Book Reading (and Writing): Is It a Fundamental Human Need?

Publish date:
Image placeholder title

I don't like the term e-book very much. I'm not sure what it's supposed
to mean in the long run. We even have trouble defining what it means in book publishing

Usually when I think of books, I think of a distinct
experience where I slow down and focus my attention on something
without filtering multiple streams of information or trying to accomplish an "items read" goal; it's a communion
between me and the author. When I think "book," that's what I envision, and
it matters little to me if I'm reading that book on paper, on a screen,
over someone's shoulder.

(Compare this to the experience of online-based reading: The Atlantic published a 2008 article asking if Google was making us stupid because it changes the way we read and process information.)

People much smarter than I are predicting that the way we experience books will transform into more of a social, interactive experience, or an enriched multimedia experience, with opportunities to read and comment on the "book" (or the content) and watch others comment and respond at the same time as we do. The catchy idea in publishing circles is that books are community-driven, and if you take this idea to its furthest reaches, then the book simply becomes a way for people to connect, quite remote from the traditional reading experience of digesting and reflecting in relative solitude (although my closest friends know how I love to read things out loud from New Yorker articles when I'm charmed or amazed).

I do wonder, though, if there will be two different paths for "books" (and it pains me that I'm putting "book" in quotation marks): books that tell stories and books that offer information.

It makes sense that nonfiction books meant primarily to inform can immensely benefit from being built on communities and having continual interaction/experiences, since information is always changing, being updated, being improved upon. There's always more to say, more to discover.

But books that tell stories (and I'm thinking primarily of novels), this is more about artistry and entertainment: While we may want to discuss stories after we've finished reading them, it's hard for me to envision the enjoyment of a story transforming into something we would not readily recognize today. Great stories require that you get lost in the experience (no matter the vehicle of that experience, even if it's listening to the story rather than reading it, or digesting it in chunks on a mobile phone).

It's the difference between being entertained (and to some extent escaping daily life), versus having to think, analyze, and study information (the process of learning, of education).

Recently I received a book written by 9-year-old Mia (The Conductor's daughter). As you can see from the photo above, the title is Cats Will Do Things You Won't Do. (For the curious, one of the things cats will do that you won't is triumph.)

Mia has written half a dozen books, loves to read books, and loves being read to. (The latest book that we're reading together is Alice in Wonderland, off my iPhone of course.) The other night she exclaimed (during the Oscars), "I love books! I hope there will always be books. I want to write books!"

Mia doesn't have an agenda. She doesn't know or care about the debates going on in publishing circles about the survival of publishing and what will happen to books. It doesn't matter to her if the books are on paper or on some gadget. All she cares about: (1) is the book fun to read, and (2) can she stay up late finishing her book without getting in trouble with her dad?

Yes, Mia, I hope there are books in the future. I am reasonably confident there will be—or if not books specifically, then stories that we experience. We will always want to enjoy stories (see some perspectives from Paul Auster and Scientific American here and here).

Image placeholder title
Writing Multiple Timelines and Points of View

Writing Multiple Timelines and Points of View

YA author Natalie Lund gives her top reasons why writers who might be afraid to play with multiple timelines and/or points of view should jump in feet first.

Alexander Weinstein: On Writing a Thematic Short Story Collection

Alexander Weinstein: On Writing a Thematic Short Story Collection

Author Alexander Weinstein discusses how he came to select the theme of his new short story collection, Universal Love, and what it was like to see those themes reflected in the real world.

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 21

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write a blank me poem.

4 Tips for Writing about Family Grudges

4 Tips for Writing about Family Grudges

Author Samantha Downing discusses the techniques she used when writing her literary novel He Started It, which focuses on family secrets, old grudges, and lots of scores to settle.

W.A. Winter: On the Joys of Writing Crime Fiction

W.A. Winter: On the Joys of Writing Crime Fiction

Crime and suspense author W.A. Winter discusses why he decided on fiction over true crime for his latest novel, The Secret Lives of Dentists, and how writing this book brought him joy.

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 20

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write a Love and/or Anti-Love poem.

Stationery vs. Stationary (Grammar Rules)

Stationary vs. Stationery (Grammar Rules)

Learn the differences of stationary and stationery on with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Erik Larson Quote

Liminal Spaces: A Profile of Erik Larson

WD gives a peek at the daily routine of Erik Larson and the writing process behind his bestselling narrative nonfiction in this Nov/Dec 2020 profile by Zachary Petit.