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Why Young Readers Need Real Books

From Intellectual Takeout:

A young lady I know won a Kindle in an academic contest. She is a voracious reader. In eighth grade, she enjoys Austen, Chesterton, Lewis, and Wodehouse, among many others. A trail of books seems to follow her everywhere she goes.

Her parents, wary of potential negative effects of screens on growing minds, would have preferred that their daughter not own a Kindle, at least not for a few more years. Since it was a prize well earned, however, they acquiesced.

The young lady continued to read paper books, but the Kindle came in handy for outings (no more scrambling to find enough books to bring along) and reading in bed (no book lamp needed). Not wanting to spend money, she searched for books in the public domain, and was delighted to discover that the Kindle gave her access to some old books by her favorite authors—books that local libraries no longer carried on their shelves.

All in all, it seemed like a wholesome approach to integrating technology, and so her parents were surprised when, several months later, their daughter announced that she wanted to sell her Kindle.

“For the first time in my life,” she explained, “I’ve noticed that I’ve had to read lines two or three times in order to understand them, because I’m distracted. There are so many things I can do with the Kindle. I can make the font bigger, or change the contrast, or highlight and save a passage. There are so many choices, so many things to fiddle with, that I lose track of the story. It’s becoming a habit that is carrying over into my real books, too.”

Nineteenth-century British educator Charlotte Mason described the ability to focus (in a healthy brain) as a habit of the mind—one that can be gained or lost according to how the mind is trained. For this eighth grader, reading on a Kindle was undoing her habit of concentration. Her mind was losing the ability to be fully present to her books, and she did not like how it felt.

. . . .

No doubt, a computer might contain a story worth reading. When a father or mother or beloved teacher reads that story aloud to a child, it can forge memories for a lifetime. In our house, we use computers to listen to audio books by authors like Hans Christian Anderson and Thornton W. Burgess, and everyone enjoys it.

Still, it isn’t the same. Listening to the book on the laptop can be nice, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the bond that is built when my husband or I cuddle up with the children and turn the worn pages of our favorite books as we read aloud together.

Isn’t there something precious about the book itself? Isn’t there something in its weight, in its feel, in its illustrations, in its pages, that, when a grown-up child holds it in his hands and reads it to his own children, will awaken a reverence for the story that a computer screen would not?

Link to the rest at Intellectual Takeout

PG says if you like printed books, by all means buy and read them. If a child in your life likes printed books, by all means buy and borrow printed books for the child to read.

PG is all for choice in this matter.

However, he becomes a little annoyed when an author takes a personal preference up to the top of a mountain and makes sacrifices to a printer god and pledges fealty to forever revere ink and paper.

PG is not persuaded that printed books are inherently superior to electronic books in any meaningful way, however. Each is a means of presenting words to a reader in a convenient manner.

Just like scrolls were once a means of presenting words to a reader in a convenient manner. PG can imagine readers in ancient times extolling the virtues of scrolls over these new heavy and cumbersome book things that caused you to lose your place whenever they fell off the table. Instead of the exquisite unveiling of a story in one continuous stream from a scroll, a book chopped up a story into ungainly pieces and ruined the continuity of the author’s vision. Plus, the prices the binders guild charged were outrageous.

PG likes the convenience of ebooks and the size of the ebook reader. Reading in bed is an end-of-the-day ritual for PG and Mrs. PG, so PG has plenty of experience with a comprehensive and thick printed account of something like the Battle of Thermopylae sitting open on his chest for many long hours. (And don’t forget what happens to your bookmark when the book slides off the bed in the middle of the night.)

He much prefers his featherweight Kindle for reading extensive accounts of heavy topics.



Children's Books, Ebooks

22 Comments to “Why Young Readers Need Real Books”

  1. The only time I ever intentionally change the font size on my Kindle is right after I’ve accidentally changed it. 🙂

    Nor do I change any of the other settings, with the exception of turning on airplane mode if I notice the battery is low and it’s going to be a while before I can get to a power source.

    I personally wouldn’t mind the font size setting being buried deeper in the menu structure, so it doesn’t get tweaked by mistake.

  2. Douglas Paul Milewski

    Having a child right now, and having observed them lots and lots, I agree with the author. If nothing else, I know that if my daughter has a book in her hand, she’s actually reading.

  3. Sounds apocryphal – the young lady could find books she couldn’t find elsewhere, free, and didn’t even want to keep it for that?

    Didn’t even want it for vacation, or a long car trip, or to read on a plane?

  4. YMMV as the kids say.

    Yet another of those ‘books must be paper’ memes from what I can see. Which is fine with me, the poor dear will only be able to read stories someone else thought were worth printing out. No doubt they can’t use/have a smartphone because ‘distractions’.

    I’ve owned/read enough paperback books to fill a couple dozen ‘office boxes’, but I’ve read far ‘more’ on CRT/LED and now eInk displays.

    YMMV (and most of the ‘V’ will be in your/their heads! 😉 )

  5. So rather than learn to focus – you know, develop adult reading habits – we toss out the baby with the bath water and ditch the kindle.
    Maybe the young reader should have mentioned this to a parent who, as an adult should, could have given some tips on how to stop being distracted – it could have been a learning experience.

    You know, I dislike paper books, especially epic fantasy because I’m always so distracted by flipping back and forth to the maps and the glossary and the character genealogies in the back that I lose my focus…… fnord

    Oh, and yes there is something precious in a book – it’s called the story contained within. Papyrus scroll, clay tablet, paperback or kindle – the message is the thing.

