Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Is retention the point of reading? And if it's "a point, not the point," how can we improve that?

From The Guardian: Readers absorb less on Kindles than on paper, study finds

As someone who can't remember the plot of any book I read, print or E, I would have to point out that "remembering the plot" is not necessarily what readers are going for when they read. I'm a great reader (in the sense that I read a lot, not that I do it well), and I don't read for retention but for the experience as I read.

But this is an interesting study, however limited. The experience of reading electronic books might be different from reading books on paper. (The greatest difference I notice in my own reading, actually, is with audiobooks, which in many ways is closer to watching -- or listening to-- a TV show than to reading a book with your eyes. I like all the experiences, but they are different and have different benefits and problems.)

But if this is so, that e-readers are retaining less, what does it tell writers? I think I'm taking from it
that continuity is going to be more important than ever, things like
having each character have a distinctive name (not "Mark and Mary") that
can be tracked easily from paragraph to paragraph and page to page
without confusion, and clear markers (like a tagline at the top of a
chapter) of changes in scene or time.  That is, while not losing sight of
the small-picture accuracy of detail, we might also want to focus on the
ways readers will construct an unbreakable chain of the story in their
minds-- what are the connectors between parts of the book?

What else? Should we be concerned about making books more "retainable" regardless of the medium of presentation?



Adrian said...

The link the Guardian article seems to be lost. I assume you meant this story.

I'd be interested in reading the paper to learn how the study was conducted, how statistically significant the results were, etc. I find the result rather surprising.

I don't retain plot details much either, and read to be in the moment. I certainly haven't noticed a difference between when I read with my e-reader (Nook Simple Touch) versus a dead tree book. It's been a long time since I've actually read a paperback. The only time I prefer paper is when I'm reading some heavy technical stuff, with code, diagrams, figures, etc. Even then, I miss the ability to resize the text.

Leona said...

Love this analysis! Miss everyone here :D