Why do we read?

Why do we read?

Why do we read?

The answer for some of us seems simple: we can’t not read. It’s a part of our lives, a part of us, and we wouldn’t be who we are if we didn’t.

However, if you are a marketer, that’s not a good enough answer.

Sure, you can say that you read for entertainment, for relaxation, for knowledge…but we have other ways to get those.

I’m an omnivorous input consumer: TV, movies, radio, apps, books, magazines, conversation, food packages, watching animals. I want a lot happening, and I want to think about it and experience and share my insights about it with other people.

If you are looking at marketing a device or content, though, you want to know: why should we include books?

There is a cost to everything you include. It’s not necessarily a high cost, but a screen that is good at showing you Star Wars or playing Angry Birds just doesn’t have the same goals as a screen that is display Dostoevsky or Doc Savage.

They’ll need to understand why we choose reading over other forms of input if we want them to continue to include it as an option.

I think I know why, and some features being offered to us go directly against it.

I read because it is the most direct form of input I can get. The words create concepts, and my concept of them and the author’s are somewhat similar.

You can’t have a face-to-face conversation with someone and not have who they are influence how you perceive it. If your Significant Other says something to you and a stranger says the exact same thing, you process it differently. If a child said something and someone who was 100 said it, you would evaluate it as two different statements.

In a book, the words are the words.

I think that’s the key thing. I don’t even like fancy fonts. I think italics and bolds, even though I use them sometimes in this blog, are added special effects.

I’m a big movie fan, but you are being given multiple channels of information: the sound, the actors’ bone structure, the lighting…and somewhere in there are the words.

We don’t have that with a typical novel.

I read what you say and I think what I think and feel what I feel.

You don’t feel it for me.

That ties into why I prefer text-to-speech to audiobooks (unless I’ve already read the book). I want to interpret what the words mean myself: I don’t want the actor to do it for me. I like that I hear the same voice in all my e-books in the car: I don’t want it to be that I am judging what the book means because I didn’t like the delivery of a line. If I”ve already read the book, I’ve already processed it once: then the additional inputs can be fun.

Reading isn’t easy: that may be why some people don’t like doing it. It’s also why you hit a quantum leap point when you are learning to read (whether it’s your first language or an additional one). At some point, you become able to read without thinking about the mechanics…you move into that zone of pure  ideas.

I also think that’s why many typos in an e-book bother some people so much. It gets them back to thinking about something other than the book (“How could they make a mistake like that?” “Oh, it looks like it thought a small “l” was a “1” every time.”).

When you are sight-reading, you actually shift your mind into an altered state. You can experience what something is like, even if that thing never really happened. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t visualize when I read, but that doesn’t lessen that part of the experience for me.

Sight-reading puts the book first, and the world second. As I’ve mentioned, I can read and watch TV and have a talk with someone at the same time. However, which of these three take precedence? I’ll be looking at the book 90% of the time. I may glance up at the TV, or look at the person from time to time, but the book is my focus…the others are background. I want that background very much, and that seems to be the case with about 15% of people who express a preference (you can see that in this earlier post). If you saw me, though,  you’d say I was reading with the TV on…not that I was watching TV with a book in my hands.

I read because I want to immerse myself in the ideas.

That should give marketers a rule of thumb: if it takes away from the words being in the foreground, it won’t enhance reading.

I don’t think video, audio, and live chat are what most serious readers want. I do want them, by the way…for when I’m not reading seriously. 😉 That might be after I’ve finished a book, and then I want to share that experience with someone else. It might be for non-fiction, where you are trying to understand a concept more than have a fluid experience.

I don’t think instant messaging and incoming calls are what serious readers want, either.

You might be thinking, “What about the lookup dictionary? Do you think that gets in the way?”). The lookup dictionary is a help for readers. Not understanding what a word means takes you out of that altered state. To continue, you may need to understand that word…it might be essential to your brain creating the right experience for you. Leaving your book to go get a dictionary, look up a word, and then come back is far more disruptive than holding your finger on it for a second (or moving your 5-way next to it).

The same thing can be said for Wikipedia lookup.

So, gadget builders: we want e-books. We don’t want books to become movies or games. We want to experience the words as the words…keep it simple. If something gets in the way of reading the words, like the font is too small or we don’t know what a term means, feel free to fix that. If we are in the experience and you take us out of it, we aren’t going to like it.

