Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Fount of Confusion

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Here’s the thing.

I almost never know who the murderer is going to be whenI start writing a book, and I almost always change my mind several times over the course of writing.

What’s more, I almost always change my mind again when I’m doing the cut from the first draft, and sometimes I change my mind twice.

This requires an awful lot of going back and forth with things, and there is simply no way that I don’t miss some of them.

Of course, this is what editors and copyeditors is for, but with this book I’m trying a new method of checking on myself–I’m printing out the whole thing as I do it so that I can reread it in hard copy.

I have no idea why I seem to pay more attention to, and retain more, with hard copy than I do with what I see on a computer screen.

I don’t know why I never noticed this before, but I do know I noticed it this time because the mystery I constructed depends on a lot of little and not always obvious details–when the alarm system at a house was activated and deactivated, for instance.

I don’t usually write technical mysteries of that kind, but this was a good idea, and I had an explanation for a few elements that I think are rather novel, so I went with it, and here I am.

But what’s striking me this morning is this–a lot of what I read now I read on the Web.  I don’t own an e-read, but I know many people do.

How much of what I’m reading on the Web am I missing?

Does everybody have the same problem I’m having, where they just find it easier to retain what they read in hardcopy?

And if they do, are they having the same problem with their e readers as they are with actual Web based content?

And at what point does this sort of thing become seriously dysfunctional?

My problem with e readers, at the moment, is that I don’t much like the format.  I haven’t tried one, but I know I can’t manipulate a hard plastic box the way I can a series of pages that can be twisted around in my fingers and other things I do with books when I’m reading them.  I also do a lot of highlighting, even in fiction, and I’m not sure how that would work on a e book or if I would find it easy to find the quotes I need when I’ve forgotten everything about them.

But the difference between what I’m retaining of what I’m reading of my own book on the computer, and what I’m retaining by looking at the hard copy is HUGE.

It’s so huge, I’d have to say that reading is different experientially on the computer than it is with the hard copy.

And I wonder what that means.

Written by janeh

March 10th, 2012 at 11:57 am

Posted in Uncategorized

12 Responses to 'Fount of Confusion'

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  1. Ereaders clearly aren’t for everyone. I’ve been using a Kindle for over two years and have been very happy using it – though it encourages the hoarder in me (do I really need to carry hundreds of books wherever I go? Tibor might like that.)

    Highlighting and notes *are* possible – and can be quite useful (see findings.com for a creative social (or not) way to build a commonplace book out of ones highlights and notes).

    And it can be (for me) quite the same as reading a paper book – I realized this when reading “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and I instinctively laid my finger down on the page to “hold my place” when I needed to look away from the book for a moment.

    I’d note: Scholarly texts can be problematic. Shifting back and forth at random within a book is not quite as nimble as in a conventional book – in some ways the ebook is more like a scroll than a codex.


    10 Mar 12 at 12:52 pm

  2. Oddly, I was thinking about the reading vs. ereading experience thing just last night. What I realized was that reading a book is a three-dimensional experience. The pages before and after where you are exist within your hands. Paging back or forward doesn’t “destroy” where you are, to be recreated again with the Back button.

    E-books are essentially two-dimensional. Your place exists now. Before you got there, and after you leave, it’s only a potential, not a real location. Although you experience each medium one page at a time, there may be a perceptual difference between them, in that the paper book seems to exist more in a gestalt throughout the reading experience, and with an ebook, you have only that momentary slice before you. Maybe there’s something about the hard-copy that lets you anchor memories of what you read to a physical location.

    Maybe I’m just full of it. But I’ve been switching off e-reader and paper books lately, and the advantages & disadvantages go both ways. I love to use my ereader while eating, as there’s no book-handling to turn the page, just one finger tap. Much more convenient.

    I’m finding one of the major downsides of e-readers is that I read even faster than with a print book, and I already read too fast. I spent a lot for that book, dammit! How can it be over already? I wanted to enjoy it for longer? Lingering, and reading back & forth, seem to work better with paper books.

    I suspect proofreading is better on paper as well, at least for our generation. I wonder if there will even be anyone left to proofread after us. Does anyone even *recognize* errors any more?

    As for highlighting and making marginal notes, the Kindle was a bit awkward for that, but with my husband’s Kindle Fire with a touch screen, it’s a swipe of a finger, then type your note. Very easy. Of course, you have to depend on Amazon to store your notes for you.

    I suspect next-generation ereaders will be more edging toward more capacity and features, including storage for notes, perhaps even being able to record verbal notes as you read, anchoring them to the text. That would be pretty cool.


    10 Mar 12 at 2:04 pm

  3. FWIW, Kindle (not Fire) ereader store a file “My Clippings.txt” that does NOT depend on Amazon. You can copy it, save it, edit it, etc. offline. Or convert it at clippingsconverter.com – into a spreadsheet or Word doc. The nice thing about the clippings file is that it gets your highlights and notes from ANY document, not just purchased-through-Amazon ones.


    10 Mar 12 at 3:46 pm

  4. I’ve been using a Kindle for over a year and prefer it to regular books. That is because I’m almost 76 and the Kindle allows me to change font size.

    I dislike reading books on the computer or an Ipad because the back lighting bothers me.

    The drawback to a Kindle is that its hard to skip around or go back 10 pages and reread a passage.


