A long time ago, there was only one option available: the traditional paper book. Nowadays, we can choose to read, watch, or listen to books. While there’s the luxury of options, new questions arise, such as: How should we read a book? Is one format superior to the other? We’ll look first at traditional books, then e-books, and finally, audiobooks.
According to research, paper books have certain advantages over other formats. For one, readers have a better sense of progression when they can physically flip through pages. This progression also contributes to greater memory retention. Also, paper books don’t emit the blue light that electronic devices do. Some people like the feeling of paper. The pulpy smell, the weighty feeling, and the ability to flip through the pages enhance the reading experience.
There is some skepticism behind audio, as some people feel that it doesn’t provide the same level of immersion as reading. A study notes that you can absorb information almost as well through audio as reading (whether they’re fully equal is another topic of debate). In some cases, the narrator’s tone can even help listeners to better understand the meaning behind texts.
The issue with audio, though, is that humans are prone to multi-tasking. If you’re typing up an email or cooking a meal while listening to the narrator, the message can become lost. Personally, I like using audiobooks when I’m less likely to be distracted, such as when waiting around or going for a walk.
The greatest advantage e-books offer is convenience. This is useful for traveling, especially if you want more reading options. The big issue around e-readers, however, is the blue light effect. In one study, researchers found that people who read light emitting e-readers took longer to fall asleep than those who read paper books. Readers who used devices such as tablets, laptops, smartphones, and backlit readers reduced their levels of melatonin, a hormone that increases in the evenings and induces sleepiness. As a result, they experienced low-quality sleep and were tired the next morning.
The good news is that e-ink readers, such as the Kindle, are an exception. These devices emit light towards the screen to cast a glow, rather than directly shining a light towards the reader’s eyes. The resulting effect is similar to a lamp shining onto a paper book.
Ideally, we would be able to read uninterrupted for hours at a time, under soft lighting, and free of all distractions. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have that luxury on a daily basis. So how can we make the most out of what we read? Here are four solutions:
Reading only when you have long, empty periods to spare can be difficult. We squeeze in books whenever we can, between work and relaxation. These factors make it hard to fully immerse ourselves.
It makes sense, then, to categorize reading material according to your place and time. For instance, articles and light reads can be reserved for short periods. Books that require less focus can be listened to in audio format. Heavy reading material can be saved for those moments when you have long stretches of free time.
Optimal reading times include early in the morning, or right before sleep. Of course, you can fit in reading whenever, but I find these two times perfect for starting and ending the day.
An easy way to begin this habit is by putting a book on your bedside table so that it’s one of the first things you see after waking up and before going to sleep. If you’re rusty on the reading, choosing a light, fun read can be an effective way to ease yourself into picking up a book.
If you just finished reading a book you enjoyed, share it with someone who might like it as well. And if someone with similar tastes recommends a book to you, why not check it out?
Going through similar experiences and bonding through books helps you become closer with others. A shared discussion can also help you to better understand and appreciate what you read.
I use a few methods to absorb the material, including:
Jotting notes: If there are some interesting facts in the book, I’ll highlight them, make some annotations, or copy down notable paragraphs.
Write an article: Sometimes, I’ll write an article describing the events that happened in a book, along with my reflections and main takeaways.
See an adaptation: Popular novels often have film adaptations. I like to check out films that are based on novels to compare my interpretation with someone else’s, relive key events, and enjoy the work in a different medium.
Although some still resort to old-fashioned paper books, the traditional format is making way for a different style of reading. We’re carrying hundreds of books electronically. We’re listening to stories. We’re watching events unfold on screen.
Not only is the form changing, but so is our approach.
We’re increasingly cutting our activities into small segments, rushing to finish what we do, or trying to do everything at once. While it’s almost impossible to push back against the tides of time, it’s up to us to find methods to adapt and thrive in periods of change, both in reading and other facets of life.