Monica Harris initiated and edited Arabesque, the first African American romance series by a major publisher. There she also edited historical romances, mysteries, women’s mainstream novels and non-fiction. Harris has won a number of important honors, including Waldenbooks Special Achievement Award, New York Chapter of NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2003 Emma Trailblazers’ Award, and is listed in the Who’s Who of African Americans and the Cambridge Who's Who. Her company MHM Editorial Services provides re-writing, line-editing, manuscript critiquing and revision help for authors and publishers.
My eldest child had to read a geography lesson for homework. He went straight to the computer. When I asked why, he answered: “To study.”
It’s hard for me to say “stop reading” in any format. One of my earliest photos was of me with a book in my hands. I taught myself to read before I entered school and have saved my favorite childhood books for my own kids to read. I love the feel of a book’s pages between my fingers, I love the weight of a book while I’m toting it around ready to read at any quiet moment, and I love what a shelf full of books symbolizes. No doubt, I love the physical book.
I also have the Kindle app on my iPhone.
I understand that Baby Boomers have embraced the e-readers and Generation X (my generation) enjoys all that the tablets and smart phones can provide. Today’s schoolchildren are learning their subjects on individual laptops. This week, Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet came out with much fanfare to compete with the Apple iPad. Having a book available electronically has several advantages: instant accessibility, convenience, and privacy are among the top. Also, the e-reader benefits for schoolchildren and others with little access to libraries, assistance for those with learning disabilities and the ability to easily retrieve global information are beyond debate. Plus, not using paper is good for the environment. E-readers are one of the products of a Star Trek imagination that has truly been realized.
However, an e-reader does change the way we read and in my opinion, how we process information and in essence, enjoy a good story. Writers want to share their stories, their ideas. They want their own imaginations to spark others’. I wonder if passive e-readers can go beyond the words on the screen and develop their deeper thoughts about the book.
Trust me, I love a good story and I know that people who want to write will do so, no matter the method. We’ve come a long way from papyrus. And there will always be readers, no matter the medium. Even William Wordsworth’s sister complained that he wasted his mind on newfangled newspapers. My editorial services company works with authors to make their manuscripts into an e-books. I embrace technology professionally and personally, even if I’m a half-step behind.
Nevertheless, I am a firm believer in how physical activity adds to the retention process. I believe that by writing information on a piece of paper or turning a page, your brain and body register the work therefore making that info more easily recalled. I have plenty of anecdotal evidence. Fortunately, experts support a connection between the physical and the brain. Dr. Amir Soas of Case Western Reserve University Medical School in Cleveland advises to do “anything that stimulates the brain to think.” He also recommends watching less television because “your brain goes into neutral.” Is there a difference in the way the brain absorbs information when it’s presented electronically?
In October 2009, the New York Times posited similar questions to a panel of teachers and doctors. The experts thought there was nothing terrible about the medium, yet they were unsure how e-readers worked on developing brains or if going from link to link added to a lack of attention to detail. E-Reading is not just decoding for information and entertainment. E-Readers must also fight distraction. Gloria Mark, a professor in the Department of Informatics at University of California, Irvine notes that people “switch simple activities an average of every three minutes (e.g. reading email or IM) and switch projects about every 10 and a half minutes.” Not a lot of room for deep thoughts.
To read, attention is needed. Can a reader of e-books acknowledge ideas beyond the text? Will the reader ever get to what Proust once said – the heart of reading – the ability to go beyond the author’s wisdom and enter one’s own? What does that mean for writers? Do their readers love their books for the same reasons whether presented electronically or physically?
People need time to process and absorb the written word. How often have I reread beautiful passages marked by dog-eared pages? How often have I looked at a cover to be sure I envision what the author described? How often have I reread difficult pages in order be sure I really understood what was being said? How often have I used the properties of the physical book to kick-start my thoughts?
I make my children read physical books because at school they are often using e-books. I insist we go to the library for the “stumble upon” effect – to find a book or spark an interest one wasn’t expecting. I know by the time they are in college, the kids will be downloading their schoolbooks onto their tablets but they will know how to grasp meaning and do research at a library in case of a power outage.
Maybe I’m just a book lover who knows e-readers will be with us until technology evolves. Fortunately, humans have ability to multitask and ignore the unnecessary; we get what we need from our books in whatever manner we read them. However, until we figure out how to ignore the easy distractions and learn to ponder the words on screen, maybe we should practice what we do with the physical book: take a pause every few pages to review and marvel over the words.
MHM Editorial Services, LLC