  6. Humans develop the habits they cultivate.

    Cultivate the habit of ignoring distractions while reading in a busy coffee shop and you will find reading alone in a silent room distracting until you cultivate the habit of reading alone in a silent room. When I was in graduate school, the only place I could concentrate was in a library carrel. Now, I gravitate to my office with pre-baroque music in the background. Habits can change.

    Same with paper v. Kindle v. laptop v. desktop v. tablet v. phone. Since ebooks have advantages, start children on ebooks early to reap those advantages. If you prefer that they read off paper, start them on paper.

    Most habits can be made, broken, and replaced at will. People do it all the time. When they can’t change a habit, it’s called an addiction, and that is often a tragedy. I would not like to have a paper addiction.

  7. Yes, electronic books are sooooo vulgar. And lumpenprole. And common. And crass.

    Yes, the Luddites didn’t die out with the Industrial Revolution. They’re still here. And probably always will be.

  8. What? Didn’t she miss the smell of “real” books?

    • I am as much of a ebook reader as anyone– I was associated with a startup that tried to market an ebook reader in the late 80s. Delivering ebooks on floppy disks was NOT a viable distribution model, but I read on one of the prototypes in the mid-90s. Later, I switched to converting Gutenberg txt files to Palm prc files and reading on a Palm.

      Nevertheless, I love the smell of some paper books, particularly books photo-lithographically reproduced (pirated?) in Taiwan in the early 70s. They smelled like rhubarb and I have fond memories of falling asleep on them when I was graduate student. Drool released the smell and triggered spectacular dreams. My copy of the Cihai (sort of the Webster’s Unabridged of Chinese dictionaries) still has a hint of rhubarb.

      You can like the smell of paper books and still like ebooks.

  9. Had this essayist looked a little harder, she might have found a kid she knows who reads much more since he/she acquired a Kindle. But that wouldn’t have fit her agenda.

    I remember when personal computers first became popular among writers (many long decades ago). For a while, know-it-alls used to ask, Oh, do you write your books or do you word process them?

    I finally hit on an apt response: I write the old-fashioned way, with a stick and a clay tablet. That shut them up. That and, of course, reality.

    Perhaps there would be fewer distractions if children read clay tablets. We might be missing a bet here.

  10. so this kindle was a general purpose tablet, not an e-reader

    it’s FAR easier to read e-paper than an LCD

    I have a nice, high-res tablet that I tried to use for a few months after repeatedly breaking the screen on my kindle DX that I had for years (I broke 4 screens and then lost it in about two months) and found similar problems reading from the LCD.

    I picked up one of the new BOOX Max 2 devices, and I’m back to reading at full speed.

    and an e-reader isn’t going to tempt you with video watching or game playing

  11. After spending all day on my laptop, I often find myself reaching for the function keys to adjust the volume and screen brightness on real life.

  12. I don’t actually believe this story. I think it is one of those “I’m embellishing for a good cause.” This could have happened… To someone… Some where…

  13. Very understated picture there, PG – by word count, the English Wikipedia alone would have 7.5 million pages. (About 10 thousand “modern literary novels.”)

    By comparison, the current Federal Register is a puny 97 thousand or so pages…

  14. Her parents, wary of potential negative effects of screens on growing minds, would have preferred that their daughter not own a Kindle, at least not for a few more years. Since it was a prize well earned, however, they acquiesced.

    Evidently with ill-disguised contempt for the device. It is a fair guess that the girl picked up her parents’ attitude toward the Kindle and matched it.

    I think the girl’s rejection of the Kindle is more a projection of the parents’ attitude than of her innate feelings.

  15. This young lady is obviously very easily distracted and has difficulty when confronted with a number of options. This has to be one of the most ridiculous reasons for not liking ereaders that I have come across. There are so many options, I feel compelled to use them, and I get distracted. Still, if that is your experience and you prefer paper books with no such options, go for it.

    I know a number of children who love their Kindles. Who knows, my eyesight might be better today had the Paperwhite been around when I was 9 or 10 and reading at night in bed under the covers, my only light a torch.

  16. eh

    Yet another essay that focuses on reading books as if that is the only type of reading that matters.

  17. O please. Can we stop this obsession for paper as the superior medium to preserve knowledge(tm). I have a general tablet that allows me to read both kindle and epub boobs. The amount of books I’ve read has increased because I can now buy/find the ones I want to read instead of waiting or vainly searching for them in paper format.

    If some want to buy the paper books by all means do so and with my full support and enthusiasm just stop pontificating about how superior you are.
    Let’s enjoy our entertainment in our preferred formats.

  18. Paper books aren’t “real” books, they are paper books. Correct, not sloppy, terminology, people. Some people use “real books” to mean whatever genre they read as opposed to what other people read. It’s also a favorite insult to writers when people sneer at them and ask them why they don’t write “real books.”

    Personally, I now prefer ebooks to paper because of font changes and the lack of smell. Paper picks up all kinds of unpleasant odors, and paper library books are the worst because of cigarette smoke, etc.

    And, if this child gets obsessed with font changes and can’t read, there’s a lot of things going wrong with her that have nothing to do with the difference between paper and ebooks.

  19. I don’t know what are the English Language publishers’ policies but the Italian ones do let go out of print many important books which often can be available in electronic format.
    Thus, even if it were the only advantage, to me, at least, this makes e-books essential.
    Sergio Baldelli

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