Before I begin, I have a confession to make. I am technologically illiterate. I say this because I want to expose my weakness … ebooks intimidate me. In the past, when confronted with the question of whether I read e-books, I told friends and acquaintances that I shied away from them because as a kid’s book reviewer, not as many kid’s books are available to me in this format. While this is partially true, the climate is changing and in fact I can get many new books sooner if I am willing to read them on my electronic device.
So I had to face my fear and jump into the trend. I began to download my reading list. What I found was a mixed bag. As I became more skilled at using my multiple e-readers I expected my satisfaction to grow, my actual physical mountains of books to whittle down to mere molehills, and my eye site to improve as I enlarged text at will.
However, my longing for “real” paper bound books only grew and I found myself eschewing the e-versions in favor of waiting for the hard copies. I began to reread ebooks to be sure of my reactions. My reading experience was not quite the same when I couldn’t easily flip between pages and I wanted my reaction to a book to be based on the content and not the format it came in. Not quite the grand conversion I expected.
So why didn’t I love this new trend? I mean I’m a lover of mother earth. I bring my own bags to grocery stores and ebooks certainly save our vital tree resources. I am fond of oxygen after all. However, there were more communal things that I found myself missing.
Ebooks are not a shared reading experience. I can’t count the number of conversations I have with friends and strangers, about a book I am carrying around. Whether they want my take on the book because they considered giving it to their child, or they have read it and want to discuss their love or disgust with the story, a physical book encourages discussion with very little effort. Strangers can take on the role of instant book club member and friends can open up about ways that a book touched them, encouraging us to get to know each other better. I missed that.
I have also found this is true with children. A little tribe of book readers emerge when one child gets intrigued with the book her friend is carrying around and the next thing you know it circulates throughout the group of friends and encourages conversations in the class.
Not seeing what my children are reading means I am missing where they are developmentally. Don’t underestimate how kid’s book choices reflect the stages they are going through. With physical books I can see when they are rereading their comfort books. Sometimes that means nothing more than they liked the book but it can also mean they need to regroup for a while before they make a developmental leap forward. I also love talking with them about books they love or hate. I learn a lot about their tastes and interests.
I can easily see when my kids are not finishing books. When a book stays in the same spot for too long and I have dusted around it or the bookmark doesn’t move it means that a genre may not interest them any longer or that perhaps they have stepped up the difficulty level too high and need to take a step back. When they are overtaxed at school, the comic books start showing up around their bed. With an e-reader it is way too easy to miss these signs and not see how their reading is progressing.
I never really know if people around me are reading a book or doing something else on their device. Now I know you can get devices that simply have books, but most of us use the devices we already have. When my husband is on his ipad is he modeling reading for the kids or is he checking the latest scores of the baseball game? Are my kids really reading that book or are they playing with the latest app?
Oh, and of course I am not immune to the other diversions these devices have to offer. If a book gets a little slow, it’s tempting to just play one level of Candy Crush, which then turns into two levels and then the book is long forgotten.
Screen time is already maximized in our house. Frankly time on the computer is a constant battle. It is a source of conflict as the kids try and maximize their allotted time to one hundred tenths of a second in a way that would make the Olympic timekeepers proud. As their parent I am trying to remind them that grass and sunlight are not evil. We are not vampires after all. Anything that gets my kids to stop looking at a screen is a plus in my book. Sometimes I actually get physically disgusted to see them with another gadget in their hands, but a book, well that brings tears of joy to my eyes.
E-readers are expensive. E-readers or tablets cost a lot to replace, and physical books in comparison are a mere pittance. I like to bring books with me everywhere. Caught in line at the grocery store, pull out a book. Stuck in the pickup lane at school, pull out a book. You get the idea. Throwing a book in my bag takes little effort or thought. If I leave my book in the pocket of the airplane, am I unhappy? Sure, but it is not the end of the world. I am never worried that if I leave my book on the passenger seat of the car that someone will break in to get it (unless of course they have an irrational desire to read Charlotte’s Web at that exact moment.) My iPad on the other hand is one broken window away from a new owner. I am free to read at will with a paper book because the device itself is not limiting by being expensive or fragile.
The studies are starting to show that readers absorb less on Kindles than on paper. As the studies trickle in, two fundamental things are becoming clear. First, readers using a Kindle were significantly worse than paperback readers at recalling events that happened in a story. Researches in a new Europe-wide study also found that Kindle readers had a trouble with the timing of events. This last one doesn’t surprise in the least. Kids use their physical place in a book to mark events in a story and understand when plot devices will be used to wrap up a narrative. Without those visual cues, they have a hard time remembering the order of the plot.
In the end, while stories themselves are individual experiences, their relevance and understanding grows as we share them with others. Having a conversation about a book creates a sense of community. You both experienced the same event and while your reactions may be different, your desire to analyze it is the same. Physical books allow us to more easily create these connections in a world that is becoming less and less composed of face to face interactions and more and more digitized. I am unwilling to loose these opportunities to connect. While ebooks will remain a part of the way I digest books, they certainly will be the exception and not the rule. The tactile experience of a book is not something I am not willing to give up so easily.