For the Love of Reading: eBook Versus the Printed Page

Rutgers University Council On Children's Literature: “Keeping it Creative in the Digital Age” with Mallory Kass (Editor at Scholastic), Samantha Streger (Assistant Editor at Open Road), and Janet Wong (Author).
This past Saturday I was fortunate to attend a writer’s conference put on by the Rutgers University Council On Children's Literature. For the panel “Keeping it Creative in the Digital Age,” three panelists, which included Janet Wong (Author), Mallory Kass (Editor at Scholastic), and Samantha Streger (Assistant Editor at Open Road), discussed publishing’s transition into digital mediums, and I was once again reminded of how one’s reading experience is shaped by one’s instrument of choice, be it a Kindle, Nook, Droid, iPhone, tablet, or paperback. 

As someone inclined toward distractions, I’m an avid advocate of the printed page. I love my e-reader. She’s great for extended flights, car trips, or weekends away, but to be frank, when I’m not afraid of splitting her screen for the umpteenth time (yes, I am one of those absentminded…ahem…clumsy ADHD’rs), I find myself a bit overwhelmed by the number of books at my fingertips. Which one to read? Where to start? Which one should I pick back up from where I left off a year ago?

For me, there are far too many interesting novels, magazines, and articles to ingest out there, and so turning on my e-reader is a bit like opening an overcrowded menu. When presented with so many attractive choices, I often grapple over which book to read for so long that I eat up much of the time I could have spent reading.

When you purchase a hardcover or paperback book, however, its physicality makes it feel like a definitive choice. I hold a precious tomb in my hand, its cover grainy or slick with a photograph, its pages primed to be marked up by my waiting pen. When I bring this tomb on vacation, it is the story that I will commit myself to. There is no going back. There is no waffling between books or articles, and once my pen has touched paper, there is no erasing these notes with a tap of a button.

Rutgers University Council On Children's Literature Annual One-On-One Conference
The blog series “Room for Debate” on the New York Times’ website offers insights into this ongoing debate over the strengths and weaknesses of on-screen reading. In “Does the Brain Like E-Books?” Maryanne Wolf makes an interesting observation about the importance of reflection. Of Aristotle she writes, “The habitual reader Aristotle worried about the three lives of the “good society”: the first life is the life of productivity and knowledge gathering; the second, the life of entertainment; and the third, the life of reflection and contemplation.”
"For me the formation of the “good reader” follows a similar course. I have no doubt that the digital immersion of our children will provide a rich life of entertainment and information and knowledge. My concern is that they will not learn, with their passive immersion, the joy and the effort of the third life, of thinking one’s own thoughts and going beyond what is given.”
When it comes to reading, as in life, it’s important to take the time to ingest what you’re learning, reading, and experiencing in the present moment. Or, as I often do, to reflect upon what you’ve recently learned, read, and experienced in order to fully absorb the moments you’ve lived and come to understand them more fully. If we’re to busy jumping from one book or article to the next, we haven’t the time to fully sit with what been ingested and develop the profound insights that we’re so capable of.

Have you evolved into the modern era of ebooks? Or do you still cling to your hardcovers as I do?