books that are entirely unsuited to e-readers?
December 5, 2016 4:12 PM   Subscribe

I've switched to an e-reader for most of my reading material, but I still love physical books and I enjoy getting new ones that I can somehow justify as unsuited to the screen. What are some books that really CANNOT be experienced properly in electronic format?

I'm specifically thinking of things where the physical nature of the book is part of the reading experience--e.g., there are typographical or artistic choices that are very unsuited to the electronic format.
the Griffin and Sabine books where there are flaps to open, postcards to read, etc. would fall in this category, but also something like Bats of the Republic, which incorporated maps, sketches, etc. into the story (note: I actually found BOTR kind of dull, but really liked the idea of it).
Chris Ware's Building Stories
The Arion Press's edition of Flatland, which is printed on accordion-folded paper that can be unfolded to make a plane. (this is a nice example of someone who is not the original author producing an edition that expands on the original text)
House of Leaves would probably also count for the purposes of this question.

I'm interested in both fiction and nonfiction, any topic, and let's say price is no object for the moment.

Things I'm NOT interested in:
- books that primarily consist of pictures, e.g. coffee table books. I really want books that are meant to be read.
- Graphic novels: I love a good graphic novel, but that's a different question.
- books with fancy bindings or nice illustrations that are beautiful but not necessarily integrated into the book.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (40 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
House of Leaves. I'm told there's a Kindle(Color/iPad) version that gets close, but I feel like the paper version is the only one that's going to be as intended. example
posted by Lyn Never at 4:13 PM on December 5, 2016 [22 favorites]

Infinite Jest what with all the footnotes and the bouncing back and forth to them.
posted by mzurer at 4:14 PM on December 5, 2016 [8 favorites]

S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. Somewhat like the Griffin & Sabine books, there are various things - newspaper cutouts, a napkin, notes - tucked into the pages, and there is also a narrative carried out in notes written in the margins. Also it's designed to look like an old library book, and that was enough that drive me to buy it in the first place.
posted by curiousgene at 4:31 PM on December 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest was printed in brown ink (so steampunk!). I first bought it on my Kindle and then had to buy the print book after seeing the brown ink in a friend's copy.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 4:36 PM on December 5, 2016

There are a few bits of "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" that use typography in an interesting way. I'm not sure how they would work on e-readers.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 4:36 PM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

The two I'm reading at the moment that would not work as an ebook are S. (mentioned above - which is great!!) and Disappearance at Devil's Rock which has some "handwritten" notes sprinkled throughout that don't translate to e-book.
posted by rainbowbrite at 4:42 PM on December 5, 2016

Lyn Never beat me to it. House of Leaves is such an amazing reading and sensory experience (e.g. tiny blue print, rotated typeface and paper thin pages, in parts), I would never think of buying it on a Kindle.
posted by onecircleaday at 4:42 PM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Previously. (I never get to previously!)
posted by xenization at 4:51 PM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Trying to read Nabokov's Pale Fire as an ebook was infuriating. The structure of the novel basically requires you to constantly skip back and forth to get the most of it; with an ebook reader this was slow and clumsy.
posted by honeyacid at 4:56 PM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (2004) by Susanna Clarke. Her in-depth footnotes constitute approximately 8% of the 782 page book. They reveal additional details about magical, 19th century England where the book is set, and were both charming and illuminating.

In e-reader format: the footnotes are listed as endnotes, at the back of the book, rather than the bottom of each page. To read each individual footnote (there were hundreds), you need to manually scroll/click the number reference, which navigates you to the endnote section of book. Once you've finished reading that footnote, you need to navigate back to the main book. This set-up was quite tedious, and detracted by the reading experience.
posted by kiki_s at 4:59 PM on December 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

You will want to take a look at Wink Books, a site by Kevin Kelly of Wired and Cool Tools fame. Lots of great books on there.
posted by momochan at 5:18 PM on December 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

