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This Is What You’re Missing Out On When Using an E-Reader Instead of a Real Book

20 May 2015

From Mic.com:

An attractive stranger sits across from you on the train, hunched over and reading. As they read on, a small smirk crosses their face. What’s so funny? Maybe you and this sexy stranger share a discerning literary taste, you think.

. . . .

What we lose when covers go plastic: Since the Kindle’s 2007 debut, the number of gray and white screens in the hands of train riders and beach-goers has steadily risen. As of 2014, up to 50% of Americans over 18 owned a tablet or e-reader, according to a survey by Pew Research Center.

“Books on the subway are increasingly like birds in the jungle: colorful, hard-to-spot and of obsessive interest,” writer Ben Dolnick observed on the Awl while watching people read on the New York City subway for a week.

As more and more people opt for e-readers rather than paperbacks, the chances for people to connect over them dwindle. Not only are book readers sexy (just take the viral Instagram account Hot Dudes Reading), we also draw all sorts of flattering conclusions about people’s book choices and use those choices to connect. Books are a natural pick-up line, an easy entryway to understanding someone’s interests, passions and even biases.

. . . .

 One Tumblr user, k-auhale, blogged about the time she was once asked out via a John Green book. “Wait! there’s this quote I wanted to show you on page… 123, I think,” her crush told her. He then pointed to a sentence in Looking for Alaska that he had highlighted that read, “Do you want to be my girlfriend?” The devoted Green fan happily accepted the offer.

. . . .

Nobody is more concerned over the potential loss of book-inspired connections than Tricia Callahan, the founder of CoverSpy, who curates a blog that documents what the people of Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Toronto and other cities are reading in public — on the train, in the bar and in parks. Callahan felt the coming of the digital reader revolution in 2009 and wanted to do something about it.

“We felt it on our commutes: Kindle backs were the new book covers to stare at. Something was changing in our visual landscape, we were losing something,” Callahan told Mic. For her, creating CoverSpy was about acknowledging the kind of connection that might be lost with e-readers.

“One day I was standing on the subway reading,” said Callahan, recalling a time she was wrapped up reading about F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby. She looked up, and lo and behold, the woman holding the pole next to her was reading Gatsby at that very moment.

Link to the rest at Mic.com and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Yet another reason why PG is glad that he’s married.

Ebooks, Kindle

78 Comments to “This Is What You’re Missing Out On When Using an E-Reader Instead of a Real Book”

  1. Ah, but with an ereader, no one can see that you’re actually reading 50 Shades of Grey…

  2. That sounds like an East Coast problems (i.e., you have to keep most of what a book makes because you have to pay for NY rents when you’re a publisher). I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone anywhere reading a novel while I was out and about in my normal life, but I’ve never lived somewhere with a train system.

    Those poor, poor singles who used to connect through book covers. Guess they’ll have to, I don’t know, use dating apps (new technology!) or something on that tablet of theirs.

  3. I would think an ereader would pose even more of an opportunity to break the ice and chat because it’s a mystery of what is being read. You look at a book cover and you know right away.

    Of course, this article sounds like it was written by an extrovert, who might not realize that when people are reading, they may not want to get chatted up.

  4. Easy solution to those still dating (I, too, am grateful and happy to be married): You lean over, engage the other party with a speaking glance, and say, “What do you like to read?”

    There. Got that sorted for ya.

    • But what if it turns out that they like to read *gasp* trashy romances or other commercial dreck? Better to just judge them by the cover of the book they’re reading before engaging with them.

    • I use it all the time on patients in the office. They walk in with an actual book, there isn’t much room for conversation, but they walk in with an ereader, I can ask them all sorts of questions about which reader it is, what sort of stuff they read on it…

      Occasionally I even mention that I have some stuff published on Kindle. I feel like it humanizes me. Sort of like music discussions did when I was playing in a bar band. It shocked the heck out of most people that their dentist was up on a stage playing keyboards and singing rock and roll tunes on weekend evenings…

      • OTOH, I’ve read voraciously since I was a child. There is little I find more obnoxious than a casual stranger who notices me reading (and therefore not engaging socially with them) and leans over to say, brightly, “Oh! What are you reading?”

