Does Reading a Printed Book Distract the Reader from That Book’s Ideas?

We’ve seen a lot of ink and electrons devoted to the pros and cons of printed vs. machine-displayed books, but Tim Parks’ essay in the blog of the New York Review of Books is the first we’ve seen that makes the argument that e-books promote more thorough engagement with an author’s ideas than if the reader is using his eyeballs on a printed version of those ideas.

An excerpt:

“The e-book, by eliminating all variations in the appearance and weight of the material object we hold in our hand and by discouraging anything but our focus on where we are in the sequence of words (the page once read disappears, the page to come has yet to appear) would seem to bring us closer than the paper book to the essence of the literary experience. Certainly it offers a more austere, direct engagement with the words appearing before us and disappearing behind us than the traditional paper book offers, giving no fetishistic gratification as we cover our walls with famous names. It is as if one had been freed from everything extraneous and distracting surrounding the text to focus on the pleasure of the words themselves. In this sense the passage from paper to e-book is not unlike the moment when we passed from illustrated children’s books to the adult version of the page that is only text. This is a medium for grown-ups.”

Read Tim’s intriguing essay – and, of course, the equally interesting reader comments (which, admittedly, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy and evaluate if you had read the printed version of this essay instead of its electronic version – assuming Tim’s  blogpost gets printed at all in the “hard copy” version of the New York Review of Books).

Found via Shelf Awareness


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