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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Printed Books Still Hold Value

Technology has changed the way we publish material. I know too well about how newspapers are, at the very least, transitioning to online publications. Schools are replacing textbooks with materials downloaded to reading tablets. And the world of book publishing has more writings in electronic format.

For some of the written world, it's not surprising electronic formats are more useful. Newspaper stories, for example, tend to be short. The majority of those stories I've written never exceeded 1,000 words. I haven't kept track of which stories were the longest, but I would imagine the longest ones never topped 2,000 words.

Those stories make sense to be switched to online publishing. They are short and don't take long for people to read. It makes sense that people would want to read those stories on the go. If one did that with a newspaper, the reader would have to either fold the paper or hold it up close to their eyes to read each story. An electronic device simplifies that. One can use a tablet or smartphone to click a link and scroll down.

But books aren't something most people will read in one sitting. Somebody reading a book while riding the bus or subway to work will have to put it down at some point, not because they want to. Everyone gets immersed in a book they love, but when you reach your destination, you have to mark your place and get up. And unlike a newspaper, a reader doesn't have to move a book around or fold the pages while reading.

While e-books and online publishing are a wonderful thing for authors who haven't been able to get works released through traditional methods, I find reading any lengthy piece online to not be the same as reading a paper copy. Short blog posts and stories don't require much scrolling, but longer stories do, unless they are broken up into multiple pages. Also, I find it hard on my eyes to stare at a screen for too long.

A few years ago, I did a story about a retired teacher who spent her summers tutoring children. She told me about the research she read about how the human brain functions. She said what helps exercise the brain is to engage in physical activity, even if it's simply turning the pages of a book.

I have noticed this whenver I read books. I can feel a surge in my brain, as if it wants more with each page I turn. My eyes are never strained. Flipping the pages makes it feel like a personal experience, whereas scrolling and clicking sometimes tires me out.

Perhaps it's just a side effect of what I do for a living. Most of my work involves staring back at a computer screen or looking at my smartphone. Do this for too long and I need a break.

But I think there is something to what the retired teacher said. Activity that stimulates the brain is a good thing. If we get more brain stimulus from turning the pages of a book than we do scrolling and clicking, it makes sense to read more paper-format books.

I know there are authors who prefer to release their books electronically. But I don't think they should entirely dismiss printed books. I know the major self-publishing companies sell print books to order alongside e-books. That's a good compromise for authors who either don't want to go the traditional route, or have tried it but couldn't find an agent or publisher who would give them a chance.

Meanwhile, I hope authors encourage younger readers to pick up a printed book every now and then. E-books do open new options to authors, but most of us grew up on printed material and have wonderful memories about their favorite titles.

That's something we shouldn't lose as we move further into this electronic era. I think if we turn more pages of paper books, the more our brains will thank us.

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