Codex or Screen?

by Conor Friedersdorf

Alan Jacobs decided to read Infinite Jest.

But darn, that book is big and awkward. Also, it has a lot of words per page, and per line understandable, given the novel’s length, but not ideal for readability. And then I started thinking that I might want to blog about it, and in that case, being able to access underlined passages online for quick & easy copying & pasting would be a large plus. . . .

So I bought the Kindle version. All the above problems solved . . . but . . . I found that I was missing the visual cues that codexes offer. I don't often miss them, or not all that much anyway, but in this case I miss them. Wallace goes off on these long riffs, but on the Kindle it’s hard to tell how long they are; whereas when holding the codex I could flip ahead to see how long I should be prepared to keep my concentration before I can expect a break. Also, I found that I don't wholly trust the Kindle the way I trust printed books: for instance, in a relatively early episode featuring a conversation between two men on a hilltop overlooking Tucson, Arizona, there’s a sudden cut to a description of vast herds of enormous feral hamsters in an environmentally ravaged region of the northeastern U.S. / southeastern Canada, and I thought, Wait . . . did someone make a mistake here? Is this actually a footnote misplaced? Did an episode heading get left out? I have seen enough mistakes in Kindle editions that I couldn't, and actually stopped reading until I could compare the codex in the fidelity and accuracy of which I, like most people, have nearly absolute trust.

As yet, I haven't read a book length volume on a screen.

I do regularly use the Instapaper ap on my iPhone to read long magazine features. When I read Infinite Jest, a book I enjoyed as only a former high school tennis player could, the combination of its bulk and the need to flip back and forth between endnotes and text drove me crazy. I'm not sure how footnotes are navigated when reading on a Kindle (perhaps Professor Jacobs would update his post to tell us?) but I'm sure it could be handled in a way I'd prefer.