I go to bookstores to sniff the books. When I want to read one, I pick up my phone.
And I’m not alone—at least on that second part. In a 2014 survey of 2,000 people, Nielsen found that 54% of book-buyers (paywall) used their smartphones for reading books at least some of the time, up from 24% two years earlier. In the first quarter of 2015, 14% of book-buyers were reading primarily on their phones, up from 9% in 2012.
My own conversion is fairly recent. For the first 10 years of my adult life, I bought and hoarded paperbacks as if preparing for nuclear winter. Even post-Kindle, my book-to-ebook ratio wavered between 60/40 and 40/60. Ultimately, it took 10 years of iPhones to develop one I could enjoy reading a novel on—the 7 Plus, which has a 5.5-inch screen. But the transition has been worth the wait; I find myself settling in at an unexpected 10/90.
If you’re on the fence about leaving your own book (or e-reader) at home, here are some arguments in favor of turning your iPhone into your personal library.
Like an organ I didn’t know I had, my phone is always with me. It’s on my desk at work, in my pocket at restaurants, on the table at bars, and propped on the treadmill at the gym. When I watch TV, it’s in my field of vision, and when I go to bed, it’s an arm’s length away. On my crowded morning commute, I have just enough room to hold it in front of my face, and if I ever get stuck on an elevator, it’ll be there to distract me while I wait for help.
I know my phone codependence is unhealthy, making me blind, why I’m single, and illegal in France. But always having my phone means always having a book on hand during moments of downtime. I’m a fast reader, and even a 10-minute window is enough time to make headway in a novel or enjoy a few pages of nonfiction. Best of all, I feel less icky about my overall phone usage if at least some of that time is going to books.
There’s a reason the phrase “turn the page” is synonymous with forward momentum: Making measurable progress in a book is one of the world’s most satisfying mundanities. The physical experience of reading on a smartphone screen may still have room for improvement, but smaller screens do mean a lot of page-turning.
Since I committed to reading on my phone, whatever I’m reading about is always on the tip of my tongue. Being immersed in a book tends to give me ideas for stories, and I’ve annoyed countless dinner dates with obscure facts and unsolicited literary analysis. Thanks to my pocket-size reader, I find myself thinking more often about the books I’m reading, making more connections betweens different books, and seeing more parallels between books and current events. I feel exactly like Algernon in Flowers for Algernon... which, admittedly, didn’t end well.
A book is like a Hydra for me: Each one sends me on an esoteric research mission that often ends in wanting to read at least three more. While that may not be the most sane habit, it’s one that phone-reading makes easy to indulge. Many e-reading apps (including Kindle, which I use) allow for highlights and annotations, and ebooks often include in-depth indexes, all of which makes it easier to take notes and circle back to them later. Add that to everything a smartphone already has on offer. While I love a quiet afternoon with a paperback, I also love being able to check a character’s background, read a Wikipedia article on 18th century crofting, do a Google image search for ”flaughter,” and add three more books to my Amazon wish list—all while lying on my couch, using just my left hand.
It’s actually when I have to put down a book to look something up on my phone that I suddenly find myself knee-deep in ”Carpool Karaoke” episodes on YouTube, with no memory of the past 38 minutes.
When I do want to get lost in a novel, I often wind up so immersed in it that I forget I’m reading on my phone at all. Literally—more than once while reading, I’ve thought ”I should check my phone” before remembering it’s the thing in my hand.
Ultimately, no matter where I’m reading a book—in bed, on my couch, or pressed against the doors of a crowded subway car—the real world is going to beep and boop its way into my life. If I’m really into a story though, I’ll be able to ignore those beckoning interruptions. Which, after all, has always been the hallmark of a book’s success.