Why I Still Read Books

Won't get fooled again.

I keep a journal of my reading and have done so for nearly nine years. I jot down the date, the title, author, the type of work (fiction, non-fiction, poetry), date it was published and a brief summary.

For the first six years of this project, I averaged about 45 books a year.  The last two years, however, my output has dropped significantly.  Last year, it was 38 books and this year I’m on pace to hit about 35 books.

There is no doubt in my mind that I’m struggling to read long-form prose.  These days, I have a difficult time focusing and not giving in to distraction.  When I settle on the couch with a novel, sometimes my mind simply won’t concentrate like it used to.  I blame the web and believe my brain chemistry has been altered by the constant flow of webpages, hyperlinks, email, instant messages, blog posts and social media.

I’m not alone.  Nicholas Negroponte, the chairman of One Laptop Per Child (former client), recently told the New York Times:

‘“I love the iPad,” admits Mr. Negroponte, “but my ability to read any long-form narrative has more or less disappeared, as I am constantly tempted to check e-mail, look up words or click through.”’

And author Nicholas Carr has written an entire book on this development (see link below).

I’m now used to reading in bullets.  Quick nuggets of information.  Bite sizes.  My brain has come to expect interruption – and it some weird way – it enjoys it.  So when my brain doesn’t get interrupted, it interrupts itself.  I find trying to write long – reports, scripts, etc. – is also more difficult.  Trying to settle in to write I find it easy to procrastinate by checking TweetDeck, Facebook or Posterous.

Hey, who doesn’t want to watch a new movie trailer rather than crunch some numbers for a report?

I’ve also noticed I’m trending toward selecting shorter, slimmer books to read.  But I’m determined not to give up books.  I’m forcing myself to tune out the distractions and spend time reading because I think it is important – vitally important.

So I’ve come up with a practical plan to keep buying books based on the theory of ever-changing technology.  Here’s how that works.  We are at the dawn of the eBook revolution.  There are many different devices – from the Kindle to the Sony Reader.  They all use different technology, emphasize different features and functionality.  Who will win?  What formats will emerge victorious?

Who knows?  So I remind myself of what happened to music and then to movies.

First music.  In my youth, I bought a lot of albums.  Hundreds, in fact.  Then everyone moved to cassettes so you could play music in your car.  So I started to buy those instead of albums.  Then came compact discs.  I bought hundreds of those as well.  And now, of course, we have digital music.  Nearly 500 songs are now stored on my computer.

As a result, in more cases than I’d like to admit, I have bought the same song four times.  (Yes, I know I can scour my enormous CD collection and burn them all onto my computer (hours upon hours of work), but it is easier to simply press a button and buy the song again).

I also like movies.  I’ve paid to watch them in the theater and the ones I enjoyed the most I bought as video cassettes.  Well, you know the rest.  My videos are now useless because I have a DVD player.  And now, of course, those DVDs are becoming obsolete as we get digital movies and even DVDs done in HD or with BluRay technology.

I won’t be fooled again.  So I’m sticking with books.

And maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll continue to possess the mental abilities to keep on reading them.

What about you?  Do you still read books?  If not have you moved to eBooks?  Do you find reading paper and a screen different?


Nicholas Carr’s book “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains”

New York Times “Now Playing: Night of the Living Tech”

One Laptop Per Child

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2 Responses to “Why I Still Read Books”

  1. Great article George. I find it difficult to read at all anymore beyond what i have to. Probably because 99% of what I read is work related. I own a kindle and an iPad but prefer the kindle for reading. Much like audio though, nothing digital replaces the analog fidelity of an actual book for reading.

    On a side note, burn the CD’s at the highest bitrate possible. Even the higher iTunes bit rate downloads are a fraction of the CD’s. Not to mention you save the 99 cents I guess. Pushing 4000 songs on the computer but albums, when done right, are still about the best fidelity around besides a 2″ 24 track tape.
    There is a new digital standard out for audio that is pushing analog quality but you need a special D/A to decode and very limited selection of music. Not a small investment of course.

  2. Hey Jay:
    The information overload is difficult to navigate these days. I find work reading encroaches on my personal reading as well.

    Good tips on the audio, but it does illustrate my point about technology. As soon as you convert your media to one platform – a better one arrives!

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