Ereaders? Love them. I can take an entire library on a mini-break. Audiobooks? Great for the car and for ironing. They make me feel like a multi-tasker. As for paperbacks, the house is creaking with overstuffed bookshelves. I can read anything anywhere and I do.
Switching between all these content forms just lately (travelling, heatwave, showing off) made me realise something. Not only am I more suited to certain formats but so are the books themselves.
The author reads his own work and as a first person piece on non-fiction, his curiosity, intelligence and determination to dig into the premise focuses the listener’s attention.
The Radio Four nature of the piece makes it seem like you’re sitting next to someone unexpectedly fascinating at a dinner party.
Ideal audio material.
Exhibits B & C:
The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters
How To Be Both – Ali Smith
Both these literary fiction authors are right up there on my favourite shelf. I recommend Waters’s Fingersmith and The Little Stranger at every opportunity and Smith’s Hotel World and The Accidental kept me absorbed to the extent of being anti-social. So why did I find both these pieces frustratingly slow?
I read very quickly. Always have. A book I’m enjoying can easily be devoured in a day. To hear them read at the actor’s pace (even in such glorious tones as those of Juliet Stevenson and John Banks) made me impatient and irritated.
One of the most annoying elements was the endless speech tags. On the page, the eye can scan over such conventions as ‘he said’, ‘she says’ with as much care as one notices a door jamb. I’m not interested in the frame, I’m eager for the content. With audio, the frame feels intrusive.
I liked these novels but feel sure I’d be more passionate about both had I read them at my own speed.
Exhibits D & E:
The Assault – Harry Mulisch (translated by Claire Nicholas White)
A paperback I picked up somewhere and have been reading in fits and starts for a few weeks. The premise revolves around an incident at the start of the book which has repercussions throughout the rest. In order to continually reassess the incident in the light of later revelations, I needed to flick back and forth between sections of the book. The paperback made this easily navigable, plus the hand-tinted cover photograph provoked further thoughts on the theme.
The Dukan Diet – Pierre Dukan
Non-fiction. Not the kind of book you can or want to read all in one go. You need to return to frequently to find certain recipes, instructions or lists. I found this infuriating on my ereader, flicking back and forth in search of a single sentence. As with most reference material, this kind of book is much better suited to print – and Post-Its.
Precisely my kind of book. It’s fiction, but like Mercier’s better-known Night Train to Lisbon, it’s philosophical , thoughtful and slow-paced. Through its introspective main character, it explores ideas thoroughly, poses questions and extrapolates from one concept to another. It’s also quite beautifully written. With books that make me think I need to lay them down and consider the argument. Add to this its density and length and this type of work is the perfect match for an ereader.
The amount I read necessitates employing all formats so I can maximise the use of my time and luggage space. When circumstances allow, I prefer to read a physical book. I tend to remember more about books I read in print and find them easier to keep track of. (As a book reviewer, I get sent a lot of ebooks which sometimes can buried on my ereader.) But there are times when I appreciate several weighty tomes accessible on a device no bigger than a notebook, or being able to perform a practical task while still enjoying a story.
Next time I start a book, I’ll think very carefully about the best way to consume it but I’m very grateful to have the choice.
Reviews of most of the above will shortly appear at Bookmuse