BY LIAM ANTHONY
The new Sally Rooney novel finally arrives at my home. As soon as the book was released, I ordered it from Amazon and within twenty-four hours, it was in my hands. I could have easily downloaded the book on my Kindle, but I had been longing to read Beautiful World, Where Are You, so I wanted the physical copy. Something tangible. The feeling of having company; something that can only be afforded with a real book as opposed to its digital equivalent.
Nevertheless, I am a fan of eBooks. However, the ubiquity of screens in our day-to-day lives can often distract us from the reading experience. A book for me ought to be an escape. A real pleasure. Even when I was an English undergraduate, being forced to work my way through an extensive reading list, I loved nothing more than having a copy of a book with me. To take away the tedium of a long bus journey and the unequivocal satisfaction of annotating my favourite parts in the margins.
Nowadays, the physical book means that my reading experience feels more intimate as if the book has my complete attention. It is me, the reader, and the author, an ephemeral relationship, but one that will keep me entertained and challenged regardless of where I am.
I wanted the physical copy. Something tangible.
Throughout the pandemic, our screen time increased as many of us were working or learning from home. Dealing with endless PDF documents, emails and Zoom calls, it is no wonder that the attraction of a physical book has made us all realise its alchemy, very few activities beat reading a book which you can’t put down.
In 2020, sales of fiction books grew by 16% in the UK. In collaboration with Statista and the World Economic Forum website, 45% of people bought a physical book last year, compared to 23% who bought an eBook. This increase isn’t limited to the UK. Similar consumer patterns are apparent in many European countries. In fact, during the first six months of 2021, Spain has seen a 44% increase in book sales, compared to figures before Covid.
There have been myriad studies that look at the psychological benefits of reading a physical book, from increasing our vocabulary to decreasing our stress and anxiety levels. These studies often come with quantitative results which affirm such claims that reading for thirty minutes can have the same effect on our body as a one-hour yoga session.
I am not a neuroscientist; however, I know how my posture changes when I read a physical book as opposed to something on a screen. I tend to lean back; my mind feels as though it is receiving a treat and that the reading process is synonymous with some much-needed downtime.
Furthermore, I believe the relaxing of Covid rules has afforded people to venture to their local bookshops again. Amazon has plenty of practical advantages when one is looking for a specific book, however, nothing can compare to browsing through bookshelves. This can lead to the most incredible discovery.
A book for me ought to be an escape.
Independent bookstores come with a sense of community. Not only are books displayed in a way that respects their power and charm, customers can converse with booksellers and listen to their recommendations. Reading can be a solitary act, nevertheless, it has the opportunity to encourage social interaction, something everyone has craved since the pandemic. In addition, it allows us to support local businesses and consume literature more sustainably.
As my own ‘to read pile’ gets bigger, I fantasise about when I will read these books. What occasion will I save them for? Will I tackle The Wolf Hall Trilogy for when I am off work? Will I want to read Michel Barnier’s: My Secret Brexit Diary for a flight back to Gatwick to distract me from my fear of taking off?
The preference for a physical book remains unsurpassed. We can see this in the figures presented in this article. Ruminating on my own love for physical books, I have many reasons for why I prefer them to eBooks. One factor is that we live in a society that can often feel disposable, books through their smell and our physical contact with them can create memories. We can return to them, like places or remember where we were when we were reading them.
Nothing can dilute the importance technology plays in our lives, especially when it comes to our reading habits. We have digitalised everything from literature to journalism. Yet, I strongly believe that physical books are still indicative of what we currently need. An activity that slows us all down and requires our undivided attention.