        And then you have to explain. Classical history, SciFi, epic poetry, juvenilia, linguistics, thrillers, good stuff, bad stuff, classics, esoteria — whatever it is, they haven’t heard of it and maybe haven’t heard of the subject matter either. Nor do they actually care, as a rule — it’s just an excuse for conversation. There’s no polite way to respond without an expansion on subjects you know they don’t care about, so you have to dodge the question awkwardly.

        Or invent an appropriate title. Say, Dracula at the OK Corral. Or, 101 Ways to Conceal a Personal Weapon.

        Do you walk up to someone with a headset and say, “Hey, whatcha listenin’ to?” That might be even worse… 🙂

        • Patricia Sierra

          I guess I’m a genuine jerk because several times I’ve asked strangers what they’re reading. It’s never been a bad experience, at least for me, and sometimes it led to a somewhat lengthy conversation.

  5. Fortunately, the Onion has already solved that problem.

    *sigh* another “you’re doing it wrong” article. Whatever happened to “excuse me, what are you reading?”

  6. Of all the arguments I’ve heard in favor of paper books, getting hit on by strangers on the train is not among the most compelling.

  7. “It really cramps my style,” said a creepy guy in an old overcoat on bus 425. “I mean, how can I make suggestive comments about what some chick is reading if I don’t know what it is? Last time I tried, it turned out she was reading Krav Maga: Lose Weight and Kick Ass on her ereader. By the time I was out of the hospital she’d already filed the restraining order!”

    On a more serious note, I do observe how many of my fellow bus commuters read paper books vs. ereaders/phones. Seems a bunch of people read paper library books, but a lot more use devices of some kind.

    • Thanks for the laugh!

    • Seems a bunch of people read paper library books, but a lot more use devices of some kind.

      The folks who carry books in every single appointment usually have one of these two. I have a couple people who are always reading their own books. Always fun to see what they bring in.

  8. Huh. I never, ever interrupted anyone reading a book, unless he was reading in between providing a service, like working the cash wrap or something. Figure it’s the golden rule, treating others how I want to be treated. I never liked people interrupting me when I read. It might provide a natural pick up line for some, but it only serves to irritate me. So I don’t read much in public. You make more eye contact with people when you don’t have your nose buried in a book. Just saying.

  9. With an e-reader, there’s no need to slip a bible cover over your “Hot Nuns in the Bell Tower” before going to church on Sundays. 😉

    • I want to steal that title! 😆

    • In England last year, near Bath, I saw a young woman on a bus with a book in her hands, turning pages raptly. The book came complete with flowery garden cover. Alas, it slipped just a little while she was turning a page, and I saw a cover in shades of monochrome gray and black.

      Gotcha! Of course, I said nothing. Americans in the UK can be soo intrusive.

    • I suspect that’s most likely THE HOT PRIEST AND THE VIRGIN.For the female readers who are more likely to blush over their reading preferences.

  10. Years ago living in Japan, I remember many commuters had bookstores mask the covers of their purchases with discrete wrapping paper. The only visible clue to a person’s character was in his or her choice of shopping venue.

    Maybe tony book curators today should offer fair trade hand folded covers to distinguish their patrons’ acquisitions from those of unsophisticated Amazon and Walmart shoppers.

  11. This article is so power-packed, so filled with staggering commonsense, that I can see every enlightened reader under eighty rushing to the trash to dump their ereaders ASAP. All of them wondering if they’d missed the man/woman of their dreams while engrossed in a story about dragons…

  12. Chris Armstrong

    Crowded subway trains are not salons. They are public urinals on wheels – but with more pickpockets.

    Sorry to burst that romantic bubble.

  13. I personally doubt I am going to start using reading to make a pickup on the Metro. If I decided to use such a pickup technique, I suspect it would be for some quick, hot sex in the restroom rather than a life partner. *smirk*

  14. Yawn. I much prefer it when people DO NOT connect with me and try to bother me when I’m reading on the train. THAT’S WHY I’M READING. SO YOU WON’T TALK TO ME.

    (This person is obviously not from NYC, and if they are, they are crazypants.)

    • I talked to a lady on the bus once. I didn’t see she had her headphones on. The universal sign for “leave me alone.” I felt like a complete tool.


  15. What does it say that I completely got sidetracked into that Instagram account?

    LOL. 😀

  16. Perhaps what’s needed is a new line of ereader covers that contain a clear plastic sleeve where you can slide in a paper insert image of the cover of the book you are currently reading.

