BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA, Washington Post Writers Group
CHICAGO -- According to his critics, Stephen King is not only callous to the desires of some of his most ardent fans but also clinging to the past in deciding to release his new book “Joyland” in print only.
But I’m with him on this one.
Truth be told, reading “Joyland” will be a minor inconvenience -- if one can reasonably say such a thing about acquiring and consuming a bound, paper tome filled with the master storyteller’s hanging-on-the-edge-of-your-seat words. My choices will be to either haul myself out to a faraway bricks-and-mortar bookstore or wait for a mail shipment.
I’ll cope while letting King’s latest novel transport me to the not-so-distant past when I used to be able to read for hours without the unwanted interruptions of email dings, Facebook alerts, Twitter mentions, calendar notifications, text messages, and my nearly pathological desire to share a beautifully crafted sentence or two with my social media networks.
The downside: I’ll have to endure not being able to adjust the type size so I can read without glasses, not having my book with me everywhere I go, not being able to easily search the text or make legible notes that I can zap to myself in the blink of an eye. Oh, and not being able to read comfortably in a poorly lit environment, aka my living room.
King’s pendulum has swung. Once a lone wolf who charged headlong into independent e-publishing, he of the widely publicized macular degeneration has wisely decided that some rituals are worthy of a little effort.
In an essay published on the BoingBoing website, Charles Ardai, the founder and editor of Hard Case Crime, a line of pulp-style paperback crime novels and King’s publisher on this project, writes about the factors that helped determine the special run of print for “Joyland.”
Yes, he and King want to support struggling traditional booksellers. But there’s also the matter of aesthetics.
Describing re-creating the look and feel of something made in 1945, Ardai writes, “Part of the reason is that these things of the past, these yesterday-flavored objects, give pleasures that other presentations even of the same material do not. Salt is salt is salt, but spooning grains from a salt cellar feels different from grinding them out of a salt mill, which in turn feels different from upending a shaker. Presentation matters.”
It does. But even if you don’t endorse the presentation argument, you’d still have to applaud that readers of King’s tale -- a spooky story set in a North Carolina amusement park in 1973 -- will get more out of it in print than if they read it electronically.
Several research studies have documented important differences between reading in print and online. As the Center for Teaching and Learning at Stanford University summarized in 2008, reading paper texts is faster than reading texts presented online or displayed on a screen. Readers can orient themselves within the text better on paper.
The National Literacy Trust in Britain recently warned of the perils of letting children -- whose daily e-reading has doubled in the last two years -- read exclusively on digital devices.
Their research found that of kids who read daily, those who did so only electronically were nearly half as likely to be above-average readers than those who read daily in print or a combination of print and electronics (15.5 percent vs. 26 percent). On-screen-only readers were also far less likely to enjoy reading very much compared to those who also read in print (12 percent vs. 51 percent) and less likely to have a favorite book (59 percent vs. 77 percent).
I recently settled on paper for my older son’s summer reading assignments. Not only do I want him to get more out of his effort, but he needs to learn the art of what reading specialists call “silent sustained reading.” And it requires a “book” that doesn’t ping him every few minutes with his friends’ latest thoughts from Facebook.
Print may be old-fashioned, but it still has an indispensable role to play in our lives. As Ardai so aptly put it, “It’s about ways of life that existed once and are gone now, ones that deserve not to be forgotten.”
Esther Cepeda’s email address is email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.
(c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group