What's the Best Way to Read a Book?

comparisonLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

We have been debating the benefits of e-readers vs paper books for years, and still concur with Jaymi's conclusion in Are e-Readers Really Green?

Unless you are both an incredibly avid reader as well as someone who cares for their gadgets and does not replace or upgrade to new models, e-readers just simply don't live up to the lighter footprint they promise. Instead, we should stick with our library cards.

In my previous post, Book or E-Book: Which Is Better? Perhaps Neither. I concluded that the e-reader (at least the one I was using) was not very good, and concluded that " it is a conceptual dead end, like the idea of the traditional book that it is modeled on."

Now that I have finished my first book on my new iPad, I am pretty much convinced that I was right, and that the connected tablet is going to make the dedicated e-reader, and the traditional book, pretty much obsolete.

annotationsLloyd Alter/Screen capture

While reading Rob Dietz's Enough is Enough for an upcoming book review, I found it wonderful that I could bookmark, highlight or make notes about anything in the book, and that all these annotations would show up in the contents so I could find anything in a second. I didn't use up a big stack of post-it notes like I did on Ken Greenberg's Walking Home.

quoteLloyd Alter/Screen capture

But the real lightbulb moment came when I read an interesting quote from Paul Hawken, and wanted to dig deeper. The footnote number was a hyperlink that when clicked on...

footnoteLloyd Alter/Screen capture

....took me directly to the footnote at the rear of the book, which was itself a hyperlink....

addressLloyd Alter/Screen capture

....which took me directly to Hawken's speech. Really, between the annotations, bookmarks and footnotes, I can't possibly imagine reviewing a book from a hard copy again. I suspect that this applies for a lot of technical reading as well. It also brings into question the whole nature of the book itself; once the shift is made to reading this way, what makes it a book? David Weinberger wrote in Too Big to Know:

Books do not express the nature of knowledge. They express the nature of knowledge committed to paper cut into pages without regard to the edges of ideas, bound together, printed in mass quantities and distributed, all within boundaries set by an economic system.

To think that knowledge itself is shaped like books is to marvel that a rock fits so well in its hole in the ground.

I have become convinced that the paper book is dead (at least for non-fiction, I like reading the latest borrowed Michael Connelly in bed or in the tub), the e-reader will die with it, and the whole concept of "book" will follow. What do you think?

What's the Best Way to Read a Book?
A recent experience doing a book review on an iPad raises some questions.

Related Content on Treehugger.com