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Preetam Kaushik

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Renewing America's Friendship With Books

Posted: 10/07/2013 1:09 pm

When Lewis Caroll wrote his magnum opus Alice in Wonderland, he probably least expected it to be the navigating compass for the days ahead. The times we are living in, are knowledge-hungry and data-famished. Information is our oxygen and an average American thrives on it, more than food and socializing needs.

Best be said, there might be a day when human interaction will find its place at the bottom most rung in the life, as against gadgets and technology.

We need more and more information. We have an insatiable urge for fantasy, and its possibilities. And we want it in a new garb. Books today have turned the casualty, as a result of this. Why did libraries lose charm, when we still have our reading habits intact?

Decades ago, libraries were among the few places that brought you close to socializing with your community members. Consumerism has given us malls. And it has also given us technology and resourceful gadgets. When you have something ever-evolving, changing every nano second; why would books hold our attention?

So, you would be least surprised when Kelly Barrett, an actress, says:

I like to read on my iPad first in iBook because it's convenient. I take the train to work every day, and it's just easily accessible. You don't have to carry books around. Plus, I never know what I am in the mood to read, so I have a plethora of titles to chose from! If I need something that I can't find on iBook, like a play, then I just go to the Drama Book Shop in Manhattan!

In the cash-strapped America, it is rather evident that public funding for libraries is reducing every year. In fact, keeping the libraries alive is considered more like a political decision, than an economical one. In most of the Europe too, public libraries are on life-support. They may have till the end of the decade to take their last gasp. Some find the 'human intervention' at libraries, way too much to deal with. So much so that it can change a person's decision to go to the library altogether!

This is what happened to LaToya Parnell, who felt she could do well reading in her own comfort zone than reveal her favorite reading habits to someone outside her own family. Owner and professional bridal consultant at Something Blue Weddings & Events, LaToya says:

I no longer go to the Library. I enjoy reading so much. What I absolutely love the most about reading is getting lost in the story and stocking my own "library". Yes, I have bookshelves full of books and I love to just look at them at times. I have even rubbed off on my child who can lovingly be bribed with any book of her choice. We both can spend hours in the book store and end up coming out with one book each. My son is in High School and for their yearly reading lists I simply purchase all of his books (so we can have them and add to our bookshelves for my daughter and I to read).

Oddly enough, she purchased her daughter a Nook and herself an iPad so that they can start using those to read on. She figured it would be a great way to store a lot of books and the convenience of downloading them would be great as well. But she just can't get with it.

She says,

My daughter's read one book on her Nook and I've read about 3 chapters of a book on my iPad. I missed the smell of a book and most of all being able to hold it and turn its pages. There is something about a tangible book and pages and book marks that will forever hold an actual book dear to me. No more books means no bookcase and I can't let go of my shelves full of books or the idea of my future private library. Technology is great and all but nothing can take the place of a book. As of late the most technologically advance thing I did with regards to purchasing a book was pre-ordering Dan Brown's Inferno online.

According to Forbes analysis of the impending death of public libraries and books per se, it is said that more and more people prefer reading devices such as Kindle, e-reader, Nook, over hardcover books. What prompts this change? How can a book-fanatic change into a tech-fan? 'Space, time and mobility' seem to hold the answer.

Books are quite a handful to store and carry, as against the gadgets. They serve only one purpose, while gadgets have multiple utility and can be easily shared without losing the copy. And, gadgets don't add much to the weight of whatever you are carrying.

While Amazon has been making claims about e-book sales witnessing sharp rise, as against printed books, the experts aren't buying it yet. However, the facts show that the trend for reading devices is climbing up north. An annual survey by BookStats that concluded in May this year, DOES show a positive growth for e-books that were downloaded on Kindle, e-reader and Nook. Newer applications are getting increasingly book-friendly, with almost-physical features of a book.

According to BookStats, the e-books have accounted to a growth of 4456 percent (yes, you saw it right) from 2008. From last year, the sales increased 43 percent higher, but the experts believe, there's still more to come!

This growth has also prompted the makers of Apple, Kindle and Nook to strategize their production costs since this seems to be a lucrative growth option.

I approached Grammarly to conduct a survey to read the trend and I posed three questions to nearly 8,000 respondents. The reactions were a mixed bag. There was excitement about new technology; but, most would keep their children away from it. Books were more like nostalgia and personal habit, than harboring any specific aversion towards e-readers. Skeptical, is the word.

Of the 6,744 responses, approximately 79 percent preferred printed books and about 21 percent preferred e-books. Some of the responses were indicators of the nostalgia and future needs.

Here's what some said!

•"An e-book is not a book." (John R. Landis)


•"I do not have the space to store books I've already read, nor the time to try and move them along afterward short of trashing them... which just seems wrong. I can carry and entire library on my e-reader and save a few trees along the way... and still enjoy the same stories as those who read the book in print." (Kevin Profitt)


•"I wish that when I bought a printed book it would come with a digital copy code. That would be awesome." (Allison Card Jensen)

What caught their fancy better? A Kindle or the Nook, or Library? Oddly enough against the anticipated trend of technology ruling the roost, about 63.7 percent of the 1,646 responses voted for library over the gadget. Only 10.8 percent said they were on to e-readers. Only 1.4 percent specifically mentioned Kindle, and a mere 0.02 percent mentioned a Nook, and a good 25.5 percent mentioned both Kindle and Nook in their responses.

