How We Choose To Read

I got to thinking about how we choose to read, and in turn how I have done so, and changed over the years.

For me I tend to look at a hardback copy of a book and see it for the premium that it is. Quite why people choose hardbacks over softbacks or paperbacks is a mystery to me at times. You see some books which are charged at a much higher price, simply for how it is packaged, and often I can’t help but wonder if the extra cost is worth it. Still, they look good on a shelf!

Thinking about the ways I have read a book, it reminded me of a time when I read Stephen King’s Cell on an electronic PDA in the bath. It was a small device, around 5 inches by 3 inches, with a decidedly not HD screen. Slightly bigger than a smart phone, and lighter. It was a first for me, and well before the prevalence of smart phones and tablets. I did this every night for a week, laid in the bath reading it until I finished. I quite enjoyed the experience, and thankfully no mishaps, no dropped devices into the bath. However I haven’t done it since.

The thing about paperbacks, especially if it is raining out or we are in the bath is that the paper gets wet easily, it folds up and afterwards looks awful when stored, not to mention how it is when we want to read it again.

This brings us to the matter of reading books on electronic devices, such as Amazon’s Kindle and others. They are amazingly practical, and can store huge amounts of books on one tiny device. The screens are clear and bright, and often battery life can last months. So obviously they are perfect, and the natural future of reading.

Well, perhaps not. I have a pretty large collection of books, and lots of shelves to store them. At one time I decided to go all in, obtaining copies of all of my books in electronic format, and boxing up the books for the loft. People who know me were horrified, unable to comprehend the thought. To my mind I figured they were just being old fashioned, but looking back I can see their point. Yes, books wear out and are difficult in some circumstances, but a row of shelves with books on is something to be proud of, and are an instant visual reminder of being there, to be read again, our very favorites.

So now I am back at it, rebuilding my book collection, in paperback, and occasionally a hardback. I still have the electronic versions, but for me it’s good to have a choice.

Ultimately of course it doesn’t truly matter how you read, in whichever format, but we are lucky, in that we have a choice.

Then there are audio books, which stemmed from the old taped copies, often using six to ten tapes, on both sides. The sound quality on the recordings wasn’t great, but then along came books on CD, and now we have the likes of Audible, where you can use phones, tablets, laptops, even devices such as the Amazon Echo Dot to listen to our collection.

What it all means really is that our choice of how we enjoy our books is expanding continually. We are spoilt in fact, because there have never been so many ways to enjoy one of our favorite pastimes.

All that we need are a great selection of books to read, and for that we really are spoiled.


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Emotion In Books

When reading books we all go through a wide range of emotions. What and how we feel depends a lot on the type of books we read. When we read a thriller, this can open up a lot of differing feelings, however the primary element will be an increase in our heart rate due to excitement or tension, brought on my sudden events which cause abrupt changes. From this we can feel fear, a surge of adrenaline, or even simply being more aggressive within ourselves. For example if the primary character in a novel is someone we identify with, a good person perhaps fighting off some kind of evil or criminal actions, we can feel their aggression, their determination to succeed, and if and when this happens, we feel a sense of elation or joy. If we identify with a character that is evil, or carries out criminal acts and gets away with it, then we may feel an oddly similar kind of joy over this, or satisfaction borne of their odd success. I say satisfaction, because through books and our imagination we allow ourselves to act out that lead character, and do things with might never otherwise do in life.

A comedy can be different, in that we stand back, mentally, to look at the actions of people in the novel, and the things that happen to them. It is like watching something funny in real life, where perhaps something slapstick happens, like a cake to the face. We wouldn’t usually want to identify with that character, we don’t want to be the point of the joke, but we’re often happy to see others in that predicament. Still we feel emotions, humour tickles us, we smile and feel good, and are driven along, coupled with our imagination. There can still be other elements of emotion in what we feel when we read something like that, but our goal is to laugh, which tends to be why we might choose such a novel, knowing it is going to make us laugh.

Other novels, such as simple action novels, perhaps based on war or fighting, maybe makes us feel brave, allows us to imagine ourselves in situations of drama and risk without actually risking our lives or safety. From this we do still feel a sense of fear, but overwhelmingly we feel satisfaction when the primary protagonist succeeds in their work, no matter what it costs them.

Some novels make us cry, they expose us to emotions that we may otherwise shy away from, mainly because with a book we can close it, and go do something else, or interact with others in our lives. From this we have a reminder of how good our lives can be, as well as a peek into a world where others might suffer, another reminder of how life could be. We gain satisfaction in another way, a kind of schadenfreude, where others might suffer, and perhaps we might enjoy it, feeling better about ourselves without going through it first. That may sound negative, nasty even, but it is an element of human nature.

That then is perhaps what is most powerful about reading books, that they allow us to step into another person’s shoes, but to also experience everything they do and say, without cost, remorse or recriminations. We are a fly on the wall, a ghost sliding through the corridors of life, enjoying all the rampaging energy, the life, creation and destruction that writers expose us to. They are a doorway to everything else we can imagine, but don’t want to experience, and most of all they provide us with a route to a series of experiences from which we draw a full range of emotional experiences, all without cost. Why without cost? Because when we have had enough, for that day or that moment, we can close the book, and go back to our safe, normal lives.

