Terry Fallis wonders: Should it be Canada e-Reads?

When I arrived at the CBC Broadcast Centre this past November 23 for the launch of Canada Reads 2012: True Stories, I was given a very funky Canada Reads book bag filled with copies of the final five books. Just one of the perks of being the official 2012 CR blogger, I guess.

But as I gratefully surveyed my haul, turning each book over in my hands, and reading their front and back covers in turn, my thoughts darted, oddly enough, to the explosive growth in e-readers. Okay, confession time. I'm a heavy reader, but it's been a while since I last read a traditional book — you know, those rectangular objects with paper pages that you turn one by one. I do most of my reading these days on my iPad, and before that, I read on one of the two Sony e-readers I went through. So it was actually a bit different for me to be holding real books in my hands.

Best Laid Plans This got me thinking about how e-readers might change the dynamic of Canada Reads. Just as a working premise, I'm heading out on a limb and arguing that the growing popularity of e-readers and e-reading will lead to more Canadians participating in Canada Reads this year than ever before. Admittedly, my bold forecast is little more than a hunch at this stage, utterly devoid of empirical evidence. Still, I think I'm right.

Having said that, there are plenty of Canadians who have tried e-readers and rejected them, just as there are many who have not tried e-readers yet have still rejected them. Reading on a screen is certainly not for everyone. Some complain that they miss the "tactile experience" of reading a traditional book. They like to feel a book's heft in their hands, turn down the corner of a page, note how far along they are by how thick the wad of pages is before and beyond the one they're then reading.

It's true that reading a conventional book is an undeniably tactile, comfortable and very familiar experience. But let me play devil's advocate and pipe up on behalf of screen-readers across the country. Just because I'm holding an e-reader doesn't mean I'm not enjoying a tactile experience. I am. It's a different tactile experience, but tactile nevertheless. I can still "fold down" the corner of my virtual page to mark my spot. I still use my finger to turn the pages. And I'm still feeling the heft of something in my hands.

But let's leave aside the "touch and feel" part of the equation. What about the reading itself? I bought my first e-reader as an experiment. I wondered if reading on a screen, whether e-ink or backlit, would compromise, or at least alter, the reading experience.

The first reading I did on my new e-reader, a few years ago now, was a Sherlock Holmes story. After I grew accustomed to turning the pages by only the slightest touch of my thumb on a conveniently located button, something interesting happened. The medium eventually faded into the message and I was lost again in the Victorian England of Holmes and Watson just as I'd been hundreds of times before.

I was persuaded. I became an e-convert. For me, at least, reading is reading, whatever the format. I accept that others have had a different experience and prefer traditional paper. But I think as more Canadians try their hands, and eyes, at e-reading, a significant proportion of them will be won over.

Thankfully, most publishers have seen the writing on the screen, and are offering their books in various formats, giving Canadians real choice in how to read. This brings us back to Canada Reads 2012, and my bold contention earlier on that more Canadians would read this year's selections than ever before. You see, thousands of Canadians listened to Jian Ghomeshi on CBC Radio on November 23 as he revealed the final five in this year's book battle royale.

I bet hundreds of Canadians immediately started downloading the shortlisted titles, as all five are available as e-books. In fact, I suspect that many Canadians — who in past years might never have gotten around to picking up the Canada Reads selections from their local library or bookstore — have already downloaded them.

I think more options, more choice and more convenience will lead to more readers. Time will tell. In the meantime, and until independent bookstores are easily able to offer their loyal customers e-books, I'll continue to buy paper books and e-books.

That's right. If I love an e-book I've just read, I'll often buy it in hard copy to have it on my almost-full library shelves to sit alongside the Canada Reads 2012 final five that I'm engrossed in right now. Here's to happy reading, whether paper or screen.


Terry Fallis is the author of The Best Laid Plans, a satirical novel of Canadian politics that won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour and the 2011 Canada Reads title. It's currently being adapted as a six-part mini-series for CBC Television. His follow-up novel, The High Road, was a finalist for the 2011 Leacock Medal. McClelland & Stewart will publish his third novel in September 2012.

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