Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The arithmatic of likeability in the age of the e-reader

I've been reading a lot, and wondering at all the various things that impact my final feeling toward a book. The final question I ask myself at the end of a book isn't if I was surprised, or if I loved the characters . . . it's "did this book take me away?"

At work, I deal in research questions. I love answering questions. Most of the research I do is in the area of public policy, so it's looking at why people use or don't use services, what people need, what they want from local government, etc.

So I got to thinking . . . what if we applied those same questions to the books we love, and the books that we don't quite love as much. What's the difference between a book that takes you away to some far away, magical romantic place, and drops you off breathless back onto your couch where you have jobs and bills and families and pets . . . and a book that's just a book?

I'm thinking there are a variety of factors which affect "likeability", which I'm using to cover the "swept away and taken on a magical ride" feeling, since it's shorter and easier to abbreviate. Some of those factors are external to the reader's environment, some are internal to the reader's state of mind, and then there's the really important part - what's in the book.

External factors - I think the external factors may be the least powerful. Where is the reader sitting? Are they comfortable? Are they holding a paperback or on an e-reader? Does it matter? I've noticed, when I've downloaded a few library books at at time to my e-reader, that I'm more likely to start skimming, or give up on a book (i.e., NOT get swept away) if I'm on an e-reader. I have no idea if that's true for other readers, but I find it interesting.

Internal factors - what's the reader's state of mind? Do they feel what they paid for the book was fair? What about their opinions toward the genre or subgenre? If you decide to give Western romances a chance, for example, do you find yourself approaching the book with more skepticism than a subgenre you know you love? How about the popularity of the author -- if it's someone who's been hailed as the 2nd coming of Nora Roberts, are you more or less likely to keep reading? Do you ever read with a cut off point in mind? (like, If I'm not really into this by chapter 3, I'm putting it down).

Book factors - voice, characters, and to a lesser extent (I believe) plot. Of the three, at least, the voice or characters are more likely to sweep me away than the plot. Though I will say, a book that keeps throwing really intriguing questions at me can keep me sucked in.

What do you think? How do you define that feeling when you've forgotten you're reading a book? What are some internal or external factors that I might have missed that can affect a reader? Do you agree that the external are least important, or do you think I'm crazy for skimming on an e-reader?

16 comments:

Maureen said...

Well, one way to evaluate a book is whether or not the external factors matter! A fabulous book will sweep me out of that hard chair, those shouting kids, the brrrr of the espresso machine, even the AC, freezing my toes off. If a book can't do that, then...

A book that is good and I'm in my favorite corner of the couch, fire roaring, snack at my side...may not be as wondrous but still do the job because it's easy to get lost in it.

So, yeah, all of those things factor in, but it's really about how they balance against each other.

As for e-reader vs paper...if I'm gonna skim, I'm gonna skim...don't matter the format! It could be that the e-reader...well, we have a shorter attention span. We are used to skimming and speeding, much the same as when we use our phones to get to stuff on the internet...?

quantum said...

I often judge a book by its soporific impact.

If this impact is high, then external influences can be magnified. For example, I will never fall asleep while listening to an audio book and driving but am more likely to doze when listening/reading in a cosy armchair sipping scotch.

If I wake suddenly to find my trousers soaked in spirits then I know that the book is not for me!

No book is without its uses though. High soporific audio books are fabulous for curing insomnia! LOL

haleigh said...

Mo - what an excellent point! You're right that the level of craziness from which a good book can take you away says a ton about whether it's a good book or a fabulous book.

You may be right about skimming no matter the format. It does seem imbedded into our culture now, doesn't it?

haleigh said...

definitely spelled *embedded* wrong :)

haleigh said...

Q - I like it! Kind of coming at it from the opposite perspective, of how mellow and sleep-inducing it might be. And I agree about insomnia - I watch documentaries at night to fall asleep. There's just something so soothing about narrator's voices!

MsHellion said...

I can't read on an e-reader. I mean, I have books on my e-reader and I am excited to have an e-reader, but I never read on it. It's not the same, not as fun, and I get bored looking at it, even if it's a book I like. I think it reminds me too much of reading on a computer and I rarely if ever will read on a computer. It seems like WORK rather than entertainment.

I can read almost anywhere, if I want to get into the book bad enough and I think I can get away with it. "Do you think anyone will notice I'm reading at a funeral? No, okay..." However I prefer to read in bed, while laying against my high-thread count cotton sheets and all those pillows. So the external matters not so much.

Internal factors can matter almost more than the book factors. I have to be in the right MOOD to read certain books. Or I can try to read a book at a time and HATE it, but read it another time and LOVE it. Clearly that's a frame of mind. I think that's part of the fun of knowing when a book is coming out because you can get excited for it--and be in the right frame of mind to read it.

Book factors are very important to me, though book factors can be "interpreted" by the internal factors--a lot of it can be your matter of perception. One person's dislike of "too focused on one point of view" vs the other person's adoration of it and could understand everyone's POV perfectly EVEN if there was only one POV. Perception is everything.

TerriOsburn said...

What interesting questions. Let's see. I'm more likely to skim with a paper book than an eReader. And for me it's all about the characters. If I don't like the characters, I can't keep reading. I almost gave up on Higgins' My One And Only but I'm glad I stuck with it. First person is not my favorite and this heroine was very hard to like at first.

