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Posts Tagged ‘ebooks’

Followers of this blog may know that I completed a history PhD. But perhaps many won’t know that I did this while battling a severely disabling neurological illness. And even less known is how badly this affects my reading. Ironic since I was researching historic reading habits for my PhD.

Reading has been a problem for me since the late 1990s. I struggle with ordinary print, finding it swims constantly, and I can’t read it for long at all. Even managing to read a single page can be too much. So there’s no way I can read for a long time, or any extended book like a novel. The only print I can read now is either diving in to specific sections (very short sections!) of an academic book, or reading graphic novels (comics),

When I was retraining as a historian my postgraduate Masters degree had hefty reading lists for each week’s lecture and round-table discussion. Obviously I couldn’t read all those. So I’d try to see which books were most relevant, and narrow down what was needed. Really brutally, to specific sections, or abstracting drastically. Most of the reading list wasn’t discussed each week anyway, so I coped. And my lecturers, including my PhD supervisors, little knew how badly my reading was affected. Even now I battle to read academic books, and rarely can. Academic journal papers also pose a significant challenge. Note many of these humanities academic books are not available in e-format, especially older ones.

But though I could work around things to a large extent in my academic life I couldn’t avoid the problems the reading difficulties caused for my recreational reading. For much of the late 1990s and 2000s I stopped reading for fun completely. It was devastating, for an eager reader like me. I tried audiobooks, for a while having a very bulky tape player on loan from a national listening library, and receiving bulky tapes in the post. But this didn’t work well, because of my memory problems, which meant that I constantly need to go back to reread sections, to remember plot and/or characters. Easy in print, or ebook; much more impractical in an audiobook, especially a manual tape player.

What turned things around for me was ebooks, firstly on my iPod touch, and then in Kindle format. I adjust the font and spacing to be huge – more like a Ladybird book size, for little children. And then I find I can read, and read, and read. Still in fairly short bursts, and I still contend with major memory problems affecting my reading. But I was reading again, for fun. Woot!

That was several years ago, and my reading enjoyment continues. As an ebook reader for a long time my local library didn’t provide any ebooks, and I couldn’t read their print format books, even large print. More recently they added ebooks, but an extremely limited selection, with little that I wanted to read. Vastly less than the range of books provided in print format to the library’s users.

So I usually have to buy ebooks. Often I’ll pick up bargains, e.g. in Amazon’s special Kindle sales for 99p. Or relatives will buy me ebooks for my birthday or Christmas. Often I pay full price for an ebook, for something I really want. But it is quite an expensive habit, since I can’t borrow free books from the library.

On the plus side many out of copyright ebooks are freely available through Project Gutenberg, and can be downloaded to load onto e-reading devices like Kindles, iPads etc. I’m currently working my way through Charles Dickens, and have also read and reread all the Sherlock Holmes books. But I’m more likely to read new books, even if I must be careful how I buy them.

But I am reading! So it is more than worth it. Each year I set myself a reading challenge in Goodreads, where I record the books I’m reading. Given there can be extended periods (weeks or even months) where I’m too ill to read at all I’m modest in my challenges. But this year, based on past successes, I set myself the goal of finishing 50 books in 2017. So far the running total is 67. For example this October has been full of spooky reads. I’ve just started Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree, which I’ve never read.

I know many people are anti ebooks. That’s their choice. But my story isn’t unique. I’ve heard of other people with similar medical conditions – e.g. multiple sclerosis, ME or stroke survivors – who also struggle with print, but with ebooks can adjust the font and spacing so they can read. I think this aspect of ebooks and reading is little understood and little recognised, but for me it’s been life-changing, and remarkably positive.

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I’ve just been lucky to take part in a Q&A on Facebook with Neil Gaiman for Amazon Kindle UK. He’s one of my favourite writers. I’ve seen him a couple of times talk at the Edinburgh Book Festival, and will be seeing him talk this weekend too.

Anyway partly because the talk is hosted by Amazon Kindle UK and partly because of my own academic research interests I was curious about his views on ebooks versus print books. Specifically I asked:

Do you read ebooks Neil, and how do you feel about the relative merits of digital books and print books? (I’m a fan of both)

Lots of people were asking questions, and I was lucky that he picked mine as one to answer:

Vivienne Dunstan, I think ebooks are easier to use and transport than any library of books, and have the ability to be obtained immediately, but I think that an individual book is a nicer thing than a single ebook. I like holding books, when I can. So yes, I have ebooks — I had a prototype Kindle before they were ever released — and love people reading in whatever way they wish.

That echoes my views to a large extent. Although I love ebooks, not least because they are easier for me to read because of disability reasons, I still buy and cherish print books. I particularly like signed copies by my favourite authors, and big coffee table highly illustrated books.

So essentially I’m a fan of both formats, and expect to be for a long time. It’s nice to know that Neil is too.

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I really enjoyed this blog post by writer Michael Jecks, in particular what he wrote about ebooks. Most of all: “Because the most important thing about books is not, really, whether they are on paper, an electronic screen, or carved with care into blocks of granite. The important thing is, that they are read.” which echoes so strongly with my own views.

writerlywitterings

Writing books is a funny way to try to earn a crust. Authors are expected to be slightly odd characters (and most of us can live up – or down – to that), with peculiar insights which can be gained only by using illegal drugs or by excessive quantities of legal ones. I tend to the second.
But being a writer, for me, was a way not so much of earning a living, but of continuing my delight in and with books.
I have always loved books. I find it deeply, humiliatingly, hypocritical still, to be telling off my son for reading under his bedclothes, when I can still remember doing the same thing myself at his age. And, oddly enough, reading the same William books as he is now. Exactly the same in most cases, since the thieving little brute has filched my ancient hardbacks.
Books have accompanied me…

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I received word that my conference talk proposal has been accepted, so I need to write that talk for definite now. And I now have a deadline for the revised version of the accepted professionals paper, by June, so I can deal with other more looming things first.

My immediate priority now is to write the talk for the archivists conference, or at least finish developing the mind map version of its content, which I could turn very easily into a talk nearer the conference in April.

After that I will look afresh at the chapmen material and see where things stand with that. I’m still gathering secondary material, for me to read and assimilate. Masses! But that is good. And I will start to transcribe the other detailed chapmen inventories I found, focusing on any reading material that was recorded. There is a chance that I could have something ready to submit to a journal before the 1st April 2013 open access deadline, but I’m not too worried if not, and will just expunge anything necessary to avoid problems.

I’m also taking a bit of time to work on some fun non-academic articles for a planned ebook project. It’s fun being creative like this, and a bit different from my usual academic writing, which is a welcome change.

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I have a new blog post on the SHARP (Society for the History of Authorship Reading & Publishing) website arguing for greater engagement by book historians, and SHARP members in particular, with the digital publishing revolution. See here.

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