why the Kindle makes me want to be a more compelling writer




I buy books like a maniac. For readers like me, a Kindle makes economic sense. In theory.

In actual practice, downloading books onto my Kindle instead of buying the more expensive, book-object versions hasn’t saved me any money. It just means I can download more books.

And I do.

I can read about a book in a magazine — or (more likely) somewhere online — and reach into the air and grab it. It’s mine. It’s the microwave equivalent of book-buying. Thirty-five seconds and you’re done.


One of the worst things you could do to me would be to stick me somewhere without reading material. If I was going on a trip, my eclectic and demanding reading habits forced me to pack different books for different moods. Lugging that weight around is a serious pain in the ass. This is why I broke down and bought a Kindle in the first place: the idea of carrying five or ten or more books within an object as slender as a volume of contemporary poetry proved bewitching.

But the ability to read what I want when I want has made me a slightly different kind of reader. I’m more fickle now. I’m high-maintenance. I start lots of books I don’t finish.

Life is short, and reading is long.


Used to be that you’d get a longer, stronger chance to hold my attention. Purchasing your book was like giving you a promise ring, a commitment. And many readers still feel an obligation to finish a book even if they dislike it. The hope is that you’ll be rewarded for slugging it out: the book picks up speed and you start to really care what happens to the characters.

But now I feel the reverse: the writer is obligated to me. And it’s not about the money I spent, it’s my time. My attention. Tripping to a bookstore or library or newsstand is no longer required for me to change my reading material. I don’t even have to return home to get a different book off my shelves.

I can change my mind right now, this very moment. It’s not because I have a lesser ability to concentrate. It’s because I am constantly surrounded by choice in a way that wasn’t possible before. And no matter how complex and diverse the digital world becomes, the human mind can still only hold one thing at a time.

My attention is your privilege.

If you get it, that’s awesome.


But then it’s your job to keep it.

If you don’t, you’ll probably never get another chance.


Tweet This!


Jan 25, 2010

12 comments · Add Yours

This is a fascinating post and got me thinking about my own reading/writing habits. I did slightly worry though whether this means you end up with fiction stuffed full of whizz bang narrative ploys just to keep the reader’s attention. While I certainly agree that one should always treat a reader’s attention as paramount a common criticism of other mediums (TV/Radio/Films) where there is a plethora of digital choice & delivery is that they are considered to pursue programmes of dumbing down/lowest common denominator entertainment in an effort to keep their audience’s attention.


“fiction stuffed full of whizz bang narrative ploys” doesn’t work. if you don’t care about the characters, you don’t care. if it’s contrived and artificial, you don’t care. and readers like me need the language as well, the depth of insight — the book has to be *good*.


I’ve known the market was coming to this, but haven’t come to grips with it. I’m in that age group that should embrace it (late twenties), and did when it came to music (mp3 player, then iPod) and video (streaming online). But a book just seems so different. I read to unwind, to relax, and racing through a book or dropping it after 10 pages just isn’t my speed.

Maybe I’m just a more patient breed, but I still like reading the verbose classics like Dumas and Dickens, and don’t mind if my current books follow suit. Yes, they have to be good, but that’s never changed. The Historian plodded along with a slow pace, more description and plot-unwinding than needed, and about 240k of words, all for a debut novel, and yet it sparkles. But it’s interesting. It’s good. A combo of talent and craft win the day.

I’m not saying you’re wrong. In fact, I suspect you’re right. But I don’t get it. I wish we’d all take it a little slower, if only when we read.


A concern of mine reading the Kindle is do your eyes read the texts the same way you would a book?

When I was a small person, I was trained to read left to right, then jump down to the next line and read it left to right, the jump down again, etc.
But now a few recently released studies are saying that when looking at an electronic screen you read in a “F” pattern. First you read a line or two normally, making the first two bars of the F, then your eyes jump down scanning the rest of the text before jumping back to your original place. The researches added that with all the noise and stimuli stealing your attention, reading on a screen when tired isn’t going to get the necessary information across. This had proven to be a problem to people’s personal finances since e-bills do not have the same impact as paper ones.

My question to you, Justine, is does anything of what I just said apply to the Kindle?


Felipe’s concern about available choice resonated a bit and so I checked Amazon for three books which I’ve purchased this month from local bookstores: Conroy’s SOUTH OF BROAD, Moore’s A GATE AT THE STAIRS, and Roth’s EVERYMAN – none one would describe as “full of whiz bang narrative ploys.” :)
All three are available for Kindle.

On another note, while the price comparison between Kindle and paper versions is a bit confusing, and money saved using Kindle was not that much – in fact GATE in hardback is available for less, I still would have saved $20. It is fair to suggest those who love reading will easily recover the initial outlay for a Kindle through savings on books purchased.


I’m also fond of long, meandering tales whose authors feel free to shoot off on tangents. On the other hand, there are books which ought to be dropped after about ten words. The point about Dickens or Dumas is that they could – and mostly still can – grab the reader by the throat with a three-hundred-word introductory sentence, ninety percent of whose content is the most total toot. The Quiller-Couches and the Bulwer-Lyttons… not so much.

Assuming Justine is right about the Kindle’s effects, the lesson I draw is less “Write like Dan Brown rather than Dickens!”and more like “Write like a teller on fire with a story, and not like a gentleman amusing himself or a hack dishing out wordcount.”

The loss of readerly patience due to the strain and unpleasantness of reading stuff off a screen is going away with technology. Any loss due to improved reader opportunities, though: that’s just going to deepen.


Just wanted to say wow again. I agree, I don’t spend less, I just buy more.


I do not own a Kindle, but I have read on someone elses machine, and I didn’t have any problems. You can always find an arguement for and against anything. Especially on the net. Make up your own mind.


I’ve gotten in the habit of borrowing books from the public library, because the cost of buying became too much.

I’ve noticed a similar thing, in that I no longer feel obligated to finish a book — I have three at home that are 1/2 read, and are going back this afternoon.

I appreciate that I have more choice, and don’t HAVE to finish a book I don’t want to read. But miss the ownership of a volume I’ve already bought, for better and worse.



Never mind a Kindle. I don’t finish upwards of 20-30% of books I start.

But I have a theory that reading ebooks makes it even easier to not finish a book because you don’t ‘see it’.

It’s not lying around your house, cluttering it up and taking up space. It’s not…in your face saying ‘nah nah nah! you haven’t finished me yet!’


Keep compelling us!


Totally agree. Thx fot that.



  1. 4 Creative Ways to Attract Traffic | Site Artist
  2. Publishing Links August 31, 2011 « Champagne and Socks

Add your comment