Evan Schnittman of OUP has an interesting post in which he discusses three types of digital reading: extractive, immersive and pedagogic. It is worth a read.

Looking at his post, I was reminded of a phrase I used for a while: interstitial reading. We do quite a bit of reading in the interstices of our lives. The bathroom comes to mind, but I am in particular thinking about reading and travel.

Wolfgang Schivelbusch devotes some interesting passages to the interconnection of reading and trains in his wonderful monograph The railway journey: the industrialization of time and space in the 19th Century. He notes how reading became popular as an alternative at once to the fast disappearing view out of the window and to interaction with other passengers. He describes the emergence of book-selling and -lending operations in train stations. He quotes from the minutes of an 1860 French medical congress:

Practically everybody passes the time reading while traveling on the train. This is so common that one rarely sees members of a certain social class embark on a journey without first purchasing the means by which they can enjoy this pastime.

He quotes an advert from John Murray: "Literature for the rail - works of information and innocent amusement". And he provides a reference to how Hachette aimed to turn the "enforced leisure and boredom of a long trip to the enjoyment and instruction of all" through the introduction of stores in railway stations.

The story of how Allen Lane conceived of Penguin Books while on a railway platform is also well known (whether it is true or not) (wikipedia).

Reading is now an integral part of travel, and we are very familiar with the 'opportunities' provided in the seat pocket on an airplane, the readers on the subway or tube, and the inevitable magazine stand or bookshop at stations and airports.

More recently, mobile communications have introduced a new dimension to the 'enforced leisure' of those interstitial times in the airport or while waiting for a train, as people catch up on email, Facebook, Twitter, news, sports results and so on.

Now, this is by way of introduction to a note about the iPad. The iPad seems an ideal device for interstitial reading, supporting social networking, immersive reading, extractive interaction with the web, and so on. However, it does not have the portability of the magazine, newspaper or paperback. For this reason, rumours about the smaller iPad seem to make a lot of sense. The Kindle on the other hand is eminently portable, and, importantly, can be held with one hand. But it is less well able to support the full variety of interstitial reading and network interactions. For this reason, it is not surprising to see it open up as a platform to other apps, although one imagines its niche will continue to be the immersive reader, albeit one that fits such reading into the various interstices of his or her daily routine.

Comments: 2

Apr 12, 2010
Steve Richardson

I always liked your use of the phrase "interstitial
reading." Unfortunately it barely qualifies as distinctive anymore. Most all reading now seems interstitial.

Apr 12, 2010
Lorcan Dempsey

Steve - yes, I was thinking the same as I wrote it .....

Leave a Comment