As a postgraduate English student, I spend most of my life pouring over books, both for my degree and for myself. As a postgraduate English student, I have very little cash to support and sustain this pricey lifestyle. So when I received a iPad mini from my boyfriend and realised that so many classics were freely available on the device, I could almost hear the sublime words of Woolf and James thundering toward me from the literary past (and my bank balance sighing with relief). What I didn't realise though, was that reading on a tablet is a totally different experience to reading a physical book.
If you're a book lover, you know very well that going into a bookstore, with rows of fresh bindings waiting to be cracked and sniffed, and selecting your next big read is an experience not to be missed. It's a simple joy, similar to a spot of retail therapy on the high street. You can't wait to open the fresh pages, inhale the scent and get cracking on the story.
Unfortunately, purchasing my first e-book had none of this glamour. It is infinitely easier and far swifter than going to the local bookshop, indeed you don't even need to get out of your pyjamas, but there is almost no satisfaction in pressing an imaginary button on a screen twice, only to be presented with the first clinical black and white electronic page of the book. No cover, no smells. This may sound obvious - it's a tablet, it's unlikely to exude any bookish aroma - but it affects your relation to the narrative you are about to immerse yourself in.
It is not just a question of materiality though. Studies have shown that readers retain less information regarding plot order and character detail when reading from an electronic device. It is also obvious to anyone who has used both modes of reading that when you suddenly want to go back to a particular moment, as I often do whilst studying texts, if you are reading a real book you are able to remember whether this moment occurred on a right or left facing page, and even which paragraph or area of that page it can be found on. With an e-book you have little or no sense of where something has occurred in the narrative, and this is more than indicative of the problems electronic readers have with recalling plot details.
More than this though, the experience of reading itself is distinctly different. Of course no book can be read in real time, since it takes longer to read the sentence 'Tom dropped the glass, smashing it', than it does for Tom to drop said glass and smash it. Even still, when you read a physical book, the mechanism of moving your eyes across and down the paper, turning pages as you progress from one word to the next and from one scene to another, can affect your perception of time in the narrative.
You are much more likely to be fully immersed in the story when you have a clearer, more definitive grasp of the temporal world of the book. Put bluntly, you are liable to laugh, snort, scoff and weep over an actual book. And that's ok.
While I don't seek to admonish reading e-books, certainly when children seem to be far more interested in reading from a Kindle than a paperback, I think that we should be cautious about investing too heavily in digital texts.
It is interesting to note that when my peers and I are asked to read an article that is provided for us and accessible on our university electronic platform, inevitably well over half of the group turn up to class with a printed version of said article to refer to. We are either sticklers for good old fashioned paper or have noticed something key.
However effortless and economical an e-text might be (once you have purchased the expensive electronic device, of course), readers are far more likely to remember, enjoy and engross themselves in a book you can really grab hold of.