Out of Sight and Out of Mind

bookpadMy complaint is a simple one.

Look at the picture there on the right.

See the stack of books to the right? See the stack of books on the iPad? Which one reminds you of the stories still to be read, the books you want to reread; which one literally occupies a space in your conscience (as well as on your bookshelf)?

But in my experience, when I look at my iPad, I don’t see books. I see an iPad. On the device is Middlemarch, a Jonathan Ames novel, a Charlie Huston mystery, a couple of P.G. Wodehouse books, and a half-dozen nonfiction books I thought I wanted to read once upon a time.

This could just be a sad side effect of the way I consume books: Some people buy and read books on a strictly one-at-a-time basis. Me, I tend to buy three at a time and leave them on the bedside shelf so that I have an array of choices when I finish one book and move to the next. Today I’ll put up Mockingjay and then go back into the final hundred-and-fifty pages of Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. And then I’ll browse my shelf to see what matches my mood, and that’s what I’ll read next.

But I don’t “see” anything to read when I glance at the iPad. And when I open the iPad, I am distracted by the many other applications available on it. So instead of making reading more of a presence in my life, it has the opposite effect: It makes reading just one more media application. Provided I even remember the dozen or so books I have downloaded on the device.

I love e-readers—honest, I do. Before I had the iPad, I read on a first-generation Kindle, which comically ugly and poorly designed, was still a damn sight better than carrying around a satchel full of books and manuscripts. And the iPad’s reader is pretty spiff, as are the other reading apps—GoodReader and Nook—but the iPad (and before it, the Kindle) don’t fit into my head and consciousness in the same way.

Am I alone in this? Or is anyone out there finding that these e-readers make books out of sight and out of mind?

  1. My problem is that my mountains of TBR books took over my office and my world. I bought on impulse and there was never any way I could read them all. I had no idea how many I even had until I got a Kindle for Christmas.

    I took a long hard look at years worth of books that I probably (deep breath) wasn’t going to read, gave them away, and read more books on my Kindle than I ever did when they were stacked by my bed. And yeah, I do sometimes have several going at once!

    So my reaction seems to be the opposite of yours, but I do understand yours. (And I still have shelves filled with books I love and want to possess. Just no longer shelves of books I read once and shelved, or worse, never read.)


  2. I have a PRS-505 which I love to death. iPad is iCandy and not much else in my view. People are buying a brand here instead of a book.


    • Sean, I don’t know that I agree with you about buying a brand or the iCandy comment. Maybe some users are mere brand sheep, but the device is a great, great thing. I use the iPad daily for the NY Times, for the crossword, for other little things, and I have a bluetooth keyboard that I can throw into a bag and carry with it and have a mini-laptop when I am on the move. I tried the Sony e-readers ages ago and wasn’t in love with it—file naming protocols were idiotic, and the UI was clunky in the extreme. I’m sure it has improved, and yet and yet and yet.


  3. I am having a similar problem. I have dozens of ebooks on my iPad, but I seem to be collecting them more than reading them.

    I seem to be downloading mostly samples and classics (i.e. my libraries are almost all free). I now prefer to read a classic on the iPad. But if I enjoy a sample of a newer book, I don’t buy the ebook – I’ll just note it for my next trip to the bookstore or library. I can’t explain it – it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense even to me.

    I LOVE the iPad, but your stack of books on the right still looks more comfortable to me!


  4. Yep, this is the same thing I do. I have about a hundred books on my Sony Reader that I just forget that I have. At least with my living room full of bookshelves I know what I haven’t read yet!


  5. I read when I have time, so I make time. I have a pile of books my bedside and a shelf of books (more than one shelf actually) in my studio. I listen to a book on my CD player in my car and am refining my craft knowledge of illustrating and authoring so my book might someday join the parade on my shelves. Should I, would I add an iPad to my reading habits? Absolutely – but I would still have that pile waiting, never out of sight, never out of mind.


  6. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by pookster and Angie_Ledbetter , Upstart Crow. Upstart Crow said: Now on the Upstart Crow blog: Out of Sight and Out of Mind: http://tinyurl.com/3446csl […]


  7. I agree. Books on my computer are mixed up with so many other tasks and files and activities that I often forget they’re there. Last week, I almost bought a book that I’d downloaded months ago. I never forget what books are on my physical to-read shelf in the living room.


  8. Great post, Michael, and something about e-readers I had never thought about before. I recently blogged about all the reasons I don’t use my e-reader (which turned into an ode to the print book) and your out of sight/out of mind point would have made a great addition to my list of reasons.

    Check it out if you have time – http://must-love-books.blogspot.com/2010/09/why-i-dont-read-e-books-or-ode-to-print.html


  9. Thank you for helping me love my pile of bedside/stairside/tableside books. I will look at them with less anxiety now. Out of sight, out of mind . . . so true.

    Mockingjay is at the top of my pile too. I’m taking it slowly since it’s her last and I’m going to miss every character. Well, almost.

    Is that your photo and kitty I see on the iPad screen? Very cute.


  10. I agree with you 100 percent, but I find I don’t read the ebooks because when I’m ready to choose the next book, the paper ones are so much more welcoming.
    BTW I can’t believe you haven’t read Ender’s Game. Move it to the spot right after Mockingjay.


  11. Physical presence. The actual space an old-fashioned book takes up. That’s the missing ingredient.
    I know we’ll all have to roll with the times, because I can still hear my father saying that no one should make or receive phone calls during the dinner hour or after 9 pm…quaint, huh? He passed away before we all became glued to text messaging.
    But, now we really couldn’t get along without our omnipresent cell phones.
    Still, while answering multiple calls during my carpooling pickup with my teenagers after school, I wish the old fashioned telephone were still sitting on the stand under the stairs and I was going to answer it only if and when I was at home.


  12. Michael, I am in 100% agreement with you. So much so, that I didn’t even bother getting an e-reader. (I have a netbook, which I learned the other day has an e-reader function, but I don’t use it.) I much prefer print books, because as you say, they occupy a space in my mind that corresponds to the physical space that they take up.


  13. When I got my Sony e-reader, I wasn’t sure if I’d be reading as much, if I’d forget books were there, etc.

    I don’t forget that they are there anymore than the physical books that get moved to a dozen places all over the house because they are always in the way…and then forget where they are.

    It took a bit to get used to the “device” = “book”, but not that long.

    In the end, I love to read. So, I’m not going to forget to read. Instead, I no longer forget where my books have ended up!


  14. I look at the iPad and think, “Oh yeah, baby, come to me and let me make you my bitch.”

    It’s the revolution. Gutenberg 2: Revenge of the Electrons. The times they are a changin’. It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.


  15. […] it broke down, I bought an iPad, but I never really used it for reading books. Wasn’t keen on the iBooks interface, with its silly animated page flips. Wasn’t about […]


  16. […] And speaking of the effect of the Internet on writing and books, journalist Jack Shafer had an essay on the changing role of books in his life, noting how when we’re curious about someone we now turn first to the Internet rather than to a book, and how he no longer feels the same attachments to books he once did. He writes, “Books are being replaced by reading.” Agent Michael Stearns had a similar feeling about how books disappear into the iPad rather than being physical presences that remind us of their need to be read. […]


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