I have been using the Net and screen-reading for many years now and I don’t think I am alone or unusual in this. I have been reading books and physical print media for an awful lot longer. I cannot remember being taught to read, it is just one of those skills I have always seemed to be able to do, and I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t avidly devouring every piece of printed media I could lay my (often grubby) little mitts on. Mum went through a phase when we were kids that there was to be no reading at the breakfast/dinner table. The phase lasted all of a month or so till she got fed-up of us reading the back of cereal packets – clearly conversation wasn’t on the cards, so why not let us read something proper if we were so insistent?
So it surprised me when I was in the library the other day looking for something new to read that how I read (at least pick the books I am going to read) has been so influenced by the Internet.
When I read on the computer I have become used to scanning and making snap judgments on websites. A blog, for example, has very few lines to capture my attention and make me want to read more, let alone subscribe and visit again. When I read longer content such as articles, again my attention is more likely to wander and I need regular prompts or section breaks to keep me hooked. I found myself doing this at the library as well. I would browse, my attention would be grabbed by a title or pretty cover (yes, I am seduced by pretty things), I would scan the blurb, and (if still intrigued) glance at the first page.
This is in and of itself is nothing new. I have always tended to graze for new authors that way if I am not going on recommendations. What is new is that I am much more impatient and have to be grabbed much quicker by either the blurb or the introductory lines. It used to be I would read through at least the first page to get a sense of whether I would like the writing — and, hence, the book. Now most books don’t even make it as far as the first paragraph.
I am not sure why, nor could I really quantify what grabs me about some books and not about others, but whatever it is I base my judgments on, it has become a lot more impatient. I am harder to please and I think it is a direct response to all the web browsing I am doing now.
There is simply so much out on the web that is constantly yammering for our attention. We have had to learn to filter all the noise out and our inherent “spam filters” are getting pickier by the minute. When I started blogging I would subscribe to anything and everything that came my way, sucking it all into my giant bookmarks collection. I was at an all-you-can-eat buffet and getting fatter by the second. I quickly found myself in overload and, much trial and error later, discovered that for my own sanity I could only deal with about 200 feeds. More than that, I just wasn’t giving things my full attention. Less than that I got bored — which is bad for everyone. But with so much great content out there, how do you decide what to keep and what to send to oblivion? It is hard, deciding what does and doesn’t get your attention and you have to be ruthless. A blogger hasn’t said anything interesting lately? Her/his style of writing annoy you? Out in the trash they go.
Conversely it has meant that when I find my favourites I am so much more of an avid fan. I relish every word they write, greedily guzzling everything and everything they say. If they recommend something, I am so much more likely to trust what they have to say. Once they have my attention, we can start to build a relationship, and we all know how hungry for love I am.
How does this tie into my book reading?
I have already mentioned how I find myself browsing for new books in the same way I browse for new websites. If I am feeling like putting some energy into the search, I will chase down links (recommendations from other authors I enjoy, reviews and so on), but mostly I am lazy. I will wander around the store or library till my eye is caught by a pretty cover or title. I will scan the blurb and, if I am further intrigued, flick to the front page. It seems that very few books get further than that but, as my groaning bookshelves will testify, clearly I end up buying lots. My bookshelf space however, like my imposed limit on the number of RSS feeds, is finite. Once I have a book I very rarely let go of it so only books I want to read over and over tend to make it as far as my shelves.
Bookshops must be aware of how I shop, because they put those tantalising piles of books on tables near the door. I rarely make it as far as the shelves themselves, or if I do it is because I am looking for a particular author. Because If I find an author I enjoy and they have written other books then it is pretty much a given that I will chase down those other books and buy them without recourse to the whole ‘scanning’ process. They get a free pass through my spam filter because the author already has my attention.
I am not actually that happy with this state of affairs because, lately, I have found myself at a loss for new books to read. I know great books are being written, I just never seem to get my hands on them. All I seem to get presented with when I walk into bookshops are the same fifty “best sellers”, including the celebrity biography de jour. The gems and marvels pass me by because I am caught in a loop of impatient grazing I cannot seem to break. I beg for recommendations and occasionally I will stumble across a gem, but that is so rare as to leave me caught up my current backwater of fluffy chick-lit.
Help me? Rescue me from my current diet of Jill Mansell and Freya North. I used to read books by brilliant authors who stretched my mind. I used to have a fairly decent literary taste. So I enjoy fluffy chick-lit but time was it would take me a few days to read a book because I was savouring the words and digesting multi-faceted plots. Now I am on a book a day, gorging myself on happily ever afters, and it isn’t exactly what I should be admitting to.
P.S – a little note to publishers – I like the ‘lists of books already written by this author’ you sometimes find on the fly pages of a book. It is a great help, but can you please make it clear which order series books are to be read in? This especially holds true with fantasy/sci-fi. For genres rife with trilogies and multi-book-sequences, sequels and prequels, character reuse and mulitverse-crossing storylines, you’d be surprised how often a simple “read in this order…” list is omitted. Grr.