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"Real reading" and the e-book

1 February 2010

'According to Amazon Kindle's vice-president, Ian Freed, the success of the Kindle signals the end of physical books: 'The only question is does it take three years, five years or 20 years?' I remain to be persuaded that e-readers are capable of matching the varied activities we engage in when reading. More is required to satisfy the dedicated reader than replicating the content and appearance of a printed book, or emulating the action of "turning pages" using a tap on a touch-sensitive screen.

My own reading habits, like those of the historical readers I study, involve changing patterns of physical contact with the book, moving through it in unpredictable and non-linear ways, alone and with others. I usually work with several books simultaneously, using their position on my desk to explain their part in the argument I am trying to follow.

So far I see little evidence that e-readers begin to engage with "real reading", the kind those surviving marginal annotations in much-studied books are testimony to. Reading, those annotations show, is an active and social activity. It interacts with reading matter in creatively constructive and useful ways. The output from a reading of this intense and systematic kind is larger than the book itself. It extends to other, related books, and conversations with other, similarly goal-orientated readers.

The electronic book offers me a convenient extra way to read while on the move. Given a good enough screen I am sure that I will use it, and I certainly like the idea of being able to buy and download difficult-to-locate texts at any time of the day or night. This may also be the device that will allow newspapers and magazines to survive as revenue-earning businesses. But I do not expect to stop using physical books. '

Lisa Jardine in A Point of View on BBC Radio Four