Can you really read a book on the Apple Watch?

reading ebooks on apple watch?We have many options when it comes to ebook reading, and the Apple Watch might be the most surprising option of all — the 1.5 inch screen makes it quite a challenge, to say the least.

As the Digital Reader (“Glose Update v1.5 Adds Speed-Reading on the Apple Watch“) notes, apps such as Glose utilize RSVP (rapid serial visual presentation, a speed reading technique which involves flashing words on the screen in rapid succession) to make the most of some fairly limited design constraints when it comes to reading experience on the Apple Watch. To be fair — the Apple Watch is much more accurately thought of as a fashion accessory or complementary piece of technology, but we can’t help but at least entertain the thought of whether it could also function as a reading device.

Maybe more important of a question: would anyone really want to read anything longer than a text message or tweet on something attached to their wrist? Probably not. Teleread, in a post from a few years ago (“Is the Smartwatch Trend Heralding a New Type of E-Reader?” adds a few useful thoughts, noting that the smallest of book sizes were generally three by two inches, which is tiny. Would reading on a screen half of that size really be realistic?

9to5Mac (“eBook app for Apple Watch shows what not to do with watch apps“) is less enthusiastic about the usability of ebook reading on the Apple Watch, citing form factor, ebook formatting, and battery life as the primary concerns — and I’m inclined to agree.

apple watch ebook app

Which isn’t to say that things couldn’t change in the future. But for now, reading ebooks on an Apple Watch doesn’t really seem to be much of a thing — screen size and very limited navigation are the very real limitations for any kind of sustained reading experience. If you’re interested in checking out the speed reading approach to ebook reading on the Apple Watch, the Wear Reader app is worth a look.

Amazon Popular Highlights, the “Hawking Index”, and Attention Spans

There’s so much more information about our reading habits online now, it’s tantalizing to think about the possibilities. Jordan Ellenberg (Wall Street Journal: “The Summer’s Most Popular Book is …”) had a clever use for Amazon’s Popular Highlights feature, while coining the phrase, “the Hawking Index*” about what Kindle users are — and aren’t reading:

“How can we find today’s greatest non-reads? Amazon’s “Popular Highlights” feature provides one quick and dirty measure. Every book’s Kindle page lists the five passages most highlighted by readers. If every reader is getting to the end, those highlights could be scattered throughout the length of the book. If nobody has made it past the introduction, the popular highlights will be clustered at the beginning.

Thus, the Hawking Index (HI): Take the page numbers of a book’s five top highlights, average them, and divide by the number of pages in the whole book. The higher the number, the more of the book we’re guessing most people are likely to have read. (Disclaimer: This is not remotely scientific and is for entertainment purposes only!)”

The results: 775-page The Goldfinch (surprisingly to me) was one of the most-finished reads, while 696-page Capital in the Twenty-First Century was the least finished on the list. It makes some sense that fiction — and perhaps especially serial fiction with their built-in cliffhangers and delayed narrative gratification — would see greater completion rates than nonfiction. What does all of this mean? Probably nothing without a bigger sample size of books, but it’s still neat to think about. I wonder if in the not-distant future, that kind of data about reading habits could influence the decision-making process of book publishers.

On a related note, check out The Atlantic’s compilation of The Most Popular Passages in Books, According to Kindle Data:

like any big business, publishing must always center on the mass: What do the most people want? What will the most people buy? What do people respond to? Between these two, there is a strange relationship. Companies collect and analyze this data, but rarely do readers get to see it.

From a social perspective, I do find interesting what passages carry resonance with a large number of readers. But in my own Kindle reading, I usually opt for turning Popular Highlights off because of the potential for distraction. It’s more than a little possible that there is a mirror neurons kind of effect going on; perhaps our eye is drawn towards those passages that others have highlighted because it feels more significant because of that appearance of social importance. On some level, we probably can’t help but look more closely at the passage that says “4000 other people highlighted this part of the book” as opposed to “11 other people highlighted this part of the book.”

Trivia: attention span of goldfish is 9 seconds

I do wonder about our collective attention spans, and how our reading habits are being shaped by the various forms in which we are now reading our books.

Science Fracture (The Rise of Short Fiction) also has some observations on Kindle Singles and the role it might contribute in shaping our reading habits — but if in fact our attention spans are gravitating towards shorter forms of content, why do longer form books (think: the Game of Thrones series and a combined 4000-plus pages and counting) remain so popular?

