style from a book published in 1850 would hold my interest for those 900+ pages.

One thing I have discovered and love about being part of a book club is that I’m exposed to books I would not ordinarily choose to read on my own. Hearing my friends’ appreciation for Dickens’ writing has motivated me to continue reading even though there have been times I’ve wanted to give up because I’ve been too busy (or lazy?) to read it.

The other thing that has motivated me to continue reading the book is that I realize I have options…options in the way I can read the book. I picked up the paperback version from my local library. Slightly yellowed from age, the book feels a bit heavy and I notice the small amount of white space within the pages. Do I really want to read this thing? Am I going to feel like carrying this around in my backpack in my travels?

Then, an idea. While I don’t have a Kindle, Nook or iPad, I realize I have a Kindle app on my iPhone and I’ve read a couple shorter books on it. I download a free version of the book onto my iPhone and then make a decision. I decide to read the digital version of the book on my iPhone to and from work and while traveling on public transportation and read the paperback version when I’m at home.

So far, I’m enjoying this option and it is working well. While I would prefer a larger screen than my iPhone’s, it does the trick – for now. I still have a lot of catching up to do compared to my friends’ progress, but now I have no excuse why I cannot read David Copperfield.

Related to this print vs. digital reading debate that I’ve been wrestling with, I attended the printing industry’s largest American trade show last week, Graph Expo. In my high school days, I took three years of print shop and helped our school produce it’s yearbook. For a short time, I aspired to be the printing industry’s biggest pre-press superstar. After a short stint working at a small commercial printer, I went on to college to study journalism and communications. A few years later, I spent some time managing print projects at a local university print shop…another “old school” shop.

Attending Graph Expo was like returning to familiar territory. However, like someone returning home after many years abroad, the world looked different to me. It had changed – dramatically. I was told that Graph Expo only had only one non-digital press on it’s exhibit floor.

I flashed back to my time stripping negatives and burning plates in the pre-press room. I also remembered the time my boss foolishly had me run a Multilith press with no training. I think I might still have some ink hidden under my fingernails.

Walking the exhibit hall on the third level of McCormick Place’s south building, one question I asked repeatedly to exhibitors was, “is print dead?”

The answer I got, time and time again, was “no, it’s just changing.”

Just as the printing industry has changed the way it produces written materials, the way I’m reading a book is evolving too. For now, I still prefer the hard copy version of books rather than the digital one. I love the feeling of paper and, most of the time, carrying books is not an issue. Sure, I’ll likely buy an eReader sometime in the near future. But I cannot envision a time when I get rid of all the books in my collection.

But, I do like my options.

How about you…have you gone completely digital? Have you ever read the printed and digital versions of a book simultaneously? Are you currently in book club? I’d love to read about your experience and feedback.

Update: Related to this post is a story published in The Atlantic a couple weeks ago. According to a study, 25 million people in China use only their cell phones to read books. For more information, please visit The Atlantic.