Reading by the phosphor glow

There aren’t many authors left whose books I’d immediately buy, even if I didn’t know what they were about. I’d say that Neal Stephenson is up there, along with Vernor Vinge and precious few others. So yesterday, when I was browsing around at Fictionwise and saw that the October issue of Analog magazine had a new novella by Vinge, I immediately bought it. I didn’t really care what it was about, but I knew it’d be worth buying (it only cost $4 anyway).

The thing is, I haven’t read it yet, and I don’t plan to read it any time soon. It’s not because I have some kind of pleasure-denying thing going on (I think there’s a proper word for that term, but I can’t remember it right now) or because I have problems with my computer or because I’m particularly busy. It’s because, along with the twenty or so other short stories and novellas I’ve bought or gotten free from Fictionwise in the past few months, I’d have to read it on the computer.

It’s not the case that reading from a computer is uncomfortable for long periods of time, because I probably spend several hours every day on my computer reading tens of thousands of words off the Internet. I have absolutely no problem with reading stuff off a computer monitor (especially when it’s an LCD) – so why don’t I like reading books or stories off it?

I saw it suggested somewhere that it’s because on the computer you have to scroll pages and this makes you lose your place. I don’t agree – I use Microsoft Reader to read my books and there’s no scrolling involved there. It’s quite a good application, in fact.

No, I think the reason is very simple – it’s because computers are (in the old parlance) lean-forward devices that demand interactivity and an upright posture. So while I might do hours of reading on the computer, I’ll probably read dozens or a hundred different documents or websites. However, reading a 100+ page novella simply involves sitting there and occasionally clicking a button. Very boring and not very interactive.

Unfortunately, none of this solves my problem. I’m not about to print out all the unread stories that I have on my computer – it’d probably come to several hundred pages. And the elusive ideal e-book reader is still at least a year off (such an agonizingly long wait!). So the stories will just have to sit there until I get sufficiently bored and run out of books to read.

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