Immerse yourself in a physical book

This guest blog is by Thomas Patrick, Senior Account Manager with Gould Publication Papers, who writes about the revealing experience he had reading a paperback, that he had edited on a screen.

I spent the weekend reading a book written by a friend in order to be able to give him notes on how to improve it. Aside from the shock of realising just how good it was (far better than my own misplaced attempts to write a book) what really struck me was how easy it was to read it when it’s a physical book.

We spend so much time staring at screens these days. Whether it’s the computer in the office, our smart phones, tablets, consoles, laptops or home computers, there are screens everywhere and we’re always processing information from them. There is no doubt that they have made our lives easier. Easier but not necessarily better.

This friend of mine has been sending me chapters for months, and as it has swelled in size, the thought of tackling the enormous document on my computer became more and more unbearable. It’s not that the quality of writing was bad, or the story dull (far from it), but the idea of staring at hundreds of pages of text in a document on a screen made it feel like work. It was unbearable.

It’s the same feeling I get when I use an e-book reader or a tablet. Don’t get me wrong, as progressive inventions these are fantastic devices.

The fact that you can have thousands of books in something a little thicker than a pamphlet is incredible, and for some of the public it has rekindled a love of reading that might have dropped away.

It has also redefined the publishing process. Now anyone can publish their work, and the big online shops have offered services for just that. Just write it, stick it online and away you go.

The downside with this is that the market has been flooded with fiction, some of it good, some of it not so good. As Aaron Sorkin so wryly observed "The advent of the internet has given everyone a voice, but not everyone is worthy of the microphone." He was talking specifically about politics, but it applies to fiction-writing too. Just because your book is published online, does not mean it’s worth reading.

Having succeeded in finishing his novel, my friend decided to have a couple of copies physically published to give as gifts to those who had given him help and support in the troubling editing times.

Anyone who has attempted to write a whole novel will understand the trials and tribulations that are contained within. The fear, the constant second-guessing and the belief that what you’re writing is utter bilge, all amount to make it a terribly affecting process. By publishing these books it was a sign to himself that he had at least succeeded in finishing, even if he doubts its worth.

Having received a copy, I suddenly found myself keen to read it, and over the course of the weekend did just that.

There’s something about the process of reading a physical book. It somehow feels more comfortable, more immersive and ultimately a better experience

When you picture someone reading in your head, I bet it’s a book they’re looking at. So ingrained in our psyche is it that even films and television don’t represent the increasing truth that people are switching to e-readers day-by-day. I personally think it’s such a shame and as I reach an age where technology starts to become a scary thing to be feared and held back (usually around the 35-years-old mark) I’ve found myself feeling nostalgic for the good old-fashioned book.

Would you really read to your children from an e-reader, or a tablet? Maybe you would, but surely there’s an argument to be made for the picturesque scene of a parent reading a great big book of fairytales to their child? Right?

Then there are the personal library collections. What will happen to them? Won’t somebody think of the rich mahogany bookcases that without real books will look bare and lonely places. How will professors at Universities be able to show just how learned they are if there aren’t physical copies of Plato’s The Republic of Roland Barthes Mythologies lining their bookshelves.

I jest, but the reality of the matter is, humans are creatures who love a tactile existence. We love touching, feeling and caressing the world around us. Whether we’re picking up grass from the ground, plunging our feet into a bucket of warm water when it’s cold, or running our hands through the hair of someone we love. These are all elements of existence that are missing in the increased use of technology.

Now I’m not advocating a step backwards in the inevitable evolution of technology, nor am I arguing against future improvements to help make our lives better. But I do believe that by transferring everything to the screen, we are missing out on some of the finest tactile experiences life has to offer.

The sound the paper makes when you turn the page, the smell of the printing ink and even that satisfying thump it makes when you drop it onto your bedside table. Have you ever tried dropping a e-book reader in the same way? It’ll break.