That, at least, is my feeling on it. What do you think? Why do you read? Why should a tablet maker go to the time, expense, and effort to make the device friendly for long form reading…in your opinion? Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

21 Responses to “Why do we read?”

  1. Western Reader Says:

    Yes-yes-yes! As an avid reader (at least four books a week), I agree with you completely. I can only hope that your comments are not missed by those who have the power to put them into practice. I began reading at age five, and while books have held my interest in the many decades since, I give thanks often for my Kindle. It allows me to continue reading avidly even when arthritis makes holding a DTB painful.

  2. Von D. Lynn Says:

    I too am an avid reader. My Mom told me if there wasn’t anything in the house to read she would probably find me in the kitchen reading labels in the cupboards. I have often thought one of the reasons I developed such a love for the written word is I’m very near sighted. Without glasses I’m legally blind four times over. Also I’m an only child, so had to entertain myself much of the time. It’s so bad I have a hard time watching TV with closed captioning on, because I only pay attention to the words across the screen 🙂
    It is nearly an addiction. I just have to read. And oh the many, many places I’ve been! I totally agree with the previous comment I am so thankful for my kindle, as arthritis makes many things difficult to handle.
    I do visualize as I read and really can’t imagine not being able to do so. It’s so much more of a submerged experience that way. I sometimes have hard time watching a movie if I have already read the book, because I have my own idea of what the characters look and sound like.
    Thank you for writing such thought provoking pieces.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Von!

      Love to hear about someone loving reading!

      As to the visualizing, you might find my account of it here interesting:


      I wouldn’t say it’s exactly that I can’t visualize, just that I don’t. 🙂 If something is poorly written, I may have to visualize it to figure out what it going on. I’m not sure that you are more “submerged” because you are visualizing, although that’s possible…I think we’re just processing it differently.

      Thanks for the kind words! Utor libris vestris!

    • rogerknights Says:

      Both you and “Western Reader” above you mentioned that you have arthritis. I hope, if you own the K3 Keyboard Kindle, that you’re aware that its Alt & Shift keys are “persistent.” That is, they can be pressed BEFORE the keys they modify. (I informed one arthritis sufferer about this online and he was astonished to learn it. It’s information the Kindle User Guide keeps well hidden.)

  3. Alisha Says:

    Reading gives my brain a break! When I watch TV, I am always doing something else. When I’m surfing the internet, I have 20 tabs open and still run back and forth doing other things. Look! A squirrel!

    When I read, I have to sit down, relax and focus 100% on the book. It has a meditative effect on my mind.

    I love my Paperwhite because it only reads. I don’t want bells, whistles and alarms. I only want words, maybe an occasional picture and my imagination.

    That is why you won’t catch me reading on my Fire. That is strictly for web surfing, games and squirrel chasing. 🙂

    I do enjoy the dictionary look up and Wikipedia access. Those are resources that require reading, so 100% of my attention. I don’t consider that a distraction in the least.

  4. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I have always been an avid reader. My parents were avid readers. We received two daily newspapers, several magazine subscriptions. Both my parents belonged to book clubs. We had two sets of encyclopedias as well as “The Book of Knowledge” and an unabridged dictionary. When I was a child, my parents subscribed to “Jack and Jill” and “Highlights” magazines for me. Before I was able to read for myself, I was read to. My mother would read me a bedtime story every night. My dad would read the “funny papers” to me along with items from the newspaper that he thought would interest me. I couldn’t wait to learn how to read. I had a library card before I even started school.”

    Once I learned how to read, I read lots. I read all the “Reading Circle” books. I loved summer because I could stay up late reading. Books were my favorite gifts. I became a teacher. I started out teaching literature, composition, and creative writing at the high school level, but it soon became obvious that my true calling was working with students with reading disabilities, so I went on to become a reading specialist and eventually moved to elementary to become a Title I reading teacher

    Then when I hit my 40’s, I developed a neurological disorder known as myasthenia gravis which severely affected my vision. I developed double vision, but it couldn’t be corrected with prisms because the degree of doubling varied from one day to the next. The thing that caused the most eye strain was reading. Where before I would read a book a day, now I had to limit my reading to a chapter a day because that was all my eyes could take before the doubling would set in.

