During Book Expo 2009, more than one publicist asked me if I would be willing to accept e-galleys. I said absolutely (mainly because that gives me an excuse to buy a new and different e-reading device; for a book babe, I'm quite the gadgetista). One publicist in particular said that it's tough to get editors and producers to accept e-galleys since many of us prefer to "flip back and forth" while reading.
I think we all need to talk more about this, perhaps the greatest drawback to screen reading. It doesn't matter what kind of reading material I'm holding -- novel, textbook, magazine, cookbook -- I flip back and forth constantly while I'm reading. Sometimes I'm flipping pages to recall a character's name or action (was it Miss Scarlett with the hammer? Or Colonel Mustard with the candlestick?). Sometimes I browse back and forth to make connections. Often, with biographies and memoirs, I flip backwards and forwards to cement photographs and memories together. There are probably as many reasons for flipping around in a book as they are reasons for reading a book.
Of course, e-reader makers have attempted to replicate flippage, allowing users to highlight sections, annotate pages, and place as many bookmarks as they like (if you used actual bookmarks with the alacrity that I do while reading an e-book, a normal hardcover of several hundred pages might resemble a doorstop fit for a fortress). While these functions can be handy, they're not as fast as our brains.
I think that, ultimately, is the test of any tool -- not just e-readers. Can it do something better, more quickly, more efficiently than our bodies or brain can? If not, what is its use? The book on the bookshelf (to paraphrase Henry Petrowski) is a quietly perfect tool. Even though I'm fascinated by e-books (for me, it's portability that matters), there are many things they don't do well.
What do you think?