Agree heartily with both House of Leaves and Infinite Jest. Basically, any book with footnotes which are meant to be read alongside the main content is not ideal for eBook format. Another example along that line would be Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Maybe a cheat-y answer, but I find most poetry hard-to-read as eBook. I still do it, but I constantly adjust font size and orientation so that the layout is preserved.
posted by Paper rabies at 5:22 PM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

A Visit from the Goon Squad definitely fits this bill.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 5:25 PM on December 5, 2016

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is extensively and delightfully footnoted. The footnotes are a big part of the 1800's British atmosphere of the book and they are really unwieldy in the ebook format.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:26 PM on December 5, 2016

Response by poster: xenization: Thanks! I had vaguely remembered that someone had asked something like this question before but was unable to find the prior question. That question is 4 years old, though, so I'm looking forward to some new answers as well.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 5:32 PM on December 5, 2016

A few weeks ago, I read The Versions of Us, where the writer presents three possible lifetimes flowing from one brief meeting of two characters. Instead of having all of Version 1, then all of Version 2, etc., the chapters are interspersed. Usually, it goes 1, 2, 3, but in some places, one version or another disappears. In different versions, characters have different numbers and differently-named children, lovers, locations, and it's very messy to keep straight. When I read it, I noted that it would be impossible to read if you couldn't flip back and forth through the pages.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 5:51 PM on December 5, 2016

The Spellman Files series. Lots of fun footnotes that are pretty important.
posted by davidmsc at 6:37 PM on December 5, 2016

Tristram Shandy.
posted by praemunire at 6:46 PM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Jeff VanderMeer's Wonderbook. It has plenty of text, but complementing that are sidebars, brain-jogging images, and diagrams that provide other explanations (see some here). It's a beautiful book and super-useful if you've gotten tired of writing books that offer the same advice.

I can't imagine how it'd work on an e-reader.
posted by xenization at 7:12 PM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

How To Be Both is a novel in two parts - each half tells a version of a story from a different character's perspective. Half the paper copies were printed with Character 1's version first, and half starting with the other version, and the book is quite a different experience depending on which you read first. In the e-book you have to choose which to read first, which takes some of the magic out of it. Also useful to be able to flip back and forth between them.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 7:14 PM on December 5, 2016

Yes I tried House of Leaves on the nook and it was impossible.

Finnegans Wake.
posted by BibiRose at 7:19 PM on December 5, 2016

The Raw Shark Texts. Fun book, the text is in laid out in key parts in a way I suspect wouldn't translate well to e-reader.
posted by noonday at 7:21 PM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I don't understand why endnotes are considered problematic on a Kindle. I just finished Europe Central, which had a bunch of endnotes (not nearly as many as Infinite Jest, but still enough,) on my Kindle Paperwhite. You just had to press the number, a little box with the endnote would pop up, then you could press the little x to close the box. If you found yourself scrolling through the whole section of endnotes at the back, you could just press the back arrow to go back to the last page you were reading from.
posted by alidarbac at 7:25 PM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Jonathan Safran Foer wrote a book called Tree of Codes which was a previously published book called Street of Crocodiles (I don't remember the author; he was Polish), out of which Foer cut words and letters to make his own story.

The effect at the end of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is just normal text with a minuscule line spacing. Assuming you have access to the source text, it would be very easy to recreate in CSS.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:37 PM on December 5, 2016

Julio Cortazar recommends that you jump around chapters in his 600-page novel Hopscotch. Don't think the experience would be the same on a Kindle.
posted by Leontine at 8:20 PM on December 5, 2016

Illuminae! Full of diagrams, important typography, illustrations, etc. I almost exclusively read ebooks, but I made an exception for this!
posted by instamatic at 8:24 PM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Direct link to Illuminae sample pages.
posted by instamatic at 8:27 PM on December 5, 2016

The Unfortunates by B.S. Johnson, written in 1969 and recently reissued. It has 27 sections, each individually bound, and it comes in a box. The author recommends you throw the sections in the air and read them in any order, although the first and last chapter are specified. I'm sure the technology to randomize the sections could be implemented in an ebook, but it wouldn't be the same.
posted by sockermom at 8:27 PM on December 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

How To Train Your Dragon as a series is full of doodles, it's fun but man that ebook was impossible.
posted by bq at 8:33 PM on December 5, 2016

Infinite Jest what with all the footnotes and the bouncing back and forth to them.

