Looking around me on the London Tube today, there's been an exponential increase in the number of people reading Kindles (with just the occasional flashy iPad). Sure, they still read ordinary paper books as well, but there are many eyes staring at little screens. This is extremely frustrating - one can't start matching up reader with reading material, or get to know about books that one might otherwise not have heard of (especially important, I might add, when one's doing one of one's periodic raids on British bookstores), or anticipate in advance of a reader how she's going to be weeping in two hundred pages' time, or wonder if they're just reading something because it's a set book, or out of gratitude to the person who's given it them - or, or, or. In other words, one of my favorite kinds of snooping has been denied me.
And I note this in the wake of reading an article in the NYT at the weekend that was lamenting that the increase in books being downloaded means that one can't snoop around people's houses like one used to do, sizing them up by the books on their shelves - so one has to go for other signs (photos on the fridge? the inside of medicine cabinets? - that last one strikes me as being a whole snoopy step too far). The writer linked this in with a greater tendency - she asserted, anyway - to regard reading as a very private experience. But then - another branch of commentary on new media would have it (cf Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains) that we're being encouraged to be endlessly wired and connected and social, and that the kind of immersion demanded by reading is harder and harder to achieve, as our brains get hard-wired into desiring instant news and gratification and updates. These two seem pretty absorbed ... all the same, I've been feeling a re-visiting of the topic of reading coming over me of late, and I think, down the line, I'm going to be addressing this.