Feeding that reading habit

Tags: Gadgets
Over the past couple of generations, maybe more, we’ve always bemoaned the decline in the number of readers. When I was a child, back the 1980s and 1990s, grown-ups curled their lip at the abomination called the television and how it was making readers, both young and old, stray. About three decades later, we’re doing the same; only now the list of culprits has grown longer—mobiles, tablets, video games, not to mention that old behemoth, the TV. And yet, through it all, the publishing industry has flourished. More and more books have continued to be published. Heck, more and more ways of publishing books have since sprouted. If the moaners were right, then nobody should be reading these books.

Time to face the truth: yes, we have many more things to distract us today, but we also have many more ways to read and many more ways to access reading material. Technology isn’t— and it has never been—our enemy. Whether it is about reading books or acquiring books, it has only been an enabler.

Reading Books

Ever since airline baggage allowances have seen a nosedive, those among us who cannot bear to step outside (let alone go on a trip) without reading material have been hugging our ereaders more closely to our chests than ever. The ability to stuff an entire library into a device smaller and lighter than a paperback has also been a welcome change in terms of storage space.

Not just that, thanks to the ability to read books on just about any device—mobile phones, tablets or computers—the nightmare of being stuck somewhere with nothing to read has faded almost to zero. Agreed that reading on a mobile phone screen is hardly ideal, but comparing that to not being able to read at all gives it a whole new context.

Getting books

Online reading communities like Goodreads provide a ready reference to what likeminded readers are loving or hating, definitely a plus when it comes to figuring out what to read next. It allows members to post their own reviews too and comment on others’, or create discussion groups to nitpick on plot points. For someone who was too shy for reading groups, Goodreads has been paradise.

The web also affords plenty of opportunities to score free reading material, not just in the form of out-of-copyright classics from places like Gutenberg.org, but also freebies from the likes of Kindle, Kobo, Smashwords and other ebook stores. Moreover, if you’re willing to ‘give back’ in the form of reviews (either on sites like Goodreads or Amazon, or on a personal book review site/blog), a membership at NetGalley affords the chance to read new books for free even before they are published. And then is the Kindle Unlimited model, a read-as-much-as-you-can type of subscription for as little as Rs 150 a month. Of course, all this is on top of buying regular ebooks—they cost about as much as print books, sometimes less, and you don’t have to wait for them to be delivered.

Not just ebooks, but they way we acquire print books has changed too. The ability to buy the latter without having to get out of the house is definitely a plus. This definitely does not mean that a browsing in a bookshop, aimlessly or with a goal, is not a valid pastime. The point is, the next time we are tempted to lament about technology killing the reading habit, we need to stop and take a closer look.

(The author is a personal tech writer)

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