But Higgins' voice kept me in it. And the fact she made it clear WHY the character was the way she was. It was a great turnaround close to how Ain't She Sweet (SEP) was for me. Not as big a turnaround, but similar.

I've tried some different Historicals lately and I think voice plays a larger role there. There are some writers who keep the intensity at a fever pitch on every page. Those are hard for me because it feels like they're trying too hard.

But then I tried one in which the voice was great, but by chapter 4 nothing had happened. At all. I gave up on that one. I like my Sony Reader but it's an older model and not great to read on. Hope to order my Kindle next week and look forward to the reading experience on that one. But I don't think the format or device will make a difference. It's always going to be about the characters and voice for me.

Maureen said...

I imagine this would be a very complicated and individualized formula, Hal. If you remove the actual likes and dislikes away, or award them less importance...even then, when it comes down to where we read our person level of desperation to be swept away probably plays a part.

I might be waiting a doctor's office and just want a distraction, but still need to hear when my name is called...or I might be forced to attend a sporting event I don't care for and want to disappear. Different books for different occassions?

P. Kirby said...

I skim less on my ereader than a paper book. Maybe because I've paid for most of my ebooks, while the print usually comes from the library. I've got a measure of consideration, in the monetary sense, in the ebook. (Tho, not much. Rarely pay more than $2.99 for an ebook.)

What Ms. Maureen said. If the book grabs me, external stuff doesn't matter.

I do, find, however, that some days/weeks/months, I'm more in the mood for certain books than others.

For me, the driving factors for engagement in a story are voice and characters. Voice is a biggee. I plugged through 2/3 of Twilight, even though absolutely nothing happened and it was a repetitive mess of Edward stalking Bella and whining that she was following him...because Meyer has a strong voice. I skimmed the rest, though.

Give me characters AND a strong voice and all I want to do is read the bloody book. Fire, explosions, chaos at my back? Irrelevant; my nose is in that book.

MsHellion said...

I plugged through 2/3 of Twilight, even though absolutely nothing happened and it was a repetitive mess of Edward stalking Bella and whining that she was following him...because Meyer has a strong voice.

SO TRUE. *LOL*

irisheyes said...

It really is amazing how much some of that external and internal stuff matters. You would think that it's just a matter of whether you like the book or not. I don't think a lot that decideds whether I like a book or not but it definitely has a huge factor in my enjoyment of the book or the experience of reading itself.

I do find that I have to be in a certain mood for certain types of books, especially the angsty ones. If I'm not in the right frame of mind I can't plod through them. If I am, though, I'm off telling everyone and their brother what an absolutely fabulous book I'm reading!! LOL

I do agree with Maureen about sometimes using books as a distraction or to pass the time while waiting at appointments or in the car at ballgames (were you watching me, Maureen?) LOL On the other hand, there are times when I'm so into a book I can't even go to the bathroom without bringing it with and reading. I know... TMI! There have been many a night you'd find me at the stove with one hand stirring something in a pot and the other holding a book. Those are the best books - the ones where nothing external matters it's all about what you're reading and having to get to the next page.

It took me a while to become comfortable with my Nook e-reader. Now I can do either paper or Nook, but I do tend to skim ahead moreso with the paper copy books. Don't know why that is?!

irisheyes said...

Happy Halloween, Pirates!!!

Maureen said...

See, sections like that would probably see my skim, waiting for the 'what happens next' stuff... That's when I skim. Even when it's well done.

Janga said...

I am more likely to skim a print book, but I give up on a book more quickly on the ereader. I think the latter is because I have a hundred plus unread books at my fingertips, and that makes it so easy to move on to another book.

Voice is important to me, and so is prose. But characters are most important. If I love the characters, I can forgive a lot of flaws in other areas. If I love the characters, I will read outside my usual genres and subgenres. Last night around eleven I started Sabrina Jeffries's just released 'Twas the Night After Christmas, planning to read a couple of chapters before I fell asleep. A few hours later I finished the epilogue with a smile and a sigh. Only then did I check the clock. That's a good book!

Unless I'm acutely uncomfortable, externals don't affect my reading. I read standing in line at the supermarket, waiting for long red lights in the car, and surrounded by the noise of TV sports, video games, and too-loud teen music. I have read by streetlight, flashlight, and candlelight. However, I can't read in a moving car. That falls in the acutely uncomfortable category.

TerriOsburn said...

I can't read in a car either, Janga. Else I'll toss my cookies. Strangely enough, I can read on a bus (even sitting backwards), on a train or a plain (in the rain...J/K). No idea why it's only a car that bothers me.

And the external circumstances don't mean a thing for me. Be it the doc's office or in my bed at the end of the day, if I'm going to read, I want to love the book. Simple as that.

Though that frame of mind thing does hold true. Sometimes I feel like reading an Historical and other times not so much.

Marnee Bailey said...

I agree with you; voice and character are most likely to give me that "forgot I was reading" feeling. But both those things are such X-factors. It's that thing that you can't really teach someone. There's techniques, you can read and read and read and practice practice. But there's just that THING sometimes.

I do find that I prefer fast moving books on my e-reader. I can't tell you how many stories that people have raved about that I pick up on my Kindle and I just can't keep going. Either too much description or too "atmospheric" where I just want some action to happen. I am all for setting the stage, but sometimes too much of that just makes me put it down.