The Reading Experience

Images courtesy of
Images courtesy of

I’ve always been an advocate for the printed (real) book and when there was hysteria about the ebook being the demise of the printed book, I couldn’t see it happening.

The reason for this is the reading experience you have with a real book. There’s the smell of the ink and paper for a start. It evokes memories of a lifetime of reading, of being a child discovering stories for the first time. Then there are the printed words on the page that transform into ideas and images inside your brain. It’s magic!

Of course, you can get the essence of a story in an ebook but it feels more like work and the words don’t compute (no pun intended) the same way. In fact, I’ve been told that we miss about 25% of information and errors when reading on a screen.

Then there are places that we read. In bed, in the bath, on trains, at the dinner table. I don’t recommend using an electronic device while in the bath but I can see the usefulness of an ebook when travelling. But the real book doesn’t run out of batteries and can be taken anywhere.

I have talked about the anatomy of the book in the past, but that was from a publishing point of view. Let’s look at the design elements of a book from a reader’s point of view:

Cover design is the most important aspect of the book design and can make a huge difference to someone picking it up or passing it by in a bookshop or an online retailer. The cover design needs to fit the story, the ideal reader and current trends in the market and will create an image (or expectation) for the reader of what the book is about.

White space is integral to the layout of the pages. How wide are the margins and spaces between the headings and text, how much space between the lines? As a reader you may not have thought about this but the space around the words makes it easier on your eyes and more enjoyable to read.

Font choice marries with the overall design of the book. Is it a modern or old-fashioned style? Is the font larger for an older reader?

Paper choice can change the feel of the book in your hands. Stark white paper makes it hard for the reader to look at and makes the book stiff and heavy. There are some paperbacks that use a very creamy, almost yellow paper that is coarse and that also makes it hard to read. A slightly off-white, smooth paper is easy on the eye and smooth to touch while also creating a flexible book that is easy to hold.

The format of the book is another aspect to the whole reading experience. Have you ever read a book that is so big and heavy that your wrists hurt after half an hour? Or do you avoid hard cover books for the same reason? While a hard cover is prestigious (authors are not usually published in hard cover until they are well known and the publisher knows the books will sell), many people wait for the soft cover to be released before they read it. Hard cover books are also more expensive, so this is another factor to waiting.

So when you pick up your next book to read, think about the physical aspects of your experience. Enjoy the pleasure of the whole package and get lost in the magic.

Blaise, the book chick

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