Our Reading Lives

Happy Birthday, iPhone, and Thank You For Enriching My Reading Life

Claire Handscombe


Claire Handscombe moved from Europe to DC in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but actually – let’s be honest – because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan, and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives. She also hosts the Brit Lit Podcast, a fortnightly show of news and views from British books and publishing. Blog: the Brit Lit Blog. Twitter: @BookishClaire

The iPhone first went on sale on 29th June 2007, which feels both like yesterday and like forever ago to me. I can’t imagine life without mine, and yet sometimes I yearn for those simpler times. And yes, okay, let’s get this out of the way: probably the most notable way in which my iPhone has changed my reading life is my shorter attention span. Like many of us, I’m kind of addicted to my phone, and to checking it at least every fifteen minutes. So even when I’m reading, my fingers get itchy – and if I give in, I’m pulled out of the story and end up taking longer to finish the book, which is a problem because there are so many books I need to get to! But for all that, I’d argue that the iPhone’s pros for me as a reader far outweigh the cons. Here are just some of them.

  1. Always having a book on me

I never need to fear that I don’t have any reading material on me. I have my Kindle app for my advance review copies, my Kobo app for books I actually buy; I had Scribd for a while, too. That’s a lot of books, for no extra weight. I also, on and off, when memory space allows, have the Audible app, for if I just want to lean my head against the bus window and be read to, like a dreamy heroine from a film adaptation of a YA novel.

  1. Audiobooks

Which brings me to my next point. Books on tape (yes, I’m that old) have always been great, but have also been really expensive. Our phones have made possible Audible subscriptions: they’re not only cheaper, but they’re also quite a lot less hassle. No more uploading the CDs to iTunes or faffing around for a place to plug in a CD player. (Or, actually, come to think of it, faffing around to buy a CD player, because thanks to phones, I’m not sure many of us have those anymore.)

  1. Podcasts

Podcasts, so many podcasts! I discovered Guardian Books and BBC Books and Authors years ago now, and listened to them religiously when I did so, though my TBR list didn’t start to seriously blow up till I stumbled on Book Riot and binge-listened my way through the first twenty episodes or so. Podcasts are great for going deep into the minds of writers and getting a deeper appreciation of the writing craft and the joy of reading; they’re also super useful for getting recommendations, expanding your reading horizons, and keeping up with what’s coming out soon.

  1. Tracking my reading

I was on Goodreads before I had a smartphone, but having my phone always on me means I can be a bit more obsessive about it. This year, I’ve taken it up a notch with Bookout, which allows me to time my reading and spits out stats and graphs about how long it’s going to take me to finish the book. It encourages me, at least in theory, to be competitive with myself and therefore finish books faster, which means fitting more books into my life.

  1. Connecting with other readers

Twitter, Goodreads, Litsy, Book Riot Insiders: just some of the ways that I can share thoughts about a novel or get book recommendations, or find out if the latest Big Book by the latest Big Name Author is really worth the hype. Of course, in theory, you don’t need a phone for most of these. But they’re much easier when you have one.

  1. Connecting with writers

It’s wonderful to be able to tell an author you loved their book, and know they definitely got the message and it’s not just sitting in some dusty room of some publishing office somewhere. I’ve made what feel like friendships with a few writers this way, though that’s probably another story for another day. The extrovert in me, and the part of me that loves sharing my joy with others, gets a thrill from the opportunity to meet like-minded strangers and authors I admire through this tiny little box in pocket.

So happy birthday, iPhone, and thank you – for all your faults, and despite our co-dependent relationship, you’ve enriched my reading life considerably. I’m so glad you were born.