Elizabeth on Reading Classics on an E-Reader

I like reading classics on my e-reader. In fact, having the option to read digitally has meant that I’m reading more classics than ever before.

Initially, I wasn’t keen on the whole e-reader idea. Visions of libraries with gaping, empty shelves because books are all electronic—that’s the kind of thing that gives me nightmares— but that’s a digression big enough for its own post.

book cover image, Anna Karenina by Leo TolstoyBut once I got a Kindle, I realized that I was having lots of fun reading classic books. There’s the part where they’re in the public domain, and therefore free.  That’s easy to like. And of course, getting to tote around a slim device instead of a giant copy of Anna Karenina. Being able to look up words with a click means I actually look up words like “axiomatic” and “pelisse,” instead of blundering through and guessing their meanings by context.

book cover image, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson BurnettBut it’s more than that. There’s something that tickles my fancy about holding a plastic device in my hands, and having the screen show me words about women in corsets, men in waistcoats, streets lit by flickering gas lamps and crowded with horse drawn hansom cabs. On a device none of the writers could possibly have envisioned. (Maybe H.G. Wells could have gotten his head around the concept. I don’t know. I haven’t read him yet.) Historical fiction by modern writers is also a favorite of mine, but reading it on an e-reader doesn’t have quite the same  thrill. There’s something about the gulf of time between the words I’m reading and the gadget I’m reading it on that adds a little extra glee to the reading experience.

I’ve definitely read more classic literature, period, since I had this reading option. I probably would have re-read The Secret Garden at some point, whether digital or on paper. (It’s a childhood favorite I turn to when I need to relax.) But being able to combine classic literature with the whim to download it instantly and start reading has been working especially well. Last year, in the chaotic days after Hurricane Sandy hit, reading Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott helped me feel normal when I was crashing on a friend’s couch and waiting for the power to come back downtown.

book cover image, Moby Dicky by Herman Melvillebook cover image, Moby Dick by Herman MelvilleI’ve read some modern books on my e-reader, too. I tore through the Hunger Games trilogy in about a day and a half. I’ll eventually get around to the Game of Thrones books (not having to lug paper copies of them around is an incentive!)  But I think, for a reading experience, I get an extra something out of the classics on an e-reader. I’ve been enjoying working my way through the original Sherlock Holmes stories, and promising myself that, one of these days, I’ll read Moby Dick or The Three Musketeers— they’re right there on my device waiting for me. (Possibly waiting until I finish grad school. But they’re there!)

The thing that’s missing, of course, is the wonderful smell of old books, and the feel of yellowed paper. I wonder if Amazon or Barnes & Noble has someone in a lab somewhere working on that?

Earlier Posts:
Introducing AMACOM…Elizabeth
Dispatches from the Special Libraries Association Conference


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