Ever since I read a New York Times article about the possibility of bedbugs spreading through library books, I’ve been too paranoid to check out a book from my local library. (Yes, I know people have argued that the article was way overblown. What can I say? I have an irrational fear of the bedbug.) So I was thrilled when I finally figured out how to borrow e-books from the library. First I requested Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz, and it magically appeared on my iPad. Then in a frenzy of OMG-this-is-amazing, I put holds on about 15 more e-books. After finishing the first novel, I immediately downloaded the next one in my queue.
I love how easy it is to get the books, and I think I read more quickly and spend more time reading when they’re in electronic format. But my experience of processing the text does seem different. Sometimes, after I’ve finished an e-book, I don’t feel like I’ve really “read” it; it’s as if the 1s and 0s have washed through my brain without lodging anywhere. I remember reading a long, beautifully-written novel about World War II on my tablet awhile back, but I don’t recall a single thing about the plot except that it involved three brothers.
Researchers have explored differences between print and e-reading too. In a study published this year, one team found that college students who read an electronic textbook chapter on psychology took longer to read the material and spent more time dawdling on email, IM, and Facebook than students who read the chapter in print. However, the two groups didn’t perform any differently on a quiz. Other results have been mixed: Tenth-grade students in Norway scored higher on reading comprehension tests when the passage was in print, while university students in the United States scored higher on two measures of learning when they used an electronic textbook.
For younger kids, the story itself might be more important than the format. In a 2011 study, researchers at East Carolina University tested 22 third-grade students who read The Yellow House Mystery, The Mystery Wind, and Sweet Potato Challenge. The first book was in print, and the second and third were electronic. The kids’ reading comprehension scores for the first and third books were almost the same. But their scores on the second book, which they said they didn’t like as much, were lower.
Like most writers, I still love — and will never, ever abandon — the printed book. At my coworking space, there’s a neglected lending library that a colleague and I have been working to revive. It’s just two bookshelves across from the office kitchen, filled with hand-me-down oddities such as an ancient etiquette guide, Green Lantern comics, and a coffeetable book on tea. I can’t wait to contribute some of my own books and build a little shrine to the printed word. And eventually, I’ll make my way back to the local library too.
First image: connel | Shutterstock
Second image: Fernando Sanchez Cortes | Shutterstock