Charlie and the Christmas Kitty: Ree Drummond & Diane deGroat
Links I Shared on Twitter Recently: December 7

Some Personal Thoughts on Fiction vs. Nonfiction in eBook Reading

On a recent trip, I read several adult nonfiction titles on my new Kindle Paperwhite, including Book Love by Melissa Taylor and Raising Bookworms by Emma Walton Hamilton (reviews to come). While I adore the Kindle for travel, particularly the backlit Paperwhite version, I have concluded that, as the technology exists today, I don't love using the Kindle to read non-fiction.

First of all, while it's easy to highlight passages, I find it cumbersome to go back and review the highlights. They are in a separate document, and while it's easy enough to skim through all of the highlighted text, it's awkward to go back and see the whole page from which the highlight was pulled. There's no easy way to see at a glance how many highlights there are (as with a "porcupine book" like The Book Whisperer that I have littered with post-it flags). This makes it much harder to review the book (this also holds for me when reviewing fiction).

A bigger part of this highlighting issue, and the one that applies more directly to nonfiction for me, is that I think the digital format will make me less likely in the future to refer back to the book (vs. if I had a printed copy on my shelf, post-its still intact). For fiction this is not such a big deal. I'm much more likely later in life to go back to find, say, a reading tip, than to find a particular passage out of the latest Lee Child novel. It would be easier if the highlights document (called Clippings on the Kindle) could hyperlink back to the original document (or be part of the original document). But even that would be more awkward than just flipping back through post-it flags in a printed book. This may change in the future, of course, as eBook readers improve, and other eBook readers may do a better job of this. But it will still be hard to improve upon the convenience of just taking the book down from the shelf.  

Another issue for me right now is that while narrative fiction tends to do fine on the Kindle, formatting issues make some nonfiction harder to read. In the case of Raising Bookworms, Hamilton sprinkles the book with quotes about the joys of reading. I presume that in the printed book, these are set off from the text in some way. But in the eBook version, they just appear within the text. In italic font, sure. I can tell what's happening. But they interrupt the flow of the text more, somehow. In Book Love, placement of images caused gaps in the text (since the images often needed to appear on a fresh page).

This is not to say that I think either author/publisher should have done a better job with the translation. More that there's an inherent issue with eBooks, the loss of the fixed formatting of the printed books, which I find more distracting when reading (some) nonfiction than when reading fiction. This was less of an issue for me when reading SuperFreakonomics, which is more narrative in form. I know that there are other formats, like PDF, which make this less of a problem - but I love the portability of the Kindle, so I'm a bit stuck. 

In light of these issues, I believe that, at least for now, when I am reading nonfiction, particularly nonfiction that I expect to review and/or refer back to, I will be more likely to go ahead and purchase the print copy, rather than take the slightly easier (immediate download, no books to pack up), lighter, and (usually) cheaper solution of buying a Kindle book. For fiction, particularly fiction that I wouldn't expect to re-read or review (such as mysteries published for adults), Kindle will continue to be the winner for me for travel (I wish my library had more books available for Kindle, but that's a topic for another day).

This post © 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.