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Never mind technology, texture rules for book lover

September 04, 2010|By KATE COLEMAN
  • Kate Coleman
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In mid-July, a New York Times story reported that for the previous three-month period, sales of books for Kindle, Amazon.com's electronic reader, outnumbered sales of hardcover books on the site. And the pace of the change is quickening.

People also are reading e-books on computers, iPhones, iPads, BlackBerrys and Android phones, according to the Times piece.

Mike Shatzkin, who advises book publishers on digital change, predicted that within 10 years, fewer than a quarter of all books sold will be print versions.

That might be the future, but not mine. Not me. Nope. No way.

Yes, I admit to reading The New York Times and The Washington Post on my computer screen. I also own up to appreciating updates and breaking news throughout the day on The Herald-Mail's website. For the record, I would be willing to pay for access to news and features in cyberspace. I honestly can't remember how I researched stories before the incredibly useful Internet.

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But e-books? Scrolling print on a flat, cold, liquid crystal display monitor that provides no pages to dog-ear or margins to write notes in?

I can't imagine snuggling up with a piece of electronic hardware on a cold winter's night. It wouldn't work for me at the seashore either. How would an e-reader handle being dropped in the sand? Could it survive the wave that sneaked up while I was engrossed in a hot summer potboiler?

I like to hold a book in my hands. I like to feel the weight of the volume, the texture of the paper.

I'm not alone.

Pulitzer-Prize-winning columnist Kathleen Parker recently cited a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study that concluded that an object's texture, hardness and weight influence people's judgments and decisions. It led her to wonder if there might be some relevance to the question of touching words on a printed page vs. reading them on a screen.

A self-confessed "book-smeller," Parker wrote that the tactile experience of reading is crucial to her reading pleasure.

Journalist David Brooks' July 8 New York Times op-ed column told of a three-year University of Tennessee study in which 12 "disadvantaged" students were given 12 books "of their own choosing" to take home at the end of the school year.

The study found that the students who brought the books home had significantly higher reading scores than other students.

Brooks also mentioned Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University research that linked the spread of home computers and high-speed Internet access to significant declines in math and reading scores.

I know. You can find a study to bolster any argument.

I only can answer for myself.

I value the Internet and its vast array of apparently infinitely available information.

But if I want to read for enjoyment, for enlightenment, for escape or connection - for pleasure - I want a book. A REAL BOOK.

Philip Kennicott, Washington Post culture critic who writes frequently about architecture, recently suggested that the room called "the library" might be the next to disappear from houses' floor plans - "not because we won't read anymore, but because we won't read books anymore, at least not books printed on paper."

My "library" is safe.

Not a stand-alone room, it's a wall of built-in bookshelves on either side of the fireplace in the den, which also houses the TV, cat-shredded but comfy couches and a not-used-in-years treadmill.

My daughter, Maggie, reorganized it for me in June - alphabetizing the fiction, arranging nonfiction by topic and artfully scattering bowls I seem to have collected, using them as bookends.

It looks wonderful. It comforts me.

Maggie has packed and unpacked numerous and very heavy boxes of books several times in her moves to and within New York.

Does she need them all in smallish city apartments?

Her answer is, "yes."

I totally understand.

Kate Coleman covers The Maryland Symphony and writes a monthly column for The Herald-Mail.

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