Reading in the Dark

Tomorrow night on BBC One, Alan Yentob’s documentary series Imagine continues with a look at the future of books in the digital age. It’s titled Books – The Last Chapter? and will feature the bookish opinions of a librarian, an agent, a publisher and authors such as Alan Bennett and Douglas Coupland. Apparently, they will also be smelling books, a practice I also engage in from time to time. As a regular buyer and reader of books, I am firmly in favour of the old-fashioned published work over its newfangled electronic equivalent. We never had that many books in my home when I was growing up but they did start to appear as I went through secondary school and I used to also read newspapers, comic books and magazines. As a young man who didn’t play sports, I tended to divide my time between reading and watching television. How the times have changed! I now own way more books than I’ll ever read, though I suppose books aren’t just for reading. I also buy magazines and newspapers even though their content is usually available for free on the internet. Of course, I read stuff on the internet as well and I’ve acquired a device recently that has actually made me reconsider my attitude to electronic reading

A few months ago, I picked up a secondhand first generation iPad at a store in Limerick city. I had thought of buying a new one for a while but I felt it was a bit too expensive for what is essentially a big iPhone. I felt it was worth it at the lower price and I must say I’m delighted with my purchase. I mainly use it for browsing the internet and reading, which gives my laptop a bit of a break. I also use a number of apps and, in particular, a few reading ones. One of the first ones that caught my eye was the iPad edition of The Guardian. I’ve been reading the newspaper for years and its website has been one of the sites I’ve visited most often on the web. The website has always been ahead of the pack in terms of its rivals in the newspaper world and its iPad edition is no exception. It’s published six times a week and arrives in the early hours of the morning. Sometimes it downloads automatically and other times it has to be activated but this doesn’t take long and it can then be read offline

Not surprisingly, the first page you encounter is the front page and this features the top story from each of over a dozen sections. You can read a particular story by tapping it or you can scroll down through the page to have a look at the others. You can also scroll along the top and tap one of the different sections to see all the stories for that topic. I usually start at the end with Sport, Arts and Features and then work my way back to National and International news. A quick tap will take you the story and it’s always accompanied by high quality colour photography and the familiar typeface from the print edition. To get to the next story in a section, you can swipe the page, tap an icon on the side or tap a link to the story. Swiping is usually smooth though it can take a few attempts sometimes. Occasionally, I press the icon on the side and it takes me to the next article while in the middle of the one I’m reading. It also crashes once in a while but that might be due to the fact that I’m using a first generation iPad. Overall, the Guardian iPad edition looks and performs very well and I haven’t bought the printed edition since I’ve been using it. It is free to download and use until the middle of January next year. After that, it will cost £9.99 a month

The Guardian iPad edition takes the newspaper edition and adapts it to the digital age in a familiar way. Zite is a personalised magazine app that brings a variety of stories from a range of sources into an even more interactive format. After you’ve downloaded the app, you can choose from dozens of topics that include the likes of Sports, Literature and Film & TV. I’ve chosen these amongst over a dozen areas to which I’ve also added Arts & Culture, Psychology & Mind and Ireland. The main section features Top Stories taken from your chosen areas and is composed of around six pages that each feature five stories. A single tap on a particular story will open that on its own. Each of your chosen areas is also available at the side and each features nearly forty stories over six pages. These stories are taken from a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, websites and blogs that range from the renowned to less familiar but interesting ones. You also have the option of posting an article to a social site or to one like Read It Later as well as giving it a thumbs up or down. In this way, the app learns what kind of stories you like and will try to deliver similar ones in the future. There appears to be a bias towards stories originating from US sources throughout the sections, particularly in the Sports and Football ones, while the topic entitled Satire should actually be called Parody. Nevertheless, I’ve come across many interesting articles on Zite that I wouldn’t have found elsewhere

The iPad can also be used as an e-book reader and it hosts Kindle, Stanza and its own iBooks app. Loads of classic titles can be downloaded for free and you can get samples of new ones as well. In fact, I liked the introduction to Sarah Silverman’s Bedwetter so much that I bought a secondhand copy of it in Dublin recently. I’ve downloaded a few titles but, unlike Zite and The Guardian, I haven’t yet become a regular user of the iBooks app. I guess I’m still too familiar with the feel of an actual book in my hands and this is a feeling that’s hard to kick. The iPad is certainly portable and convenient but I can’t imagine carrying it in my pocket and I’m certainly not going to read it in the bath. I guess that reading on the Kindle would be even closer to the book form but I think I’ll keep going with paperbacks (and the occasional hardback) for the foreseeable future. Here are a few bookish tunes from Idlewild, The Sundays and an hilarious one from Jimmy Durante

Readers & Writers – Idlewild

Here’s Where the Story Ends – The Sundays

I’ll Never Forget The Day I Read a Book – Jimmy Durante