Highlights and Lowlights: Tracking Reader Response Online

Authors: Thomas, B.

Conference: IGEL

Dates: 21 July-25 September 2014


One of the affordances of the current crop of ereaders is that they offer users various ways of recording and sharing their reading via social media and dedicated websites. In particular, readers using Amazon’s Kindle can highlight passages and share public notes which are then listed on the Amazon website so that browsers can see at a glance which books and passages have been most highlighted, and which have the most public notes. Whilst recent studies of ereading (e.g. McCracken 2013) provide an overview of some of the ‘enhancements’ offered by ebooks and ereaders, to date little attention has been paid to exploring these in relation to a specific work of fiction, or with regard to the specific responses of actual readers. It has to be admitted that the relatively small take-up for these enhancements thus far might lend credence to those sceptical of the ‘fetishisation of the social over the solitary’ (Mangen, 2013: 101) in current debates about reading in the digital age. Nevertheless such resources do offer researchers a potentially rich source of data on contemporary readers and how they are responding to the impact of digitisation.

This paper will present an analysis of the highlighting and shared notes feature on the Amazon Kindle with particular reference to Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the ninth ‘most highlighted book of all time’ (as of 15/10/3013) and the twelfth book with the most public notes. The paper will consider what, if anything, might be learned from analysing the highlights and public notes for this novel in terms of reader preferences and practices, and in terms of what readers consider noteworthy with regard to the text’s narrative strategies and techniques. The paper will also consider how far reader responses offered by these means align with professional critics’ interpretations of the novel across both academic studies and journalistic reviews.

Source: Manual

Preferred by: Bronwen Thomas