Reading and wandering

Reading a book is a physical act, writes Andrew Piper on Slate, arguing that an e-reader just isn’t the same. Every night, he reads his children a bedtime story.

As I begin to read, the kids begin to lean into me. Our bodies assume positions of rest, the book our shared column of support. No matter what advertisers say, this could never be true of the acrobatic screen. As we gradually sink into the floor, and each other, our minds are freed to follow their own pathways, unlike the prescribed pathways of the Web. We read and we drift. ‘The words of my book nothing,’ writes Walt Whitman, ‘the drift of it everything.’

Reading sets minds wandering, the best way to discover new ideas, writes Piper. “New connections, new pathways, and sharp turns are being made as we meander our way through the book, but also away from it.”

. . .  We may be holding the book together, but our minds are no doubt far apart by now. The fairy tale is the first story of childhood because it tells of such leaving behind (parents and home), of entering the dreamscape of the woods—and the mind. It tells of the crooked path of change. How can one know where reading books ends and dreaming in books begins?”

Via Annie Murphy Paul.

Do readers’ minds wander less with an e-reader? I prefer to read a real book, if I’m not traveling, but reading a screen is still reading.

About Joanne


  1. I think this is Luddite nonsense. I can, and do, share what I’m reading, no matter what the form – book, magazine, e-reader, computer – and the idea that the book is unique due to its form is ridiculous.

  2. Andrew Piper makes a large number of assertions without evidence (e.g. “If books are essentially vertebral, contributing to our sense of human uniqueness that depends upon bodily uprightness…”).

    I am not impressed.

    • And this comment by Nicholas Olsen
      at Slate (the top one when I went to the comments section) captures Andrew’s lack of evidence in a very brutal manner:

      This article is a fine example of why I quit being a student of the humanities and became an engineer instead; the amount of effort that can be wasted producing nothing is impressive in its own way, but ultimately pointless. It’s hard to believe anyone could believe the nonsense displayed here, so I naturally assume anyone writing an article like this is trolling, producing satire or entertainment meant to provoke pageviews.

  3. Stacy in NJ says:

    Prior to my Kindle I had a storage problem. I had 10 to 12 containers of boxed books in my basement. I sorted and donated half and saved and shelved the other half. Now, to my husband’s relief, I use my Kindle. It’s a relief to not have stacks of books cluttering up my home.

    E-books save time, fuel (no trips to the library or bookstore) and space. They’re good for the environment.

  4. I do tons of reading, several hours a day, both online and offline. When reading for information, I prefer to read online, where I can follow links, open multiple pages etc. When reading for pleasure, I prefer to read offline. There is something undefinable about reading a physical book that is pleasing. It will be interesting to see if that remains true with current youth and future generations.

  5. I prefer the paper to any screen at all times both for information and pleasure reading. I find it enchanting to touch and turn pages. I physically remember where I closed the book and where to look for information I’ve seen before. I actually find the e-reader uncomfortable (I have one and I’ve read a few books on it). In addition, I like the look of books on my shelves, and the more the better. I always enjoyed the libraries and the feeling in them. I currently own a few hundred books, and there are more to come!