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* Because apparently, A Brief of History of Time is the book everyone says they’re going to read but never do.**

** note to self: finish reading A Brief History of Time

Amazon’s “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime”

100 books to read in a lifetimeOk, I’m kind of a sucker for book lists. Have you seen Amazon’s “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime“?

It’s actually a fairly interesting mix. And here’s a link to the GoodReads version — I wonder what the list composition would look like if it were a crowd-sourced list.

Some tidbits from their press release:

  • Oldest book on the list: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
  • Most recently published book on the list: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (2013)
  • Book on the list that inspired the most internal debate: 1984 by George Orwell
  • A few books that were unanimous across the team: Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Really, Portnoy’s Complaint? Maybe I’m just not a liver fan.

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And for those that don’t want to scroll through the Amazon website to see the full title list (like me), here’s the list:

1984 by George Orwell

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning: The Short-Lived Edition by Lemony Snicket

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Alice Munro: Selected Stories by Alice Munro

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein

Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt

Are You There, God? It’s me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Born To Run – A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Book 1 by Jeff Kinney

Dune by Frank Herbert

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared M. Diamond

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Color of Water by James McBride

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The House At Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Liars’ Club: A Memoir by Mary Karr

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) by Rick Riordan

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Shining by Stephen King

The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel by Haruki Murakami

The World According to Garp by John Irving

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

 

Do We Really Care How Long It Takes Us To Read a Book?

Delay iphone reading app

What if we could know exactly how long it took us to read a book before we bought it? Does it really matter?

This article from Publishing Perspectives (“Should Books Tell You How Long They Will Take to Read?“) got me thinking. In particular, PP mentions a new type of reading app:

“the Delay App, which asks readers to indicated the amount of time they would like to read and, in turn, the app offers them selections that can be read during that period.” 

Here’s a link to the related press release (PP: “Dutch Delay App Gives You Stories Tailored to Your Free Time“), and it does take an interesting approach: marketing ebook content by length of reading time.

With the Kindle, for instance, we get an estimated reading time based on our reading speed and pace at which we scroll through pages. From personal experience, I started out as a big fan. But lately, if I want to read simply for the sake of reading (right now, I’m reading Anna Karenina), the thrill has worn off and I longer get a thrill out of knowing how many hours and minutes are left in the book.

Part of that is probably related to the fact that the Kindle estimated reading time varies from fairly good to terrible. Reddit definitely comes in handy if you are looking for a way to reset that pesky Kindle timer: “How to fix Kindle reading time estimates.

suggested reading timeAnd here’s another interesting viewpoint, from Flavorwire: “No, Alexis Ohanian, I Don’t Want Books to Tell Me How Long I Should Spend Reading Them“:

“… the purpose isn’t so much informational as it is, I think, sort of hilariously disciplining of both author and reader. A slow reader will feel guilty; a fast reader will feel pride; in both cases the feelings serve no useful purpose. For a writer of any real caliber the thing is actively self-debasing. This is an author saying to you: “I have written a book. Isn’t it great? It is, but it is only worth five hours of your time. It might take you longer to read War and Peace, sure, and you might have to do a couple of re-reads. But the whole sum of human knowledge on offer in this book: it’s five hours only. I’m just efficient like that.”

My Kindle Paperwhite tells me that War and Peace should take about 30 hours. I don’t know how much of a bearing that has on my life or my reading experience.

What’s the point of all of this? I doubt the suggested reading time is a trend that will really catch on. But, as more and more of everyday life becomes quantified and organized into more and more slices of data, I can’t help but wonder that there is some importance in resisting over-scheduling certain things, like our reading time.

Interesting: Which Countries Read The Most?

This showed up in my RSS feed, from The Paris Review. India is ranked at Number 1 with an impressive 10 hours, 42 minutes spent reading per week; the U.S. is at 23 with 5 hours and 42 minutes. Although keep in mind the data for this nifty infographic comes from 2005:

Hours-Spent-Reading-Around-the-World

 

Here’s the full article with some additional details, if you’re interested.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Reading Books in the Dark

I am an avid bedtime reader, for better or for worse. So this article from the Wall Street Journal, “Does reading in dim light hurt your eyes?” certainly piqued my curiosity. It’s worth a read, if for nothing else than the part about pirates and eye patches.

tablet-dark

“Turns out, our parents were wrong. “There is no reason to believe nor evidence to support that any long-term damage to the eyes or change in the physiology to the eyes can be caused by reading in the dark,” Dr. Sheedy says.

… “The predominant determinant of myopia is genetics.” No link to long-term damage has ever been conclusively shown, says Dr. Sheedy. “It’s an old tale, a ploy used by moms to get kids to go to sleep when they wanted them to,” he says.

