Pop Culture

Can the Way a Story is Consumed Enhance the Reading Experience?

Recently I had the opportunity to thoroughly go through my book collection. In doing so I realized I buy certain types of stories in certain formats almost exclusively. Why? Because how a story is packaged and delivered affects my reading experience by setting the tone for what’s to come. At least that is the case with certain types of stories.

Classic detective stories, noir mysteries, or hardboiled crime fiction – especially if from the 1930s, 40s or 50s – must be in mass-market paperback. I’m talking about femme fatales and wisecracking detectives who exchange quips in shadows, dimly lit rooms, and dark alleys. Stories where even the good guys are a little bad, and the bad guys are much, much worse. Sure I could get these stories in nicer trade paperbacks or pristine hardcovers but the reading experience is not quite the same.

Reminiscent of the dime store novels that preceded them, mass-markets look and feel cheap which is exactly the kind of setting these stories tend to take place in. It also feels right for a story in which nearly everyone is hiding a secret should come in a book that can be quickly hidden away in a purse or a back pocket. I don’t even mind if my mass-markets get a little roughed up. Femme fatales and private eyes know how to roll with the punches.

So far (and admittedly the number of attempts have been few) fiction audiobooks have mostly irritated my ears and annoyed my brain. Inevitably my mind wanders and I lose track of the story. Conversations or multiple speakers sometimes work, but one person talking for hours and oh my goodness, I can’t take it. Occasionally the opposite happens. The narrator’s voice vividly paints a picture of the story for me. Strange as this sounds, I avoid this situation as well, at least when it comes to fiction. I prefer to create my own mind pictures. Imagining how a story looks and sounds is part of the fun. Another person’s vision, or in this case voice, ruins that. (This is also my number one reason for reading the book before watching the movie.)

Travel memoirs have proven to be the exception to my audiobook conundrum. Stories about people traversing the wilderness, sailing across the sea, or otherwise trekking across the planet make my ears happy. Travel memoirs are even better if listened to while actually traveling. I am not certain why. My best guess is that travel involves movement and if I’m moving at the same time some switch in my brain flips and accepts the story. Whatever the reason, listening to someone’s travel story while I’m traveling works on multiple levels.

The author/narrator and I do not have to be traveling in the same place or undertaking a similar type of trip. Somehow listening to another person setting off to places known or unknown makes me feel more adventurous. The author/narrator could be climbing Mount Everest or running with the bulls while I am merely walking down a paved city street in a city unfamiliar to me. Their adventure enhances my own.

Romance and erotica paired up with ereaders early on. The ability to enjoy bodice rippers and happy ever afters without fear of being judged for a racy book cover or tongue-in-cheek title has been offered as one reason for this paring. I would offer another. Reading a scintillating, sexy story in public but without the public’s knowledge changes the reading experience in a delightful way. One might even say it’s like having a secret romance.

Remember pretending to study in class when really you were reading something that had nothing to do with the teacher’s lesson? Sure it was fun to read what you wanted. It was even more fun because you were getting away with something. Reading racy stories on my ereader is a little like that. In contrast, reading presidential biographies, as much as I enjoy them, doesn’t quite offer the same thrill.

What other reading experiences or genres might be enhanced by the delivery method? Perhaps cyberpunk on an ereader? Reading futuristic technology related stories on a device that didn’t exist twenty years sounds about right. Does anyone else prefer certain kinds of books in certain formats? Let me know in the comments.