5 tips for reading serious literature on smartphones

Journalist Clive Thompson just read War and Peace on his iPhone 5. Not only did he enjoy the experience, he found it "weirdly meditative".
Tired of carrying around hefty books? Don't disregard your smartphone, says journalist Clive Thompson. (Fabiola Carletti/CBC)

Want to read a serious and sprawling tome on your smartphone? Clive Thompson says it's not only possible, but actually quite gratifying. 

After reading Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace — which spans around 1440 pages in paperback form — on his iPhone 5, the journalist and Wired columnist has a few notes to offer fellow readers. 

Clive joins guest q host Candy Palmater to argue the upside of reading on the small screen, and why he thinks it's better than lugging around brick-like books or extra devices.

Clive's five quick tips

Want to try it yourself? Here's a paraphrased summary, based on Clive's interview, that might help you chip away at your own reading list.

1. Pick a page turner. Remember that not even Ernest Hemingway got through Ulysses. This is not the time to get overly ambitious. Is this a book that would normally hold your interest the whole way through? "There's something about a book that sweeps you up ... the device tends to melt away," says Clive. 

2. Turn off your alerts, and turn on your mindfulness. All those push notifications will surely disrupt your experience, so shut them off. And once you do, remember: you'll also need to quiet your internal distractions. 

3. Embrace the quick-hit. Clive found that his iPhone allowed War and Peace to weave its way into his daily habits. In a weird way, Clive found it less intimidating to read the classic saga in flashcard-style bits, whether he was waiting in line or sitting in a tree.

4. Accept the downsides. There is a "squinty" aspect to reading like this, and although enlarging the text helps, your screen just won't be as easy on the eyes as a book. "I'm willing to sort of tolerate this lousy reading environment for the pleasure of actually getting through the book," he says.  

5. Let it feel weird at first. You're turning a buzzing portal into a static page. You need to give yourself some time to experiment before it takes, says Clive. "For me it felt completely weird for the first ten per cent of the book, and then it started to feel completely natural." 

q: Have you ever read a book on your phone? Would you recommend it? Why or why not? 


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