For many of us, reading books is an entire culture. The crisp feeling of turning the first page, fingers running down on an embossed cover — cracking the spine of a new title feels like walking into a haven. But as more and more bookstores close down due to the rise of e-reading options, does a glowing screen really feel the same as the pages we grew up with?
With millions of digital books at your disposal the need for a physical bookstore may, at first glance, seem redundant. Kindles, iPads and even laptops have all substituted tangible copies. But, for many of us, the benefits of reading on paper outweigh the negatives of digitally reading.
Reading can lower your stress levels, reduce your heart rate, increase your capacity for empathy, prevent cognitive decline while aging, and help people suffering from depressive symptoms, according to a study from the Journal of College Teaching and Learning.
But reading books on any blue-light device can pose a health risk beyond eye strain. Harvard studies have shown that not only does exposure to blue light late at night mess with your circadian rhythm, but reading on an ipad or computer late at night suppresses your melatonin levels as well, therefore reducing your sleep quality. If you enjoy reading books at night, physical books or a device like the original Kindle, which has no blue light, might be a healthier option for you.
Global health studies major Gabby Whitehorn’s travel habits have made her a big Kindle fan.
“I read so fast that whenever I go on vacation, I would need to bring five or so books and that gets too heavy,” said Whitehorn. “And sometimes when you’re out of the country you can’t guarantee that there will be a bookstore with a lot of English books so the Kindle is just more convenient.”
Reading digital books on a tablet, phone or even laptop can be more of a distraction than cracking open a real novel.
“Do Not Disturb” is a great way to silence notifications, but without it you’re likely to see all your alerts coming across your screen. Then it’s easier to take frequent breaks from reading and switch back to scrolling.
Reading for undisturbed periods of time allows you to fully process and store new information, which means your reading comprehension can be negatively impacted when you use devices loaded with distractions. A 2013 Norwegian study reported that tangible-paper readers display higher levels of empathy for the characters and immersion into the story. The author attributed these results to the tactility of reading on paper.
Senior exchange student Maria Alarcón shared these sentiments, describing how she loves being able to turn the pages in her books.
“A lot of the time, the countries that the books come from publish different books in very different ways, using very different paper stock and different shapes for the covers,” said Alarcón. “That’s definitely an effort that’s lost with e-readers. It’s that additional detail that transports you into whatever you’re reading.”
Not to forget the beauty of picking the perfect book — it might even be the best part. You can wander through endless shelves and run your hands down the glossy covers before questioning what story is right for you right now. E-readers and Amazon orders lose that personal touch.
Bookstores are required by law to charge manufacturer’s suggested retail price, but Amazon sidesteps it to get an advantage in the book selling market, said Robert Baumann, manager of Books & Books in Coral Gables.
“It’s all algorithmic, it’s not personal. It’s never going to ask you what you liked about the book,” said Baumann.
Instead, Baumann preaches in-person book shopping.
“We like to say that what you pay extra for here is you get someone who really cares about finding the perfect book for you, not just a book,” said Baumann. “And a good bookstore will actually ask you questions and really distill what you like about reading — and what you don’t like about reading and point you in the right direction.”
In the hyper digitalized and isolated years following the pandemic, it’s good to try and find ways to take a break from the virtual world. So instead of scrolling through your TikTok feed, have a change of pace and open up a novel instead.
words_scarlett diaz. photo&design_daniella pinzón.
This article was published in Distraction’s Winter 2022 print issue.
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