I read with horror the Wall Street Journal‘s article about people’s reading habits being logged and sifted over by their e-reader. Honestly, I’m not surprised that Amazon and Barnes & Noble are poring over the data about how people read on their e-reader. They are watching you read and paying attention.
Do you skip ahead in Fifty Shades of Grey? Do you read horror novels quickly? How many pages do you read in a sitting, do you skip to the ending of mysteries and then start at the beginning? etc. This seems like a mind-boggling trespass of a very private act. Someone is watching you read every time you flick a page. Reading is a private, solitary act that needs to be respected. How a person reads should remain between them and the book.
One of the true of joys of reading is doing it any way you want. Sometimes I read and then reread the character names in my Swedish mystery many times before I continue. I will just go over the name until I can figure out some way of remembering it. Some names I can grasp, but others with their accents I don’t know and a combination of letters that makes no sense to me are a bit of a struggle. I will often resort to giving them my own names. If I were doing this on an e-reader would that data somehow get picked up? Are lots of people reading like this? Will this information somehow find its way in the hands of publishers and change the way books are translated?
What passages people choose to highlight in a book is also an available aggregate. This to me is the most chilling. What I choose to underline in a text is between me and the book. Margin notes that are typed in your e-reader are also researchable. Wow. So, what I write in my own book is now fodder for the number crunchers at Amazon? Am I the only one who thinks this is a very slippery slope of invasion of privacy and free speech?
David Levithan from Scholastic was quoted as saying, “You very rarely get a glimpse into the reader’s mind,” he says. “With a printed book, there’s no such thing as an analytic. You can’t tell which pages are dog-eared.” While I see the allure of knowing this, books are not movies. They should not be test-marketed and tailored for the highest rating. Why someone dog-ears a page is their business, not the publishers.
Books should be written by writers who want to share a story and read by people who want to dip into that story in their own way. Just know that every time you pick up a book and smell that wonderful book smell, there’s not a person around mining your reading time for usable data. There’s just you and your book.