One thing that’s been ignored amidst this summer’s Amazon-versus-Hachette showdown is our need for physical books. People are concerned with what e-book prices should be and who will become the future “Netflix of books,” but bookstore sales dropped 7.9 percent during the first six months of 2014. Yikes!
To refocus ourselves, we’ve compiled a few reasons why physical books should remain important even when you can finally rent unlimited e-books for next to nothing:
Physical books help you better process plot.
Researchers recently discovered that readers who use digital devices find it more difficult to reconstruct plot. When asked to read a story and arrange 14 plot points in the correct order, Kindle readers performed twice as poorly as those who had sat down with a paperback. Apparently the former had a worse concept of time without the physical sensation of turning pages.
Physical books allow you to write in them.
Adding notes on a Kindle might not be the same as physically marking the text you’re reading. Researchers have found that writing on digital platforms affects the way we learn. Typing a note onto your e-reader leaves out the process of “embodied cognition,” in which the motor and mental actions of writing something down are mutually dependent on each other. When you type a note, the letters are “readymade,” and although it might be quicker to type than write something down, the time you save might not be worth the long-run repercussions of what you would fail to absorb. You can also be more creative in the margins of physical books: There’s the flexibility to use different colored pens and even to doodle, if that’s the way you want to get a point across.
Physical books make you read closer.
A survey of 113 participants found that people who read on e-readers tend to take a lot of shortcuts. They often skim and read with the intention of leeching information as quickly — rather than as accurately — as possible. When reading off screens, people are less likely to have metacognitive engagements with the text they’re reading; in other words, they’re not taking the time to reflect on whether or not they’re truly digesting what they’re reading.
Physical books are less distracting.
Studies on students’ productivity on Kindles versus print media has found that e-readers promoted less active learning and more distractions. Some e-readers allow users to “flick forward and flick back,” indulging impulses to skip around rather than focus, and devices like the Kindle Fire allow readers to be distracted by internet access or even videogames. To let this soak in, just imagine juggling Crime and Punishment with a few levels of Angry Birds.
Physical books are yours to own.
In 2009, Amazon quietly deleted e-book editions of 1984 and Animal Farm, “disappearing” the titles from Kindles everywhere. The company didn’t have the rights to the works and were facing legal issues, but that doesn’t detract from the creepiness of the books vanishing. A 17-year-old from the Detroit area, who lost all the notes on his summer reading assignment told The New York Times, “They didn’t just take a book back, they stole my work.” Either Amazon finds humor in going meta or the e-book market makes for some frightening possibilities.
Physical books smell amazing.
And did you know that smell greatly impacts memory? The part of our brains that processes smell, known as the olfactory cortex, is closely linked to the amygdala, the section that processes and stores emotional memories. Who knows, a whiff you catch your local bookstore might someday remind you of a line from Mrs. Dalloway you otherwise forgot, bringing you back to the text all over again. Overall, physical media may also leave a deeper emotional “footprint” in the memories of its readers.
Physical books ensure this isn’t our future.
Physical books are more meaningful to share.
A few years ago, my grandma gave me her copy of In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway. She had remembered me talking about The Sun Also Rises and wanted me to read the collection. She told me about reading it aloud with my grandpa when they were still together, years and years before I was born, and I was amazed at the book’s condition, at all the notes made in pencil in the margins.
Just this past month, my mom also lent me a copy of Dubliners by James Joyce, telling me that she read it when she was my age. She urged me to read the story about the sad woman with the cakes — Maria from “Clay” — and I’ve been keeping it by my bedside table for the right moment to pick it up.
I hope that someday I’ll be able to do the same for my kids and grandkids.