I can’t resist starting with a book in a different form that I’m totally in love with—namely, my pop-up book of Bram Stoker’s Dracula! When I was in Paris for the Liberator tour, I wandered into a quirky bookshop selling every imaginable art book at a discount price—and I discovered a pop-up version of Dracula in English. It’s a work of art in itself: the sheer intricacy and variety of the way the pop-up flaps rise up off the page is amazing.
It’s also amazing in the sheer economy of the way it tells the story. I’ve always had a problem with graphic novels – they move at the wrong pace for me. Mostly they’re just too slow, so many different frames for every single action and movement. Whereas my Dracula tells the story in only seven big double-page pop-up pictures and about a hundred small comic-s size pictures ( some of which have their own small pop-ups). Seriously, the whole story of the original novel! It zooms in on the heart of key scenes and lets them spread out like a ripple in a pond, giving information through different aspects of the image. Normally, I only ever read books once, but I’ve read/viewed Dracula a dozen times already.
On to ebooks and audio books … A few months ago, I’d have had nothing much to say about either; I’d read a novel, some short stories and a couple of PhD theses on my iPad, but only because I couldn’t carry the weight of print material around. I’ve always loved the physical feel of a real book; the look of the cover and the smell of the pages are part of the reading experience to me. But for the last six weeks, I haven’t been able to read ordinary print. I had an operation on one eye (which was a total success, I’m glad to report) and the eye changed from shortsighted to longsighted. Now I need reading glasses as never before—but I’ve had to wait for the eye to settle down before even getting tested for new specs. So for the past six weeks, I’ve had to experiment with books in other forms.
My first experiment was with audio books – I especially like the Playaway ones, which are the size of an iPod, and you listen to them in an iPod way, attaching your own ear-buds. I tried non-fiction, The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge. I’m really fascinated by those new discoveries—about how the brain isn’t fixed, one part for each function, but can re-wire itself from the synapses available. It wasn’t great as audio book, though, and I found myself often wanting to fast forward and skip to the interesting bits. I’m not sure whether it was the fault of Dodge’s writing or the audio book form. It couldn’t have been my fault, of course!
I had an entirely different experience when I bought a Playaway of The Spook’s Apprentice, by Joseph Delaney. It’s a wonderful supernatural story for YA readers, and contains some truly eerie scenes and creepy old-style tension. I‘m sure it was all the more scary because I listened to it. Hearing someone telling a ghost story is so much better than reading it on the page! The pauses, the lowered voice, the thrilling delivery that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck … the fear transmits directly, like vibrations through floorboards.
I can prove how much it sucked me in: I did some of my listening when I was out walking for exercise, and I’ve never done so much exercise in my life. I had to keep walking so that I could hear what happened next!
My second experiment was with ebooks. Instead of reading at an ordinary print size, I blew the font up larger than large on my iPad. I’ve just finished reading A Darkling Plain, number four in Phillip Reeve’s “Mortal Engines” series—great steampunk fantasy, though maybe you need to have read the three previous novels to enjoy it. I not only enjoyed it, I enjoyed reading it on my iPad because the (enlarged) pages whizzed past so fast. My wrist would be aching if I’d had to turn so many pages, but a tap on the side of the screen, and the story just soared and flew along!
Now I’m a convert, and I’m planning to buy myself an e-reader. My iPad is fine, but it’s still a backlit screen, and I want an e-reader with e-ink for all the e-fiction I now expect to read. I wasn’t impressed by the Kindles I saw in the past, but I’ve since seen a Sony e-reader (belonging to Jessica Francis, just before the launch of Kate Forsyth’s latest, Bitter Greens), and my eyes almost fell out of my head. The print on the screen was so sharp and clear, and the unit itself so unbelievably slim!
But what kind of e-reader? I want to download Kindle books and iBooks—can the Sony do that without problems? Or conversely, have the latest Kindles improved since the early ones? I don’t want to make a choice I’ll regret, so if anyone with experience of e-readers can give me some guidance, please help me out!