Apr 3, 2007

Reading on the screen

Paperbooks aren't going away, says Cory Doctorow, but stop pretending you don't like to read stuff on the computer.
I don't like reading off a computer screen" — it's a cliché of the e-book world. It means "I don't read novels off of computer screens" (or phones, or PDAs, or dedicated e-book readers), and often as not the person who says it is someone who, in fact, spends every hour that Cthulhu sends reading off a computer screen. It's like watching someone shovel Mars Bars into his gob while telling you how much he hates chocolate.

But I know what you mean. You don't like reading long-form works off of a computer screen. I understand perfectly — in the ten minutes since I typed the first word in the paragraph above, I've checked my mail, deleted two spams, checked an image-sharing community I like, downloaded a YouTube clip of Stephen Colbert complaining about the iPhone (pausing my MP3 player first), cleared out my RSS reader, and then returned to write this paragraph.
Via Lynn S, who begs to differ. Lynn's actually read The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire on her computer.
I used to think that I wouldn't like reading a whole novel on the computer. But there are all those classics online like the greatest library in the world right here in the corner of my dining room and one day it occurred to me that some days I spend two or three hours reading stuff off the computer screen so why not read a whole book. So I read The Brothers Karamazov, which I picked because some people had been talking about it on a message board I used to spend a lot of time at. After I finished that I decided to re-read Crime and Punishment. Then, the big one. Someone referred to The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as "the literary equivalent of climbing Mt Everest so of course I had to read that and I couldn't find the complete unabridged version anywhere except online and of course I could not read an abridged version; that would be cheating. So I read it online. Every word. (Except that I skipped a lot of the footnotes because so many of them were in Latin and Greek.)
Hmm. I suppose it can be done. But not only do I lose patience with long articles when I'm on the Internets, I also have music playing or the TV on. When I read a book, I actually turn all that stuff off, stretch out and settle down. I'd have to completely retrain myself for heavy duty computer reading.

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