4 min read

why we only read paper books

Every time you put up a bookshelf and stock it, you're increasing the surface area for magic to happen. I've had books change my life over the course of an evening. (Looking at you, Wind, Sand, and Stars)
why we only read paper books
books are more than just words on paper

I was a huge fan of the Kindle when it first came out.

I had to change my reading habits a lot to adapt to them, though: I normally write a ton of marginalia. I think about the book right there on the page. I know some people hate this idea, but I kinda like the idea that my kids will be able to have little conversations with me and a book long after I'm gone. (Obviously I do not do this with library books)

Despite the loss of frictionless marginalia, I stuck with e-ink as my primary way of reading for years. I was traveling a lot for training and deployment, and carrying a single device with 100 books in it was a no-brainer.

But over time I started to notice something: my recall wasn't as good. I couldn't remember as much from what I read on Kindle as I could from the paper books. Even without the marginalia, this was true.

Our minds are extremely physical. And tactile.

Memory champions use this fact to help them memorize whole decks of cards in order by creating images and putting them in a "Memory Palace" - a mental picture of a real three-dimensional space they know. Because our brains are primarily spatial. Because we are physical beings.

And the feel of a specific book, the physicality of how far you are through it and the texture of the pages and the spacing of that particular page with that particular line on it: this is all data our minds use to help us categorize and index and encode and remember and process the things we're reading.

Without them we are less connected to the book. And compressing all of that detail down into "the same device, same screen, same font" - disembodies our reading.

Maybe that's totally fine with you if your primary reason for reading is to recreationally blow through a fantasy novel series - I suspect the recreational aspect is just as enjoyable.

bookshelves everywhere

Kids imitate their parents. The surest way to get your kids to want to do something is to do that thing in front of them.

This is why I had to stop throwing/tossing anything in the house for a decade. Because the boys would see me do that and pick up a rock or a toy car or a block and chuck it as hard as they could. Because Dad did it.

This is also the reason I stopped reading on the Kindle years ago: when the kids see you reading on a kindle, to them it's close to a phone or an iPad than a book. They can know you're reading, but what they're learning is "Dad's looking at a screen" and it's hard to fault them for that.

When i sat down with a kindle, my kids would imitate me by doing things like pretending to type on a lego laptop or making calls or sending texts on a toy phone.

So I picked up a paper book instead and all of a sudden they were happily reading their own books.

I haven't used a Kindle since.

And one thing I immediately noticed is how much more connected to the books I was.

Like driving a manual transmission vs an automatic: you can get there either way, but one way you become much more of the process than the other. And since we really only learn when we're part of the process it makes sense that the physical attributes of the book actually had a pretty significant effect on my ability to recall information.

And, all the while, I was obviously reading a book - so my kids copied me.

All three of our kids are now voracious readers.

just a few moments after i put the shelf up, it claimed it's first victim

The other important thing about physical books is that they "exist" in space, even when you're not browsing your kindle. You can (and should!) put them on shelves in prominent places in your house so when you're walking by they have a chance to reach out and grab you.

We put bookshelves up everywhere in our house. And the kids' bookshelves hold the books facing out - both to maximize the chances the kids get distracted by them and pick up a book and sit down - and also because they're just really nice to look at.

Every time you put up a bookshelf and stock it, you're increasing the surface area for magic to happen. I've had books change my life over the course of an evening. (Looking at you, Wind, Sand, and Stars)

Few things are as powerful as the right book at the right time, so it only makes sense to put many good books in many good places. All the better to match up the right time with the right book.

There really isn't an equivalent thing you can do with a kindle. Put it on a shelf and it's just a gadget gathering dust.

I love the idea of the Kindle very much. Just like I love the idea of having an e-ink screen laptop.

But when the idea meets reality the initially-imperceptible downsides of the Kindle began to weigh heavier and heavier. And then, when the children entered the picture and treated a Kindle as a "screen" and not as a "book", I put the gadgets away in favor of paper.

I haven't looked back since.