Reading “Game of Thrones” in the Real World

Just about every book I’ve read over the past few years I’ve read in electronic form, either on my iPhone or on my iPad. But for a recent weekend getaway, I bought a paperback copy of George R.R. Martin’s “A Game of Thrones” on a whim, so that I’d have something to read on the beach. It’s nice to not have to worry about a book overheating in the sun or electrically shorting from water.

“A Game of Thrones” is a long book. A really, really long book. I’m still reading it, which means I’m toting it around with me on my commute. It’s a supermarket-style paperback, small and compact enough to fit just barely into my jacket pocket, but it sticks out just enough for people to see.

One thing I had completely forgotten about is how communal popular books can be. A few people have spotted “A Game of Thrones” in my pocket or saw me reading it on the subway and then started friendly conversations with me about it, something that never would have happened if I were reading it on my phone, where every book is effectively invisible to everyone but me. I remember reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs on my iPhone just after it came out, at a time when lots and lots of people were reading it too, but I realize now that I was reading it in a kind of isolation, where people around me were unaware of the concurrency.

I’m not sure that this communal feeling is enough to outweigh the benefits of reading books electronically, but I know I’ve enjoyed it while reading this novel. I’m not a sword and sorcery fan, really, and I find “A Game of Thrones” to be frustrating and somewhat ridiculous even as I admit it’s extremely well-crafted and probably more entertaining than it is tedious. It’s been fun debating this ambivalence with both friends and strangers, most of whom I never would have guessed were fans of the series.

It would be nice if there was a way to replicate that part of the reading experience electronically too, that kind of real world happenstance that doesn’t require signing up or signing in to anything, just carrying around whatever book you’re reading and being open enough in your body language to welcome small talk from perfect strangers. It just goes to show you that the electronic reading experience has a long way to go, and all the time and effort we’ve been putting into crafting perfect layouts might be better used fleshing out some of the things that really make reading a rewarding experience.



  1. People soon should be able to point their phone at you and learn not only what you’re reading, but also where you had your lunch today. 🙂

    Good observation though. Soul will come back to digital things soon.

  2. I’ve often wondered why the Kindle, when it is asleep, shows a random photograph on its screen and not the cover of the book currently being read.

  3. “It’s nice to not have to worry about a book overheating in the sun or electrically shorting from water.”

    a kindle, the regular e-ink one, is a wonderful thing. highly recommended..

  4. This is why Monocle does not have an iPad edition. As Tyler Brule has noted, if you’re reading something on a device, nobody else knows about it. Much better for branding if they do.

    And Alex, that is a fabulous suggestion. If no book is open, maybe a random collage of titles on the device?

  5. Clive Thompson had a good interview about this, and the future of books in general. Great piece.

    “As I said, I’m reading War and Peace on my iPhone. But you can’t tell I’m reading War and Peace on my iPhone. When I take my kids to the park and they’re off playing while I’m reading War and Peace, I look like just some fatuous idiot reading his email. I almost went to CafePress and designed a T-shirt that said, “Piss off, I’m reading War and Peace on my iPhone!”

  6. I’ve often wished that the kindle had a second tiny display on the reverse showing the name of the book currently being read. Or make the whole reverse side a display and show the book’s jacket. A second, slightly less serious idea is for the kindle to be expandable in thickness, and to automatically expand to reflect the length of the book being read. That way you still look impressive when you’re tackling Infinite Jest.

  7. Work with the constraints, and ask, “Are you reading anything interesting.” It gives the reader the choice and not the medium.

  8. I think new technology might seem foreign to those who don’t have it; Personally I wouldn’t approach someone who is using some gadget unless i could relate to it somehow. Books seem more familiar to people and they can relate easier;

    I don’t have a Kindle and i don’t think i am in the market for one in the immediate future because reading from anything else than a book makes me feel like i am still in the office behind my laptop; That’s a aspect to look at: when reading from a Kindle (or any other device) i don’t want to feel like i am still at work

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