How to Hold a Book

I did a piece a few weeks back for (subscription only, I’m afraid) and The Wall Street Journal Asia about bookholders. These are devices made to help folk read more easily. As one of my old bosses said: “neanderthal”. But I still love to hold a book and would definitely opt for paper over digital for most reading:

You’re more likely to find them advertised on the back pages of quirky British publications such as Private Eye and The Countryman than in glossy international fashion or gadget mags, but they grapple with one of the thorniest design issues since the invention of the printing press: how to read a book in the bath. Or on the beach. Or in bed. Or at dinner. Call it The Search for the Perfect Book Holder.

The problem is a simple one: Books have long mocked the naysayers who predicted their demise in the face of radio, television, audio books, the Internet, eBooks (books you read on a hand-held device), eReaders (devices you use to read eBooks) or whatever. But books do have one design flaw: You have to hold them open. While this may not sound like too much of a trial, it can be if you’re trying to eat/type/take notes/get an even tan/wash your back/sip cocoa at the same time, or if, for some reason — through repetitive strain injury or arthritis, say — you have a problem gripping things. Perhaps if we didn’t actually have to hold a book up while we read it, at least some of us might have read Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” to the end, and J.K. Rowling would have sold even more copies of her 672-page doorstop “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” if we hadn’t been afraid of dropping it in the bath.

Here are some links to the ones I reviewed. They’re all great, the products of minds both mad and brilliant at the same time. Who would spend so much time and money trying to make a book stand up?

  • PageStay: great for cooks
  • thumbthing: great for small paperbacks
  • The Gimble and Reader Cushion: great name, great in the bath
  • BookGem: Great for standing books up on flat surfaces
  • easy-read Great for standing things up on non-flat surfaces

There are some more I reviewed, or at least heard about, which I may post later.

A Directory of Email Trackers

A few weeks back in a column (subscription only, I’m afraid) I wrote about email trackers — services that track whether emails you send are read, along with other details — and I received a lot of interesting mail from readers, which I will deal with here or in a future column. (For those of you interested, the column appears in The Wall Street Journal Asia’s Friday Weekend Edition. Back issues of the of the column are available here, although once again, I’m afraid it’s subscription only.

Anyway, plug made, here’s a list of the services I was able to come across, along with brief details of what they offer. Any more you know of, please let me know.

  • MessageTag: now into version 2. Lets you know when and whether emails are opened. Works with Gmail, multiple recipients, and lets you be notified vis SMS.
  • DidTheyReadIt? : know when your email was opened, how long it remained opened, where geographically, it was viewed.
  • ReadNotify : tells you when email you sent gets read /re-opened /forwarded and a lot more.

On News Visualization, Part I

This week’s column in The Asian Wall Street Journal’s Personal Journal (and online at, subscription only) is about visualizing the news:

To me it’s slightly daft that most news Web sites stick to an online format that someone wandering in from the mid-seventeenth century would recognize. Newspapers haven’t changed an awful lot in layout since they first appeared. There’s good reason for this. But why has the Internet, with all its interactive links, clicking, visuals, sounds and promise of customizing to the individual’s needs, not thrown out the newspaper model – headline, pictures, text — in favor of something better?

Beyond the services mentioned in the text, readers might want to explore some other Web sites that visualize data in different ways:

Meanwhile, as mentioned in the column, there’s a great Web site called information aesthetics which lists a lot of these and similar projects. Anything I’ve missed, please do let me know; I do remember quite a few efforts a few years back, but none of them seem to be active, or offer a public version, anymore.