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Pam Allyn

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Why I've 'Gone Back' to Print Books

Posted: 10/21/2013 3:29 pm

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When the tablet revolution descended upon us, I was an early adopter for sure. I bought the first iteration of the iPad; I also got a Kindle. A voracious reader, I was now a voracious tech consumer. It was my firm opinion that just as Ben Franklin and his buddies had revolutionized access to print in his day, now the technology world was going to do the same for all of us. And in one sense, that is absolutely true.

My dream is to see, in my lifetime, every child get access to the books he or she most wants, in as easily mobile and portable a format as possible. That a child is never going to be kept from books and what's in them because of her socioeconomic level. That a child who is afraid for her life to go to school can instead whip out her portable device, and absorb the world from it.

All of this, I hope with my dearest dream, will come to pass.

But for myself -- a voracious reader, who has already the privilege of access -- what of this device reading?

I have made a startling realization: I don't like it that much.

Here are a few things I sorely, sorely miss:

1. I miss gazing at a book cover. Even to this day, thinking of the cover of Anne of Green Gables or The Chronicles of Narnia can give me a chill. Or the original cover of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Or Charlotte's Web. And as an adult, I've had that same chill, again and again, many times over the years. Throughout my reading of a book, I will blithely flip back to the cover in the middle of a heart-pounding chapter, just to think about what I'm reading. If the book jacket artist is a good one (and there are great ones: Thank you, Gabrielle Bordwin and others!), it furthers my thinking about the book and gives me a chance to meditate on what I've read so far.

2. I miss knowing with my fingers -- touching the pages to how far I've got to go. Yes, I know. I can look at the numbers at the bottom of the Kindle and all that. But... I love that I can put my fingers around the amount I have left. If I'm reading a mystery, it helps me set my mind: The author is going to wrap this up SOON (or not). If it's a novel, I know I'm going to have to tear myself away from beloved characters soon enough. If it's a biography, I know the author will help me to come to terms with an understanding of this person's life sooner or later.

3. I miss turning the book over and over. Looking at the author photo (yes, I like that!), the blurbs (who else liked this book?), the synopsis (what is this book even about?). I miss all that.

4. I miss being able to see what other people are reading. And for them to see what I'm reading so we can strike up the many conversations I've had with strangers over the years, on planes, subways and trains. Yes, I know. The 50 Shades of Grey readers felt liberated by their tablets, keeping their secrets safe inside. And I do advocate for young readers who would like to read "easier" books without their peers judging them. All of that is good. But for me, voracious reader? I want to know what you are reading so I can find out what you think about it. (Including 50 Shades of Grey!) And I want you to ask me about what I'm reading, because I'm dying to talk with someone about it!

So, I eat crow on this one. I've been trumpeting the digital revolution for readers for years. But I miss my tattered pages, my rumpled book covers, my heavy backpack, my cherished, cherished book covers.

I hope we can have a world where both are not only possible for all people, and especially all children, but where we commit to providing this world to all. Everyone deserves access to many books, as many as they wish, but also to the well-worn cover that, years later, still makes their hearts thump.

 

Follow Pam Allyn on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pamallyn

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