E-Books, and fast and slow reading

I READ a couple of articles on here, and it struck me that I have just had a most enlightening reading experience (the first was about E-Books, the other about Daniel Kahneman’s brilliant book, Thinking, Fast And Slow).
Recently, I finished the epic Life And Fate by Vasily Grossman, about the size of War And Peace, with a million characters, very dense but beautifully written, an unforgettable book.
And it just occurred to me that I read large chunks on my iPhone on the train to work, large chunks on the iPad on the couch at home, and large chunks at cafes, etc, from the real hard copy actual book.
The strange thing is, I read fastest when using the iPhone (and my eyesight isn’t great), remembered most vividly long passages while reading from the iPad, and got the least joy (and struggled to plough through it) whilst reading from the real book.
I wondered if anyone else had this experience, that you take in more and take it in faster on certain devices, and that the traditional paper book is actually the slowest way to read a book now?
Wonder what this tells us about reading, or maybe just about how I read . . ?
By the way, I’ve been reading books for around 30 years - I wonder how much more I would have taken in - and how many more books I would have finished - if we’d had iPads in 1984.

Interesting question. I suspect I would have been too distracted by the bright & shiny internet to ever finish a book if I’d had an iPad when I was young. I confess I haven’t really been able to get into e-books yet. I’ve tried, and managed a few on my iPhone (pre-iPad) and a couple on my iPad, but still find that I prefer paper.

Having said that, over Easter I found myself taking photos of pages from a paper book and then highlighting & annotating them in Evernote as notes. The processing of the information is different, and recall is definitely less than old fashioned taking notes, but on the other hand, I only need access to any of my electronic devices (or anyone else’s with access to the internet) I can find that information again faster than I ever could with hand written notes.

What if it’s simply a matter of the book being so cumbersome to hold & carry that its physicality is what slows you down or makes you more reluctant to pick it up? Is the font size of your printed book smaller or in any way harder to read than your chosen phone or tablet fonts?

A more fundamental question though–Did you really read faster on your phone than the paper book? How can you tell? Since a phone’s screen can only (comfortably) display a fraction of a page, it might feel faster as you flip from one screen to the next, and that might influence your reading speed overall, but without taking notes on where & when you started & stopped reading, it could just be an illusion. The constant availability of your phone for reading may have let you read more overall, but is it possible that on a per-word basis, you read at the same pace regardless of medium?

Interesting. I’ve discovered for myself that I read a fair bit faster on my Kindle than I do a print book. No idea why.

Actually I prefer reading on a real book than ebook. Sometimes it is more convenient to reread or take notes.

Part of the difference for me is time. Not how long it takes to read a particular format, as I’ve never bothered to compare relative reading speeds, but how long I’ve been doing it. I started reading — hard-bound/paper-page — more than 75 years ago. I’ve tried the various contemporary alternatives. Enjoy some, tolerate others, but book-in-hand and comfortable seat is still my favorite format.


1 Like

Is the font size of your printed book smaller or in any way harder to read than your chosen phone or tablet fonts? :confused:

Maybe you can recommend something similar to Life And Fate by Vasily Grossman, cause I really like it and looking for something similar. Thanks.


I’ve always loved books, even when all I understood in them were the pictures. But gradually–and unintentionally–I’ve migrated to reading ebooks over the last 5-6 years. Kindle. iPhone. iPad. I don’t know exactly when I crossed the rubicon, but at some point I realized I’d been choosing the next book to read based on its availability in ebook format at the library.

Last week I read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, despite the library’s long wait list, because I happened to have the paperback handy.

How inconvenient trying to hold open that darn trade paperback in one hand. Imagine my surprise as I kept catching myself tapping a word on paper, trying to highlight or get the dictionary to pop up.

I finished (and loved) the book, but…paper? Bah. Never again.