I'm sure it's not the experience the author intended, but honestly I found Infinite Jest only readable on an e-reader. I had the paper copy, and turning the book into a light, hyper-text-able work is the thing that lead to me actually finishing it.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:05 PM on December 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

Jung's Red Book
posted by Puddle at 11:02 PM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I find books with footnotes perfect for reading on an e-reader - or, rather, for reading on two e-readers, with the main text displayed in one and the footnotes in the other. It's far easier than the flicking back and forth that one has to do with a paper copy.

I've had two e-readers for some years now, since a friend showed me the garbled screen on her kindle just days before I was due to depart on a trip that would involve a two-day train journey. The idea of that happening to me filled me with such terror that I immediately bought the cheapest possible kindle as a backup device. So far neither has malfunctioned, but I've got good use out of the spare.
posted by kelper at 3:28 AM on December 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you haven't already read it, I would disagree about Infinite Jest - I think I read about it here as an example of a book that works really well on an e-reader, as long as they can deal with the links to footnotes and back. I used a couple of train tickets, but got the e-version for use when I couldn't fit the book in my bag, and had no trouble. Sorry!
posted by fizban at 6:16 AM on December 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Endnote-heavy books are often cited (here and elsewhere) as "unsuited" for e-readers, but I don't think that's true at all. I think they may be unsuited for specific e-reader platforms that don't manage notes well, but there's nothing inherent to the idea of e-readers that makes them a bad fit.

A good "jumping" interface for those notes would actually make reading Infinite Jest, Pale Fire or similar easier on an e-reader than in paper (especially for IJ, given the heft of the physical tome).

Where ereaders fail, at least so far, is with texts that are more than just text, or where typography and layout are material portions of the work. House of Leaves has already been cited, but it's the one that comes to mind for me.

(Kalper, buying a second Kindle absolutely sounds like something I'd do. I feel you.)
posted by uberchet at 6:19 AM on December 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I read Marisha Pessl's Night Film on an e-reader, and although it was still enjoyable because the book was so good, it was definitely not as good as reading it in paper form. It contains various "page props," like screen shots of websites or pictures of pieces of paper, as clues, and they were hard to see or experience on the e-reader.
posted by alligatorpear at 6:36 AM on December 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Cheap Complex Devices by John Sundman really benefits from being physical. Same with The Pains, same author.

In addition to House of Leaves, Danielewski has The Fifty Year Sword (uses color, layout, typography), Only Revolutions (you have to repeatedly flip the book over vertically), and his new series The Familiar (again, typography, layout, fonts, etc.) which only really work on paper.
posted by mrgoat at 7:47 AM on December 6, 2016

I found Edgar Cantero's The Supernatural Enhancements to be frustrating on my Kindle and ended up buying a physical copy of the book after getting about a quarter of the way through reading it.
posted by soplerfo at 8:29 AM on December 6, 2016

I suspect The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime might be one, though I've only read the paper version.

Amazon's "look inside" feature for the Kindle Edition seems to show some of the graphical content being properly flowed with the text, but I would be the experience would be diminished.

I have been disappointed in the past with cookbooks and travel guides that were not specifically formatted for e-reading. Obviously, e-readers are great for both of those genres, but someone needs to put though into how things are laid out and linked in a medium where just flipping through isn't as convenient.

I read Infinite Jest on a kindle and cannot imagine how annoying that would be in paper form.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:16 AM on December 6, 2016

The People of Paper. Much better if you can get the first edition which literally had every iteration of a name cut out of the book (there were little holes in the book), though they didn't do that for later editions. There are moments when characters don't want the author to see what they're thinking, and so they black out their thoughts. It's really nice in person.
posted by taltalim at 3:45 PM on December 6, 2016

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