Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Thursday, November 21, 2013

but then there's reading on an iPad

So that's why I don't like writing with my iPad. But reading — that's a different story.

Last night I picked up Robert Bringhurst's classic book on typography, The Elements of Typographic Style, and started reading. Or rather, I tried: after just a couple of minutes I realized I was struggling to see the text clearly. I moved the book a little farther away from my face; I moved it a little closer; I got off the sofa and sat in a chair where the light was better, which helped a bit. I could see the main text with little effort now, but the marginal notes, which are set in smaller type and are also quite interesting and informative (and therefore not the kind of thing I want to ignore), I couldn't read at all. I traded out the glasses I was wearing for a different pair which seem to be a little better for reading, and while that helped, again, a bit, it didn't help enough for me to be able to focus on what I was reading. I took off my glasses — I am very nearsighted — and while that enabled me to see the text perfectly clearly, it also meant that my eyes had to travel so far across the page that they quickly grew tired of the effort.

As dearly as I love the art and craft, the appearance and feel, of the codex, my future as a reader clearly lies with digital forms of text. All I can do is hope that the often painfully-bad typography of digital texts will get better in the future, and that maybe, just maybe, we will see e-ink screens — i.e., non-backlit ones, with less glare and in devices devoted largely if not exclusively to reading — with the sharpness I now enjoy on my iPad's retina display. On my iPad I can read in whatever light I happen to have available, even if that means no light at all, and with whatever glasses I happen to be wearing.

But books that don't exist in digital form — whether, as in the case of Bringhurst’s typographical treatise, for obvious and necessary reasons or just because of the luck of the draw — I guess I just won't be reading. Which makes me sad.

By the way, I wrote this post on my iPad and it was an absolute pain in the ass. So why did I do it? Because it was there.


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