I buy e-books, but I prefer to buy real books.
I buy e-books because I travel a lot and, since I read quickly, I can finish three or four books on a trip to Europe from Minneapolis. In my youth I regarded the lugging of all these real books as part of my exercise regimen. Now I regard it as an unnecessary schlep.
Because I want to keep up with what is happening in Minneapolis during the months I live in Cape Town, I also subscribe to the Minneapolis Star Tribune electronically; similarly I subscribe to South Africa’s Mail & Guardian for the other half of my life.
I don’t mind reading books electronically, but I dislike intensely reading newspapers online. I don’t have the same sense of perspective that I have with big pages open in front of me, where I take in articles, headlines, adverts, and so on. Reading a newspaper electronically is like walking through a museum at night with a small flashlight. One only sees bits and pieces, and is left with no sense of the whole.
The only thing that I really don’t like about e-books is that it is much more difficult for me to walk into a house and snoop through the owner’s library. If the books are on shelves, I know what the owner is reading. If they are in an e-reader, I have no sense at all of the person’s taste.
I’ve often wondered why I have such a strong preference for real books.
Is it because of habit – that’s the way I’ve always done it and I’m slow to change? Is it because I like to see books scattered around my house, tempting me to sit down and read them? Is it because I like the feel of having a book in my hand?
It is probably a bit of all of these. But there is now evidence that there may be something more at play.
Recent research done at Stavanger University in Norway suggests that you remember more when reading a real book compared to an e-book. Anne Mangen gave 50 readers the same 28-page short story by Elizabeth George. Half read the story in a paperback; half on an e-reader. She then tested them about different aspects of the story – objects, characters, and setting.
On most items there was little or no difference, but when the readers had to place 14 events that happened in the story in the correct order, the paperback readers performed significantly better.
When I read this, I thought of how I feel about electronic newspapers – that I lose the big picture – and wondered whether something similar was going on.
Mangen suggested a reason for this: “When you read on paper you can sense with your fingers a pile of pages on the left growing, and shrinking on the right. You have the tactile sense of progress, in addition to the visual.”
What she is say, in fact, that you have a sensory experience as you read a real book as well as an intellectual one. The researchers postulate that this gives readers a better sense of the story.
This study was similar to another Norwegian one, where 72 tenth graders were given texts to read in print or in a PDF on a computer, followed by a comprehension test. Students who read the texts on paper scored significantly better.
As an ex-researcher myself, I can see a hundred more studies that need to be done. But these findings are both interesting and important. Particularly as more and more students read only on their e-readers.
So, what are your opinions about e-readers and e-books versus real books? Which do you prefer? And Why?
Stan - Thursday