For a decade or more bibliophiles have been swooning over the deleterious effects e-readers will have upon the publishing industry, basic education, general literacy and the foundations of western civilization. Electronic book enthusiasts on the other hand have been chortling over the demise of “dead tree” publishers and singing hosannas to a brave new world in which we might wander the pristine forests of Endor while the wisdom of the ages is projected wirelessly directly onto our retinas.
I subscribe to neither pole of the argument, being what would be called a switch-hitter were the reading of murder mysteries to be numbered among the team sports. I do love me my devices, but I also love to curl up with a book that I know will never beep at me, or go blank until I plug it back into the wall. I’ve also been known to throw a book across the room and to pace back and forth shouting at the author. Sorry about your iPhone, dear. Forgot what I was reading on.
Based on my experience this week doing both kinds of reading, I do have some suggestions for conventional book publishers to improve the competitiveness of their products.
It’s common wisdom that attention spans are becoming shorter. Perhaps some kind of diversion, like a crossword puzzle or a picture of a cute cat, could be inserted into the text every few chapters.
And single-purpose devices are a little passé. I suggest two pockets on the inside back covers, one to hold all the mail the postman delivers during the time you are reading the book, and one for stationery and stamps, in case you feel moved to reply.
People also like having the option to go a little deeper into topics that catch their interest. So if the author’s skullduggerous villain has just dispatched the nanny with a garden implement, a little break in the text to enumerate the 10 most famous murders by pruning hook might be in order. Those wanting information on murder by shovel may instead be referred to the index.
No reason to go overboard, though. It would be a step too far to build a telephone into a printed book. If I wanted to talk with anyone, I wouldn’t have my nose in a book in the first place.