Reading on a tablet device won’t damage your eyes, Dr. Sheedy says. His team has studied various fonts, computer displays and pixel resolutions, and found the difference in effect on the eye between reading e-ink and the printed word to be negligible.”

Reading in the dark hurts your eyes: more myth than reality? While it likely varies on an individual basis, there might be some science to be said about backlit screens around bedtime, but I much prefer an E-Ink screen for reading in the dark.

And on a related note, check out this neat article from the San Francisco Chronicle: “Reading in the dark – with a headlamp

“Usually when reading, we may be concentrating on a line or a sentence, but somewhere in the back of our minds, we’re also seeing the larger context, the whole paragraph, the page, and even the next page. We notice whether the paragraphs to come are long, whether we’re at the end of a chapter; sometimes our eyes wander from the sentence to look ahead, reading a few words or a sentence, and then returning to where we were …

 The headlamp changed everything. There was nothing but that circle of light that didn’t even cover the whole page, just a small chunk of words. To see the next group of words, I had to move my head slightly or move the book. I was no longer reading in a context, but reading each line as it came into view.”

The immersive aspect of our eyeballs focused on just a circle of words sounds wonderful to me. I kind of want to buy a headlamp now.

 

Reading and Our Attention Spans

distracted readingHere’s something that has been interesting me lately: since we are reading more and more on our tablets, what does that mean for our reading habits? To that end, The Atlantic Wire asks: “Are Tablets Killing Our Attention Span for Books?” —

“Today in the “modern life is hard” department: Reading books on tablets may be more difficult than reading print books. Sure, a tablet is lighter, more convenient, and saves you a trip to the bookstore, but these devices also make it very, very hard to focus. With the e-reader sales surge this holiday season (according to Pew Research, the number of American adults owning tablets nearly doubled from December to January), Julie Bosman and Matt Richtel are exploring the possible dark side to this first world problem in the New York Times.”

For longer bouts of reading, I do prefer my Kindle Paperwhite (with the Wifi turned off). Better to remove the temptations of distraction technology than to exert more willpower resisting those distractions, right?

“The tablet is like a temptress,” said James McQuivey, the Forrester Research analyst who led the survey. “It’s constantly saying, ‘You could be on YouTube now.’ Or it’s sending constant alerts that pop up, saying you just got an e-mail. Reading itself is trying to compete.”

In terms of our reading habits, the good news is that the tablet can do a lot of different things. But the bad news is that the tablet can do a lot of different things. The ability to look up a definition or Google an obscure reference is a great thing — but searching is a different cognitive function from being immersed in a book. All of that brain gear switching inevitably takes its toll on our focus on the boo itself. And I think “tablet” in the above passage can just as easily be understood to mean “internet” or “social media” or “technology.”

bookcover3On this topic, I’d  recommend Leo Babauta (of ZenHabits fame) and his book, The Power of Less. Chapters 10 and 11 (Simple Email; Simple Internet) remind us of the virtues of disconnecting and simplifying our digital lives.

On Not Reading Books

I like to assume, in all of my bookish hubris, that the reading of books is an excellent use of our free time. But in the interest of open-mindedness, let’s consider: what if we don’t read books?* What then?

The question reminded me of a New Yorker piece from a couple of years ago (“The Year in Not Reading“), with some Schopenhauer musings thrown in for good measure —

schopenhauer on reading books“Perhaps there’s consolation to be had in Schopenhauer’s remark that “buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in: but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents … 

I like browsing for books; I like the sense of endless possibility, the promise of freedom, of new life that seems so close at hand. There’s also something sad about browsing, though—a tugging awareness that what you’re doing is a waste of time, that your work is still all ahead of you.”

I also find the act of browsing books very pleasurable. The endless possibility of choosing to read a book (or not) is stimulating and makes me want to take up permanent residence at Powell’s Books — if anything, I feel the sadness of browsing tends to center on the Books We Could Have Read But Didn’t.

But so much for cognitive dissonance. Perhaps the simplest solution is to choose no books at all? I rather liked this post over at The Bygone Bureau (“In the Land of the Non-Reader”). It’s a healthy exercise to revisit our assumptions about reading, and why we do it. Far better to question than mindlessly assume we know what’s good for us —

7563338

I must have some free time. Perhaps the “I don’t have time to read” line is just a cover. A way that people excuse themselves from the uncomfortable truth that they do, in fact, have time but that they would rather do something other than read with that time (such as pretending to be a wood-elf). We exalt reading as “good” like exercise and vegetables and so we are always making excuses as to why we avoid it.

