Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Thoughts on Social Reading and Other Intrusions

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
A couple of months ago, I read an interesting post on social reading: Is Social Reading the End of an Intimacy?  Porter Anderson discussed the topic on Jane Friedman’s blog for his Writing on the Ether weekly column there (excellent coverage of publishing industry topics there, if you haven’t checked it out). 
I’ve kept thinking about the post, since this social aspect keeps slipping into ebooks I’ve been reading.  I’ve gotten used to the underlined passages, for instance, although they startled me the first few ebooks I read.  The fact that I’ve gotten used to them is what makes me think about Porter’s post.

The underlined passages may not be such a huge deal, but as Porter put it, it could get more extensive:
“I’m imagining pop-up notes nudging me with other readers’ bright ideas; reviews rolling all over the place; and marginalia marching around the glowy screen of my preferred tablet reading device.”
What does bother me (and this is device intrusion, not specifically social media):
When my Kindle tells me that I have 5 minutes left in my chapter. My device has been timing my reading and applies it to unread text.  This is my device interacting with me.  It makes me feel as if I’m racing the clock…and since I definitely don’t need to be reminded how very little free time I have, it gives me a harried feeling.  Clearly, I need to turn this feature off (now to figure out how to do that).
What doesn’t bother me:
Seeing a request at the end of the book to like a book on Facebook, tweet about it, or buy the next book.  I don’t do any of those things, but I don’t mind seeing the request.  But I read on a survey in the last year (tried to find the survey and can’t, darn it) that readers frequently feel irritated when they get these requests at the end of a book… that reading should be a sanctuary from social media.
Underlined passages don’t bother me. With my Kindle in hand, I’ve been at book club and watched as folks have fumbled through their printed books, looking for just the right passage to illustrate their point.  I’m able to immediately find that passage because the thing has been underlined by 500 people.  Not wanting to be a know-it-all, I just wait for them to find their spots.
Underlined passages are also useful for writers—these underlined spots create helpful research as to favorite scenes and what worked for readers.  You can check out the ones readers underlined on your book’s page on Amazon. 
What sometimes bothers me:
Reader comments while I’m reading a book…this bothers me.  And you’d think it wouldn’t, with my background. For the record, I’m the daughter of a now-retired high school English teacher. For my first twenty-two years, I rarely read a book that didn’t have annotations in the margins or underlined passages (unless they were library books).  I do believe it may have warped me because I write in nearly all of my print books.  But Daddy’s notes were a teacher’s notes and I found them insightful.  I don’t have the same interest in other readers’ marginalia.
But!  I don’t mind reading notes after I’m finished with a book, when I’ve already drawn conclusions for myself.  Then I do like to read others’ opinions and analyses. Book club meetings have maybe softened me up for some forms of social reading in my ebooks.  But only on my own terms and only after I’m done with a novel. 
What’s probably key with social reading, from a publisher/developer perspective:
Porter hit the nail right on the head here, for me: “And our busy developers gussying up social reading platforms need provide us with an escape. An OFF button. I will use it. Indeed, if I can’t turn off these fine features when I want to, I’ll be as anti-social in reading as I am (some tell me) in life.”
Yes.  I have to be able to turn it all off. I have to turn off highlighters, forget about annotations, and not “share” at the end of the book unless I darn well want to.  I can’t deal with too much clutter in the margins. And I’m with Porter about hearing blather from readers—inconsequential information that has nothing to do with the book.  I’d want more insightful comments…sometimes.  And sometimes maybe I want to just read and be by myself with my thoughts.
As a writer, though, I’ve noticed the fact that I have gotten used to some of this intrusion, as I mentioned earlier in the post.  This makes me think that our future will feature books that are a lot more interactive in a social way.  If I can so easily get used to it in my middle age, my kids accept it as a matter of fact.  Although I feel somewhat divided on this, I have a feeling that it will be one of many ways we keep writing and reading relevant to a new, computer-native generation.
How do you feel about social reading?  


Friend and fellow mystery writer Margot Kinberg has put together a crime fiction anthology: In a Word--Murder.  The ebook retails for $2.99 and proceeds from its sales benefit Princess Alice Hospice, in memory of Maxine Clarke, a supporter of and good friend to the crime writing community.  One of my stories is in the collection, first attempt at short fiction. :) 
Image: MorgueFile: Alvimann