    • Or some kind of digital display of your goodreads shelf?

      Honestly, that’s not a half bad idea for those who like showing off these kinds of things. (Not me.)

  17. But what if your reading habits begins and ends with “Knocked Up By The Alpha Stepbrother While Engaging in Threesome With his Werewolf Friends”? Then you probably don’t want people knowing what you’re reading on the subway. Just like VHS and cable made porn accessible to lonely men, it appears eBooks (and Amazon) have made porn more accessible to lonely housewives/cat ladies.

  18. About the book cover, long ago at work someone showed me this book “This is a Dirty Book” and it was a dirty book. The title was in big letters, you couldn’t miss the title. Someone passed by and, embarrassed, I put the book on the desk face down. Guess what the back cover said in big letters “This is a Dirty Book”
    So much for advertising what you read.

  19. When your article references Tumblr unironically it invalidates the entirety of the content.

  20. We’re doing this again? And if ever there was a bottom-of-the-barrel argument. As others have noted, the whole point of having the book is so people won’t talk to you. Now, thanks to ereaders, you don’t need to put on headphones while reading, by way of extra insurance.

    I wonder if the people who write these articles were equally offended when audiobooks became a thing.

  21. I read this over on the original site and all I could think was they are really grasping at straws here. Basically they’re saying that books have been used to pick up dates? Oh well, guess it doesn’t concern me anyway since I’ve been married 30 years this year. lol. I have to wonder how old the writer of this article is that this is such a major issue for her.

  22. Yes, women everywhere mourn the lost opportunities to provide male strangers with the opportunity to creep on them. I’ve been riding mass transit for decades. Most women, from what I can see, just want to make it to their destination without anything getting awkward.

    That said, this past summer, I was reading my wife’s print copy of Patti Smith’s Just Kids when a charming young woman asked me if it was good. It was clear that she honestly wanted to know.

    I told her it was. I worked in that it was my wife’s copy (usually a pretty good signal that I understand we really are just talking about the book). Then I readily disengaged when I sensed she was ready to.

    I suppose the opportunity for that kind of conversation is indeed lost with my Kindle. Then again, that was the only one I’ve ever had in nearly 30 years of commuting.

  23. Smart Debut Author

    So, you’re missing out on stalkers and creepers, basically? 🙂

  24. Creepy. Quit leching.

  25. Just tell people on the subway you have a discerning literary taste for the smell of new paper books.

  26. I also read the whole article.

    Having some random stranger want to do a threesome with you and your date just on the basis that she likes the book you’re reading doesn’t really inspire me to want to carry around a paper book.

    But then, you know, maybe that’s just me 😛

    • No! It’s definitely not just you, Kyra. The anecdotal incidents the OP described creeped ME out. (And it takes a lot to do that. 🙂 )

    • I’m sorry, I had that wrong. The random stranger wants a threesome with you and your boyfriend because *you* like the book *she’s* reading.

      Somehow, that’s not much better.

    • You just can’t understand because you’re a housewife.

      • lol, Yes, my poor little housewifey brain just can’t grasp such elevated concepts like why having some random stranger hitting on both me and my boyfriend would be so awesome just because she’s reading my favorite book. I live a sheltered life, I guess.

  27. Even when I was young and occasionally chatted up by random strangers on trains or planes, none of them, not one, ever turned out to bear the faintest resemblance to Aidan Turner or Luke Pasqualino.

  28. OK, the constant weird physical book fetishes are starting to get creepy. I think you should all go smell, feel, and flirt (and whatever else) with your books someplace the rest of us don’t have to watch. FYI, some of us are more interested in the actual stories (you know, the words inside your fragrant pick up device)

  29. These articles are getting out of hand. But please don’t stop posting them PG.

  30. Al the Great and Powerful

    We don’t have a train or subway here (yet), and I can walk the mile to work in half an hour if I wait for every stoplight, so there just isn’t the chance to chat with fellow riders over my book choices.

    When I’m somewhere with mass transit, I’m usually busy looking around and enjoying the novelty, or talking to my wife, or counting stops, and planning the next thing we’ll be doing. I did read on the train in Japan, but that was longer hauls, once I knew what to look or listen for when I got to my destination.

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