 I knew that I had taken up residence in the swamp of the non-reader. Here is what life is like in that swamp:

  1. The world is flat. Not in the sense of a level economic playing field (an idea I once read about, when I read). No, the world is flat because I see no depth. I make no associations. Life unfolds as a rather dull soap opera with bathroom breaks.
  2. I can no longer reason and cannot be trusted to make a decision. My brain is distracted by second-hand sensations. When the slightest complexity arises in my life, I crave the screen world – the simple goal of building a house in Minecraft or the easily dis-entangled one-hour conundrums that beset the Voyager crew.
  3. I can no longer relax. My Skyrim character now has a longer to-do list than my red-flagged Outlook task-list at work. My days at work and home consist of quests and side-quests leading to more quests and side-quests. I have lost the main narrative.
  4. I am empty, but not in a monkish way. I am just kind of dumb. Also, without the pleasing empathy that comes from engaging with new ideas, places, and characters, I am afraid of foreigners and easily manipulated by politicians and advertisements.
  5. I have the attention span of cocaine-addled four-year old. My mind is an ’80s Scorsese montage on fast-forward. It’s all sound and fury signifying – are you kidding me? Star Wars in 3D? WTF?”

I don’t really know about Skyrim is, but the “I am empty” was an apt way of putting it. For some reason, it made me think of John Milton’s “On His Blindness“.

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* I thought it was important to make the distinction of “reading books.” After all, even we choose not to read and engage in all sorts of non-bookish activities like video games or internet browsing, we are all still reading in some shape or form.

Interesting: How to Read Faster, by Bill Cosby

billcosby4What a neat post, from Brain Pickings: “How to Read Faster: Bill Cosby’s Three Proven Strategies” —

“Bill Cosby may be best-known as the beloved personality behind his eponymous TV show, but he earned his doctorate in education and has been involved in several projects teaching the essential techniques of effective reading, including a PBS series on reading skills. In an essay unambiguously titled “How to Read Faster,” published in the same wonderful 1985 anthology How to Use the Power of the Printed Word (UKpublic library) that gave us Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 timeless rules of writing, Cosby offers his three proven strategies for reading faster. Apart from their evergreen application to the printed word, it’s particularly interesting to consider how these rules might translate to the digital screen, where structural factors like scrolling, pagination, hyperlinks, and adjustable font sizes make the text and the reading experience at once more fluid and more rigid.”

The three tips boil down to —

1. Previewing: Read the first two paragraphs, the last two paragraphs, and the first sentence of any paragraphs in between.

2. Skimming: Read very quickly, to pick up a few key words at a time and get the general idea, like so:

billcosby2

 

3. Clustering. The most important of the three — “word-by-word reading is a rotten way to read faster. It actually cuts down on your speed.

Clustering trains you to look at groups of words instead of one at a time, and it increases your speed enormously. For most of us, clustering is a totally different way of seeing what we read.

Here’s how to cluster: Train your eyes to see all the words in clusters of up to three or four words at a glance.”

billcosby3

billcosby1Reading on the screen doubtless brings its own unique challenges. I’m starting to think about hyperlinks differently — Nicholas Carr makes a compelling argument about the hyperlink as a distraction technology. From Wired: “The Web Shatters Focus, Wires Brains

Nowadays it feels like avoiding distractions are our biggest hurdle when it comes to how fast we read. How well do we avoid distractions while reading?

(I love this picture by the way).

Who Reads eBooks?

random house ebooksRecently, Random House shared some of its insights into ebook reading habits: (“Who Reads eBooks?“). Younger, well-educated, higher-income women seemed to represent a healthy slice of the ebook reading population. I was surprised at how strong a source word-of-mouth (81%) remains for ebook discovery —

“Over a fifth of American adults have read an eBook. EBook consumers are likely to be book enthusiasts who read across digital and print formats. Most eBook consumers are women, are younger than forty-five, have college degrees or have had some college education, and have upscale incomes. EBook consumers are over 20 percent more likely to have household incomes over $100,000 per year than non-eBook consumers. Preferred genres include mystery/suspense/detective fiction, general fiction, and romance.

When compared to all Americans ages sixteen and up, they tend to rely more heavily on word-of-mouth (81 percent versus 64 percent for all Americans ages 16+) and bookstore staff (31 percent versus 23 percent for Americans ages 16+) for book recommendations.” 

Here is the infographic breakdown below, and you can click on the image for more information from Random House.

random house: who reads ebooks?