In defence of books on paper

Reading time: About 2 minutes

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss an article in defence of books on paper…

I’m a dedicated reader who zips through at least 52 books each year and a copy of the New Yorker once each week.

No one needs to convince me that “Science Has Great News for People Who Read Actual Books.” Six minutes of reading can reduce stress by 68%. Yes! Seniors who read regularly are 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than their peers who don’t. Yes!

Still, I was intrigued to read Rachel Grate’s defence of books that are written on paper. I LOVE my Kindle, most especially for the way it allows me to take dozens of books on holiday with no extra weight in my suitcase.

But my husband and I have been talking about how we have a harder time remembering the books we’ve read on our Kindles. I’d always assumed it was because we never see book covers on our e-readers, so we don’t have a firm visual image to associate with them. Grate presents a more interesting idea, however:

The tactile experience of a book aids… [memory], from the thickness of the pages in your hands as you progress through the story to the placement of a word on the page. [Researcher Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University ] hypothesizes that the difference for Kindle readers “might have something to do with the fact that the fixity of a text on paper, and this very gradual unfolding of paper as you progress through a story is some kind of sensory offload, supporting the visual sense of progress when you’re reading.”

While e-readers try to recreate the sensation of turning pages and pagination, the screen is limited to one ephemeral virtual page. Surveys about the use of e-readers suggest that this affects a reader’s serendipity and sense of control. The inability to flip back to previous pages or control the text physically, either through making written notes or bending pages, limits one’s sensory experience and thus reduces long-term memory of the text. 

This seems both logical and believable and is going to make me rely less on my Kindle (except when travelling) and more books on paper that I can borrow from the library.

If you’re interested in learning more about Mangen’s study, here’s a link to an article on it in the Guardian.

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