    10 Mar 12 at 6:30 pm

  5. e-reader and Web are different. As has been noted, I can highlight, search and make notes on my kindle–not to mention font adjustment and definitions–and it never loses my place. But as soon as I need to make a note of something for use elsewhere, I might as well be back in the 20th Century.

    On the other hand, if I’m researching something on the Web, I can’t highlight and searches within a document can be frustrating. But I can copy and paste a relevant passage to a word document with appropriate citation in a matter of seconds, and not be looking at my handwriting on an old 3X5 card six months later trying to decipher my own handwriting. Same thing at work except better because I have two monitors. (And when I retire, I fully intend to have two monitors at home. Trust me if you haven’t done it: for research it makes a world of difference.)

    For a straightforward narative, my kindle may be better than a paper book. I can adjust the font, and it will never lose my place. They usually lack illustrations and sometimes maps and diagrams, but I could tell a few stories about some paper books too. (Whether a detective story is a straightforward narative is another question. When I read Sayers or Heyer, I take notes. The moderns, not so much.)

    Downsides: while I can search for a word or phrase to the limit of my memory and spelling, I still find flipping back to a pertinent passage easier in a paper book–but that may be just me. Certainly–and it is NOT just me–serious argument or serious history works better in paper, at least so far. If I’m checking a particular battle, for instance, I need the narative, the map and the order of battle which are at least three places in a book–something the kindle doesn’t do well–and may involve three books. In argument, I’ll be continually flipping back and forth, and there may be diagrams.

    I think, though, some of these are technical problems. I can say that certain things are not done to book standard on my present slightly out of date kindle. I’m not sure it’s wise to go further. I’ve been reading THE BOOK IN THE RENAISSANCE lately, and a number of educated clever men weren’t much impressed by printed books. They saw the current state of the art and not the potential. I would prefer not to be remembered that way myself.


    10 Mar 12 at 8:57 pm

  6. FWIW, Findings.com has a nice bookmarklet for the web that lets you capture notes from web pages when you’re reading them. (The same bookmarklet can be used to harvest your Kindle highlights into your findings.com clippings.)


    10 Mar 12 at 9:39 pm

  7. Just to add to the confusion, may I make the point that Apple’s iPad makes a splendid eReader provided, unlike JD, you don’t mind your screen being backlit.

    A Kindle account for your PC and an iPad allows you to email any document you are working on with your PC to your Kindle/iPad where it will be much, much more legible than it ever will be on the much smaller Kindle. You can still search, highlight and make notes as required. Just plugging your iPad into your computer’s USB port allows you to transfer files between the two.

    It’s a bit complicated to work out how to do these things, but practice makes perfect.


    10 Mar 12 at 10:43 pm

  8. I’m one of those people who remembers where things are on the page. When I’m trying to remember something, I close my eyes and I can see it on the page – literally. My head re-creates where the passage is on the page – what’s in italics or bold face and what surrounds it. Definitely a useful skill for an academic. When I read something off the screen I don’t have that same context and can’t re-create images in the same way. I can sometimes pull up where I think I read something, but it usually takes me a few tries to get it right.

    I’m also a more careful reader on the page. When I’m creating a document and think I’ve got a final draft I always print and proof. I’m amazed at the number of errors I catch that I just didn’t see on the screen. I’ve learned never to send something sensitive without that double-check.

    I love the idea of the e-reader. All those books in one place. No more carrying a dozen books in a suitcase and leaving them in various airports and train stations when I’m finished with them. But, the real drawback to the e-reader – they don’t smell.


    10 Mar 12 at 11:14 pm

  9. Just a comment about the Kindle. I’ve found maps to be unreadable. The labels tend to be in small fonts which I can’t read. And increasing the font size doesn’t seem to affect the labels.


    11 Mar 12 at 1:26 am

  10. It’s in precisely this aspect – maps, charts, graphs and photos – that the iPad (as a Kindle ereader) works significantly better than the native Kindle itself.


    11 Mar 12 at 2:07 am

  11. I find I miss the physicality of books a bit – the ability to leaf backwards and forwards a bit, and I have managed to lose my place doing this! And I miss being able to lend or give away a book. On the other hand, I love being able to carry such a range of books with me wherever I go, always ready with something to read if I have to wait somewhere, and of such a light weight!

    I don’t think I assimilate much less from reading on the screen, though. It’s hard to tell. I skim a LOT, but I will slow down when it’s something I really want to understand. I almost never write notes, but I don’t in real books, either. I never lost the childhood habit of never writing anything but your name in a book.



    11 Mar 12 at 5:07 pm

  12. I have a Nook. I don’t have a lot of books on it — mostly a bunch of old classics that were either free or only cost $.99. The newer books are either books that are rather specialized and the library doesn’t have or ones (George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series) that had a library waiting list that approached infinity. But, in the main, I generally read a book on loan from the library and then, if I really liked it and know that I’ll be re-reading it, I buy it when it comes out in paperback.
    And, I generally do prefer to have an actual dead-tree book in my hands because I am one of those mind-boggling folks who skip around in a book and *I read endings in advance!!!* (Been doing this for over 50 years and don’t find that it bothers me and my enjoyment at all.) Yes, I’m odd.

    Kathie Goblirsch

    12 Mar 12 at 10:10 pm

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