A Toast to The Book: 3 reasons you should read physical books instead of e-books

Musings on the age-old print vs. digital debate.

When it comes to ‘real’ books, I’ve always been a romantic. Ever the bibliophile, I obsessively collect books like a 90’s kid collected Pokémon cards.

There’s just something about the smell of a newly cracked open book (a cliché, I know), or even the worn scent of a precious purchase from a used book store that really gets my dopamine receptors firing. Digital books, however, just don’t do it for me in the same way.

Photo courtesy of brewingthoughts

With the rise of the Information Age I’m seeing e-readers and tablets everywhere I go now, much to my idealism-charged chagrin. I mean, I get it — e-books are economical and arguably less cumbersome than print books. But still, I firmly believe there’s something to be said about the tactile nature of physical books.

“I often carry things to read so that I will not have to look at people.” — Charles Bukowski

If you’re into e-books, here are 3 reasons you should ditch your digital e-reading ways and get physical. If you’re a fellow book lover, here are 3 ways to defend your paper loving lifestyle.

Some points are backed by science, others by my sheer conviction.

1. People are able to comprehend physical books better than e-books

When it comes to reading comprehension, memory, and knowledge acquisition, a wealth of studies show the advantages of reading print as opposed to digital. In a 2013 experiment, 10th graders who read a couple excerpts in print scored significantly better on reading comprehension tests compared to students who read the same excerpts off a screen.

Another study compared modes of information recall between print and digital readers using a metric called “memory awareness ratings.” College students read economics textbook material from one of two conditions: video screen or book. Results showed that participants in the book condition assimilated and remembered the textbook information better than participants in the video screen condition.

When asked test questions, students who read from print displayed more ingrained knowledge of the material compared to their video screen counterparts, who instead utilized more recall. In the academic literature, recall is understood as a lesser form of knowledge.

2. Physical books drive more empathy

A recent study showed that print readers reported higher levels of engagement and empathy compared to digital (iPad) readers. Although research of this type is in its nascent stages, it’s intuitive that someone reading digitally would feel less empathetic if they were comprehending and remembering less of what they read, as noted in point 1.

But why does this matter?

Empathy is extremely important, as it plays an active role in promoting prosocial behaviors and cooperation. Regularly empathizing then, be it with actual people or fictional characters, can be a healthy way to positively impact our society. Physical books can help bring this practice and reality about.

3. Print books are superb conversation starters

Now that digital communication is on the up and up, it’s getting harder and harder to meet people ‘the old-fashioned way.’ An unfortunate binary is emerging: while technology is successfully bringing people from far and wide closer together, it is also driving those who are physically closest apart.

Exhibit A

Cue: The Book.

Although literally just a hunk of carbon and fiber, a book can act as the perfect wingwoman in a socially unoccupied situation. Like alcohol, physical books are social lubricants, providing a way in which conversations can more easily be initiated and facilitated. On several occasions I’ve met and had quality face time (not the Apple version) with complete strangers simply because I was reading a print book that they had also particularly enjoyed.

Had I been carrying a Kindle, I would never have experienced these unexpected yet delightful encounters. And that in itself gives me enough reason to give a proud public toast to — The Book.


What do you think reigns supreme: physical books or digital books?