The sensory aspect of a book seemed to have had high impact on their reading habit. They loved turning pages, smell of a book, the feel of it -- basically everything about it. Erika Richards felt nothing else could replace a library. "Library! I love the feel and smell of books, there is nothing like it."

Some more people said:

•"I love the feel and smell of a book. However, I do not live in a home large enough to accommodate an expansive library. I did have a large collection that was taking up so much room that I was beginning to look like a hoarder. I donated all of my books to the local library and got my first e-reader. Do I miss all my books? No. The words inside are what I truly enjoy." (Lisa Springsteel Markhoff)


•"As much as I can see the point of electronic readers, I wouldn't ever want to give up paper books. The feel of the books in my hands, the texture of the paper as I turn the pages. The ability to flip to the back to see how close I am to finishing so I know whether or not to put the book down and finish it later or if I'm close enough to finish right then. The ability to browse through physical books at the library. Pick them up, read the covers and make a decision based on the overall experience of that." (Wynter Woodbury)


•"What's most important is that people read, and read good literature. The medium is less crucial." (Benjamin R G Flenley)

Now, books are not only about reading for self. They are also the knowledge you would want to pass on to the next generation. You introduce 'book reading' as a positive habit to your child.

And, when you do that, would you prefer tech-addled gadgets or, a plain-simple-uncomplicated (yet, priced-possession) of a book to your young one?

The results got a little tricky here since we grown-ups always feel a little cautious about introducing technology to our little ones, no matter how hooked we are to it. So, the results were not surprising when 39 percent said they preferred giving their kids hardcover books to read. Only 11 percent would get them an e-book, and 16 percent saw value in both e-books and hardcover books. A major chunk of respondents, about 34 percent of them, 'just wanted their kids to read' irrespective of whether it was technology or otherwise!

•"Books - they are tangible for toddlers. You can carry them around, peruse the bookshelf, look at pictures all by yourself, make up the story. It's also important to teach them the anatomy of books - what is a title page, the spine, etc." (Alexandra Wiseman)


•"I think the textbooks should ALL be but into e-readers so the poor children don't ruin their backs with those ridiculously heavy backpacks. Then give them REAL books to read for pleasure. They will have the best of both worlds!" (Ruth Read)


•"Everything. Books, readers, graphic novels, apps, library cards, online and paper dictionaries, audiobooks. We love and use them all. Each offers a unique path to discovery." (Jennifer Keane)


•"I'd say books, but I learned in class just the other day that some children with dyslexia actually benefit by using e-readers. So I'm all for whatever works for the individual." (Christian Ryan)


•"Surely the important issue is that you introduce children to the joy of reading, not the format you use." (Toria Donnelly)


•"I did a survey. The vast majority of my high school students HATE e-readers and insist I make copies of the reading material because they refuse to read off a screen, despite spending 90% of their days glued to one. Weird..." (Sar Dee)


•"Research shows that middle school boys read more when presented text is in electronic format." (Terri Verdone)

All's not over yet

Before we start shedding tears for the death of books, here's what the other end of spectrum holds. Technology Review says the death knell for books may just be a hoax one. For, technology is all super-savvy is all fine; but, it is also dated. Printed books are beyond such dynamics.

Stacey Alcorn is one of the hardcore believers in book, in its form today. She says:

I read for one hour every single day and have been doing so for at least ten years. I mostly read books on business, finance, and self help. I credit books for helping me launch and build several businesses. I currently own 14 real estate offices, a law firm, consulting company and fashion business. I even have done speeches where I claim that my "Board of Directors" consists of authors and visionaries, many of whom I have never met. There are studies which show that 80% of those that graduate from High School never read a book after graduating. Interestingly, the statistics get even worse for those who graduate from college. I have been on a personal mission to get more people to read. Whenever I send a thank you note to an employee, associate, or client, I normally send a book as well. I keep boxes of my favorite books by my desk so I am ready to "prescribe" a book to someone when they need help in their business or life.

This is echoed by John Paul Engel, a motivational speaker founder, who runs Knowledge Capital Consulting & Project Be The Change. He recollects how he was introduced to books by his mother.

She gave me one of the most important gifts of my life and it cost all of $0.50. She came home one day and I was watching something really important on TV. I think it was Gilligan's Island and I was sure the professor was getting him off this time. She shut off the TV and said, "Books will take you places television never will." and handed me a copy of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea by Julus Verne. She was right. Her gift changed my life.

His love of reading helped him win academic scholarship, travel the world, and even become a writer. He loves to read and even though he can afford a kindle or an iPad he doesn't own one. He understands their value but there is something about a physical book that he just loves.

He says, "I read several books at once. I'm not sure how many books I own but I'd say at least 700-1,000. I also give them away to other people if I don't think I will read or need it again or if I really liked the book. Reading I believe expands my creativity and enables me to experience life more fully."

Just as more and more people join the 'e-reader' brigade, there are a number of readers, who stay loyal to the conventional reading mode of books. Whether technology or not, reading will continue. But, this one is surely for bookworms!

 

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