🤓 Geekery

2015 review: the paperback novel

Has it stood the test of time? In short, no.

By Holly Brockwell October 12, 2015

Recently, I’ve been reading my way through one of those unavoidable lists of “books you must read before you die.” I’m almost 30, so as death is basically on my doorstep, I thought I’d better get on with it.

I’ve been avoiding the last book on the list – “The Catcher in the Rye” by JD Salinger – because it’s not on Kindle, or any kind of electronic device or app, due to the wishes of the author. It’s only available as a proper, old-school, physical book – and it’s been a long time since I read one of those.

This gets me a fair amount of abuse from traditionalists, but I’m a huge proponent of digital media. Not only because it’s much easier, but because I live in London, where every square foot costs you an armload of cash. If I had all my Kindle books as hard copies, I’d need lot more storage space in my shoebox flat.

Having started reading The Catcher in the Rye, though, it’s really come home to me how inconvenient old-school books are when you’ve got used to the alternative. So here’s my tongue-in-cheek 2015 review of the paperback.

Design

– Approximately 1.5cm thick
– Made from ex-tree
– Really bloody heavy

OK, the format of this book is just straight-up inconvenient. It’s thick, it’s weighty, and it takes up a tonne of space in my bag. Not only this, but it has the title emblazoned on the front, so when I’m reading it on the tube, annoying dudes start asking me about it. This does not happen when I’m reading on my phone.

Also, it’s made from tree. In 2015, this is not really OK. Like the leather LG G4, using dead things to make products when there are other options available does not sit well with me. It says it’s sustainable paper, but you know what’s even more sustainable than that? Digital words on the phone I already own. No trees died in the making of a Kindle book.

Features

– Paper pages
– Physical progress indicator
– No backlight

First off, the progress indicator is weak at best. I had to skip all the way to the end of the book – risking spoiling the ending! – to find out how many pages there were, which turned out to be a not-at-all round 230, then try and mentally figure out what percentage I’d read already. There’s no obvious way to find out how long until the end of the chapter, either in minutes or pages, and the only way to know how near the end of the book I am is to turn it sideways and mentally estimate the fraction of pages already turned. This is rubbish.

Also, reading this book at night is a total hassle. It has no backlight whatsoever, so I had to leave my lamp on and re-adjust it to hit the pages. This also meant reorientating myself from my usual bedtime reading position facing away from the table where my lamp is, because I had to hold the book in such a way that the light shone on it. The lamp is altogether too bright for this kind of thing, and frankly having to fiddle around to turn it off when it was time to go to sleep rather than just switching off my Kindle/phone was a ball ache. However, I’m told lamplight is better for your sleep quality than the blue light from a phone screen, so that’s a possible bonus.

When I woke up the next morning, I was disconcerted to find that the book didn’t save my place at all. You have to physically mark the page somehow if you want to go back to where you were. Skip to a different part of the novel – to go back and check something that happened earlier, for instance – and your page is lost again. Also, once you’ve started reading the book, it no longer closes properly – like a cheap phone flip case, it keeps flapping open.

There is no extended functionality in this book at all. If you want to know the definition of a word, you’ve got to actually come out of the book, go and find something with internet and Google it. You can’t just tap. You also can’t drag to highlight words, save quotes or add notes. The best you can do is actually physically draw on the book with a pen and then fold the page over, but who’s going to be able to find that when they need it?

It’s not even searchable.

Battery life

– Essentially endless

It’s not all bad news. I did find that on a day when my phone was almost out of power (thanks, OnePlus Two) the book still had plenty of life. In fact, the battery doesn’t appear to have depleted at all since I started using it. That’s amazing, considering I’ve had hours of reading time without a charge.

Pricing and verdict

– £8.99, published by Penguin
– Available at Amazon UK

At first, I thought this was pretty pricey at £8.99 – especially considering the total lack of features and the inconvenient format. But it turns out that price includes not just the book but the platform to read it on – you don’t need a Kindle or phone.

Also, the battery life is phenomenal – I still haven’t managed to exhaust it. If you’re looking for something that’ll last and last, and won’t need topping up right at the crucial point in the narrative, you might like this product.

I can’t recommend it as your main reading device for the reasons above, but at this price, it’s a great backup option in case your Kindle falls in a storm drain or your phone dies.

As for me, though? I’m heading straight back to the Kindle app. For the trees, you understand.

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