Thank goodness for writers, for creators, and thank goodness for books.

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Our shared love of reading

I think it’s fair to say we all share the love of a good book, but I sometimes wonder what it is that creates the perfect setting for a really good book. This got me to thinking about a range of things connected with reading, and what we need in order to enjoy it.
I thought about how I have read books, and in what manner in the past, and how these things have affected what I felt about the book, and even how I remembered it.

Back when Stephen King released his new book Cell , I recall having a digital copy of it on my small electronic PDA. This was before the widespread use of smart phones and tablets, when people used electronic PDA devices for everything that smart phones do, only back then not as well. The screens were not high resolution, and usually only black and white, but when it came to writing notes and even reading ebooks, they did the job. I spent an entire week, each night having a bath, laid in hot water, reading that book of Mr King’s. I will admit, it wasn’t one of his best, but it was enjoyable anyway, and I think all the more memorable because I read it while in the bath, and using this PDA, which was a first for me.

I got to thinking of all the ways I have enjoyed a book, and how the setting of my reading contributed to my enjoyment. That time in the bath was unique, and enjoyable, but mostly my reading takes place when I am in bed. I have a small night light on, by the side of my bed, and I am snugly comfy under the plush covers, propped up by some lovely pillows, with a drink and a snack if I can find the time to put the book down long enough to enjoy them. I have read countless books this way, and for me it is a moment of tranquillity and solitude, while I lose myself in a book, where my imagination can roam and my attention is lost within its world.

I know one family member of mine has a very large armchair, quite huge in fact. She gets a very large fleece, wraps herself in it, and curls up on the chair with her new book and reads it for hours.
The place where we sit or lay to enjoy our new book can become symbiotic with its enjoyment, as if we are cocooned within a shell, protected from disturbances, transported away so that our minds can truly connect with the characters and situations within.
So I think it is fair to say that how we prepare where we read is as important as anything else. It provides us with a base from which we can remain relaxed and focused on the journey into the next book.

I think where we are to do this is as important as any element in our experience as readers, so that through this we can soak up every word and every detail, unhinge our imaginations and enjoy all the thrills and emotions, good or bad from a novel, without having to worry about feeling uncomfortable or stiff, or cold, or how our surroundings keep impinging on what we are trying to experience.

I no longer read books in the bath, far too many curled pages from the steam on my beloved paperbacks. Now I mirror that of a family member, a lovely large leather chair, with a footstool, and a huge fleece which buries me. I even go so far as to wear ear plugs now! Because I take those first steps into that new world of literature, nothing can possible stop me!

We are spoilt in a way, so many choices, not only of the books we want to read, but how and where we can do it. That’s the beauty of reading; we can do it anywhere.

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Why do we read fiction?

I think it’s a good question really. Nonfiction is obvious, because for that we want to learn something new, or something which can be useful to help us solve a problem, or do something we want doing. Fiction, that is a completely different ball game.

A cursory glance at Kindle on Amazon shows us that there are over twenty two thousand categories of books on their market, the vast majority of which are dedicated to fiction. Break down the obvious genres of fiction such as Romance, Science Fiction, Murder Mystery, Horror and others, and you get many more sub categories. Each of these is broken down into yet more categories and each of those into ever smaller categories.

The point of all this is to prove just how varied our tastes are in fiction. We don’t all like one type of book, even if we like the same genres, how a particular book works can be attractive to us, and our imaginations, where for others it might not be. If enough people like this, then more will buy those types of books, and more will write for them, to cater for sales.

The most important element of all this is the reader, because there would be no point in writing if no one read it. However, the reader isn’t entirely passive in this experience, because as I have said, imagination plays a huge part in the experience of reading fiction.

If we entirely relied on what we read, those words and the expressed actions, and ignored any descriptions of characters or settings, the details that flesh out a book, then what would separate a book from a film? With a film we are much more passive with our thoughts, except our emotions come into play. Of course they do in a book, but we feel much more in control of our emotions when reading a book, because we decide how we internally visualize what we read, and we decide how much emotional attachment we accept with the book’s characters and what occurs.

So clearly when reading a book, we invest much more imagination in what we read, and shape in our minds what we see, feel and think about events. We are guided much less by a book than any other medium.

So for the deeply personal experience that reading allows us, books of fiction are surely the most unique experience we can have. Books are renowned for being deeper and more detailed than any television series could be, or any film, which are always constrained by running times and productions costs. Books never suffer this. A prime example of this is Stephen King’s The Stand, of which the unabridged version was over a thousand pages. Miniseries that attempted to recreate the vast book never truly captured the essence of the characters and events.

So why do we read fiction so much? I believe it is because we are transported there, either as a character in the book, or as a fly on the wall, and at our own pace we can explore the world the writer has given us.

It really is a unique concept, and an important one for us all. I’m just proud to be able to sit on both sides of the fence on this, creator and reader.


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