I like breakfast. So much so that the term ‘brinner’ is used in my house to describe the regular occasions where we have a breakfast fry-up for our evening meal. Combine that with an Australian fondness for brunch and my general enthusiasm for foodstuffs involving pancakes, eggs and/or bacon and I live in a happy little brekky world. The only hitch is that, as someone who has always preferred to read in their non-social downtime, the business of reading while eating has always been a bit of a palaver.
Hard-core readers face small but significant annoyances and organisational tasks to pull off their desired leisure activity, especially when away from the comfort of their armchair. Public-transport bookworms must take the weight of books/e-readers and the size of bags and pockets into consideration, and they must be able to hold books and turn pages while one paw clutches a pole as their vehicle hurtles along. Work-lunchroom readers need to be able to block out the surrounding conversations, still nod hello to everyone who walks in to use the sandwich press, and try not to sigh too loudly when colleagues kindly enquire after their health, lunch-fare or book choice. We all need to block out mP3 listeners who seem not to understand the purpose of headphones. Hairdressing-readers need to be able to keep their head straight. And breakfast readers! Breakfast readers need to be able to read their book and eat their bacon at the same time.
Once upon a time the weekend breakfast table in front of moi was a sight to be seen. Carefully arranged plates, cutlery, condiments, tea cup, the sports pages, perhaps a pencil for crossword ponderings, and a book. A book which had to sit in a particular position to facilitate reading while working a plate of eggs. A book which had to, more often than not, be weighed down with a heavy spoon and a jar of tomato relish so that it could lie open while its reader was cutting and chewing; weights which then had to be removed once each page spread was read and then carefully replaced once the page had been turned. Apart from needing approximately 3 square metres of table in front of me, it also made the breakfast-eating-while-reading experience a bit of a stuttering drag. But not any more.
Two christmases ago one of my lovely editorial colleagues gave me the most wonderful gift. A little plastic gadget which sits on top of your book and HOLDS THE PAGES OPEN FOR YOU (and which is featured in this post’s photographs). Changed my life, I tell you. Every time I use it I marvel at its usefulness and simplicity. And ever since I’ve had it, my breakfast movements have been a lot more free-flowing—a veritable symphony of morning ritual—now that pancakes and stories can be consumed concurrently.
Now that I have an e-book reader, I realise I will not have such problems quite as regularly. But I assume the e-reader will never become the only way I read books. Plus this technology presents its own issues for the hard-core reader (and I’m not referring to battery life, e-rights creating access issues to the book you want to download or the difficulty of e-reading in the bath—that one seems to bother a lot of people). Designer Craig Mod has started exploring the notion of designing books for digital devices, in particular tablet devices like the iPad, and the design challenges which are thrown up when you take how we read into consideration. One of these challenges is to do with the distance from which we are used to reading words on screens. No longer is a screen only on a desktop a foot or so away, or on a phone at the end of your arm. Mod’s essay talks about the difference between using the physical space of the tablet device and its virtual space, and he also talks about his experiments with working with editorial digital design and reading distances.
I saw Mod’s prototype before I read his essay and he won me over immediately because of the three reading distances he is experimenting with:
- Bed (Close to face): Reading a novel on your stomach, lying in bed with the iPad propped up on a pillow.
- Knee (Medium distance from face): Sitting on the couch or perhaps the Eurostar on your way to Paris, the iPad on your knee.
- Breakfast (Far from face): The iPad, propped up by [its] case at a comfortable angle, behind your breakfast coffee and bagel, allowing for hands-free news reading as you wipe cream cheese from the corner of your mouth.
Mod’s design sensitivity and awareness of how people read (and how they want to) is inspiring, and I look forward to seeing how his ideas are developed and taken on by other forward-thinkers in book and reading-technology design. Many of us are only beginning to dip our toes into the digital-book future, there is a lot to explore and a lot to experiment with. I’m just glad that the important issues, like how I can efficiently and enjoyably read while eating my eggs, are at the forefront of the techno-minds behind it all.