    I had pretty much resigned myself to a life without books when I saw the advertisement on the Amazon home page for the Kindle. I had already discovered that I could read on a computer without the type of eyestrain that was caused by paper books. I kept wondering if the Kindle could be the answer, but it was so expensive and I was wary of the possibility that it would be another one of those fads like the 8-track player and that I’d be able to get a few books and then nothing. But I finally decided to buy one knowing I could send it back after 30 days if it didn’t work out.

    And it did work out, and I can read again! It’s like a miracle. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed reading until I was able to read again.

  5. rogerknights Says:

    At some point, you become able to read without thinking about the mechanics…you move into that zone of pure ideas.

    I also think that’s why many typos in an e-book bother some people so much. It gets them back to thinking about something other than the book (“How could they make a mistake like that?” “Oh, it looks like it thought a small “l” was a “1″ every time.”).

    Good one!

  6. Zebras Says:

    All the comments already stated make me feel like I’ve found a bunch of long lost twins separated at birth! Reading has become such a necessity to me that one year, when I had a virus in my eye, and it had to be dilated for a few weeks, I was in tears at the doctor’s office, because I couldn’t read. This was pre-Kindle ownership for me, so I didn’t have the luxury of switching to TTS. I told him my head would explode if I couldn’t read. So, I am going to appreciate in advance the benefits of Kindle ownership will give me as my eyes age, etc.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Zebras!

      I really appreciate everybody sharing how reading, but specifically e-reading, has been such a big part of their lives.

      I would hope that somehow Stephen King would read these comments, before again deciding that releasing something only in paper is a good move…

      • Zebras Says:

        I was looking forward to watching his Under the Dome when it started on TV, but now I think I’ll miss it. I watch to much TV as it is, so I don’t need much of an excuse to cross something off my list, but now I’m less of a fan of his, too.

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        There are message boards on Stephen King’s official website. I don’t know if he ever reads them or gets feedback on the content. The boards are monitored, so I don’t even know if a thread about his stand on e-books and “text to speech” would pass muster. I didn’t try to open a thread because I didn’t want to have to register at the website, but it might be a place to try to call attention to it.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Lady!

        I remember I went to that board some time back, and I think I might have commented…but it didn’t seem likely to me that Stephen King would be aware of what was said there, in most cases.

  7. Western Reader Says:

    Bufo…Stephen King must have been a bit in favor of ebooks “back when.” I got one of his books, “UR” (purported to have been written specifically for the Kindle), back in April 2009. While I am not an avid fan of King’s work, I did enjoy UR. I wonder if he had such a bad experience that he’s vowed to not go electronic since?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Western!

      Actually, King was a pioneer in e-books back in 2000, way before the Kindle. I don’t think the author has had a bad experience in digital…quite the contrary, I would guess. I think this is an honest attempt to support physical bookstores. I just believe it is misguided, since people can still get the p-book online, and because there are many people with physical challenges that find both reading a p-book and getting to a store to be genuinely difficult.

      • rogerknights Says:

        King may have been influenced by the outspoken views of Scott Turow, author of Presumed Innocent and head of some authors’ league organization.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Roger!

        That’s possible…but I think it’s more that King is trying to replicate King’s own childhood…even though some people are incapable of having that same experience, for various reasons.

  8. Tina Greenwood Says:

    I’ve always loved to read more than anything. Every time I see a good movie, I immediately look to see if there is a book. I become far more attached to a character in a book than I can a movie. So many important details are skipped over in a movie and I guess it;s often difficult to get the casting right for a really strong character. Since there are some other avid readers here I will take the opportunity to recommend my favorite book of the year. Max Zimmer’s Journey (If Where You’re Going Isn’t Home) is a fabulous coming of age novel that tells the story of a teenager raised Mormon in Utah in the 1960’s. When he discovers a passion and talent for playing the trumpet, his life is transformed and all the conflicts of his family and religion become his journey. Honestly one of the best books I have ever owned and one of the most unique subjects for any book I have read. It gets my highest recommendation. http://maxzimmer.com/the-trilogy/

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Tina!

      I went ahead and approved this, because it does appear to be a genuine (and heartfelt) comment. Could you please confirm for my readers though that you have no connection to the book except as a reader?

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