I recently finished reading an ebook that is a mashup of prose and poetry. It began with a short chapter introducing a character, setting, and situation, followed by a lengthy section of poetry–a couple of dozen fairly short poems. This pattern was repeated four more times. The story continued in each of the subsequent chapters and came to a conclusion, but every chapter also included a thick layer of poetry.
This didn’t work for me at all. I was engaged by the story opening and wanted to read more. The poems were like a detour on a muddy road. I read only to get through them, which is not the way to read poetry. Why didn’t I read all the prose sections and then return to the poetry? Because the author deliberately arranged the writing in this particular way, so I read it as intended. If it had been a printed book, I may have flipped ahead, but it was an ebook. I don’t like jumping around in ebooks; it’s too much of a production compared to print.
I mention this reading experience because it made me think about the best vehicle for different types of writing. I also think about this when I’m reminded of Amazon KDP’s new option of publishing in hardcover as well as paperback. (By the way, I have no intention to publish any of my books in hardcover.)
So, what sort of writing is each format best suited for?
I think hardcover is best for works that will get a lot of use and be kept indefinitely, mostly books used for study or reference. This function is now largely performed on the internet, so the need for such books is diminishing.
I still use a few reference books. If I need to refresh my memory on pruning or planting something, I don’t want to fire up the computer or fiddle with my phone with garden-grubby hands. But the old hardcover books I’ve been using for decades are readily available, and robust enough to handle a bit of dirt. Another type of book that’s probably still in use is the cookbook, for similar reasons, except instead of dirt we have butter or batter.
And, I suppose, venerable tomes such as sacred books and eternal classics may be best enshrined in hardcover format, if only because they tend to be quite large.
To me, this is the best form for much nonfiction and for poetry. Nonfiction with photographs, maps, tables, etc. isn’t well-served by the ebook format, but paperback usually works quite well. Many trad-pubbed books are published first as hardcovers, then as paperbacks. Paperback is perfect for poetry, especially those “slim volumes.” For the really slim, there are also chapbooks, which are a more fragile type of paperback. A small book is physically undemanding and may be dipped into when the mood takes one. Paperbacks are lighter than hardcovers, and congenial to handle, without hard surfaces and sharp corners.
When I find a novel I value enough that I want my own copy in print form, I buy it in paperback. That feels permanent, unlike electronic texts, which depend on technology. This is why I’ve published all the books I’ve written in print as well as ebook form.
“Trade paperbacks” are now the standard for this format. They range in size from 5″x8″ to 6″x9″. Since the turn of the millennium, so called “mass-market” paperbacks (4.25″x7″), once popular for genre fiction, have largely given way to electronic format.
The format of choice for reading fiction (and some nonfiction) for entertainment and diversion. Hundreds of books can be loaded onto a small, lightweight device. Fonts can be adjusted and resized. Lighted screens permit reading in dark rooms. And nosy people can’t see what you’re reading. The only downsides are the need to recharge the battery and (in my opinion) the limited ability to page-flip and look back. Yes, you can do word searches, but that makes a simple process too much trouble to bother with in most cases.
I don’t think ebooks are the best format for poetry. Maybe because so many printed poetry books are beautifully designed, which adds to the reading experience. Also, one doesn’t tend to burn through volumes of poetry; it’s a more contemplative form of reading.
When I leave an ebook on a page for longer than the usual time it takes to read it, I’m always conscious of the invisible timer that will close the reader and require it to be turned on again to keep reading. It’s not a big deal, but somehow it imparts a feeling of urgency incompatible with reading poetry.
Here I admit to lack of experience. I don’t use audiobooks. To me, listening to an audiobook isn’t reading; it’s being read to. That can be a pleasant experience, with the addition of the listener being in control. You wouldn’t want to ask a person reading to you to repeat something, but with an audiobook, it’s just a matter of clicking a few buttons. (As with ebooks, though, going back, flipping ahead, or looking for something specific must be more complicated than with printed books.)
My perception is that listening to an audiobook must be slower than reading print. Slower, and yet more difficult to absorb because you can’t instantly reread a sentence or paragraph. Because of this, I think they may be a good way to enjoy books one knows and loves, especially if the reader’s voice and style are congenial.
Fellow readers, which formats do you prefer for different types of writing and different reading situations? Have you published your own books in hardcover or audiobook?
Featured image from Pexels.