The Problem with Reading Books on an iPad

This week I was reading An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 by Robert Dallek. It is another in my quest to read at least one biography of every U.S. President. While reading it one evening, it occurred to me what the problem is reading books on iPads.

It was just after Kennedy got the nomination for President. He took a well-deserved rest at the compound in Hyannis Port. The town of Hyannis Port had showed up in the book before, and of course, its connection with the Kennedy family is famous. But I never really thought about where it was. So I pulled up Google Maps. The following is a fairly accurate account of what followed:

  • I search for “Hyannis Port.” I zoomed in close to the shore so that I could get a look at the beach area of the town.
  • I switched to Google Earth view. I noticed that several of the houses had opened up their swimming pools recently. The pool covers had not yet been put away and were visible beside the pools.
  • I looked to see if anyone was sunbathing. No one was visible. I guess it was still early spring and chilly.
  • I tried to identify the cars in the driveways. Some driveways had a dozen cars in them,
  • I realized that Warwick, Rhode Island wasn’t too far away (at least, not in terms of scrolling), so I scrolled over to Warwick.
  • I found the house I lived in from 1979-1983 and began to check out the neighborhood. It was a brand new neighborhood when I moved there. It looked considerably older now.
  • I looked for my school. Then the baseball fields where I played my first Little League games.
  • Since T. F. Green airport was not far from there, I scanned the airport. They seemed to have added a runway in the last 30+ years. I tried to see if there were any planes on approach, but grew bored with the search.
  • I jumped up to Castine, Maine, and found my cousin’s house. I noticed that in the current satellite photo, his Prius was clearly visible in the driveway.
  • I typed in “Spring Valley, NY” and began exploring the place where my grandparents lived. The place looked remarkably good, considering its age, and there were signs of recent improvements.
  • I switched to Google Street view and got a good look at the yard that I used to play in. I spent a lot of time getting the right angle to see one particular tree—and sure enough, it was exactly as I remembered it.
  • I explored the woods we used to play in to see if they were as big as I remembered. They weren’t. But the abandoned drive-in theater—the one that was abandoned 30 years ago—was still abandoned, so not everything had changed.

By now, nearly an hour had slipped by and when I came up for air, I tried to remember why I started browsing Google Maps in the first place. Then I remembered I was reading about JFK’s brief vacation after the nomination. I was eager to continue reading, but it was time to get the kids to bed. Then I needed to shower, and get things ready for the next day.

JFK would have to wait until I was back.

This, my friends, is the main problem I have with reading books on an iPad.


  1. This is main reason I read on a Kindle. There’s no distractions on a dedicated eBook reader. Of course, now I just need to resist the urge to keep my phone and iPad away from me when I do 🙂

    1. John, in some ways it is a good thing, and my post was a bit tongue-in-cheek. I doubt that I’d look up nearly as much stuff as I do while reading if I had to pull an encyclopedia volume off the shelf each time I found something interesting.

    1. I was thinking the same thing… except with the iPad, you have that information at your fingertips no matter where you are, which makes it easier to get lost down the rabbit hole. If I were at home, I might have pulled out an Atlas, but if I wasn’t, I’d have to wait until I got home, and the rhythm of my reading would not have been interrupted at drastically.

      It occurred to me just now, on a related note, that I no longer have any idea where my Atlas of the World is. Nor can I recall when and where I gave up my old set of Encyclopedia Britannica. 🙂


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