WORDS ONSCREEN by Naomi S. Baron


The Fate of Reading in a Digital World
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A darkling view of what our world—and what we—will be like if codex reading eventually surrenders to the flickering screens of e-readers.

Baron (Linguistics/American Univ.; Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World, 2008, etc.) has several purposes here: to summarize research (hers and others’) on the differences between e-reading and print; to rehearse the benefits of the latter, the deficits of the former; and to offer advice to readers in this age of transition. There is no doubt where the author stands. Both explicitly and implicitly, she prefers print publications—and emphasizes the abundant supporting research. But she also salts her text with numerous references to authors of canonical literature, among them Edith Wharton, Austen, Dickens, Chaucer, Proust, Descartes, Molière, and more recent notables like Gass and Iyer. This leaves little doubt that one of her principal worries is that the proliferation of e-readers will consign these all-stars to the bench, where they will watch other hitters at the plate: the authors of the Twilights of the world. Baron begins with the emergence of the e-book, then pauses to discuss what reading even is, offering a brief history of the codex and celebrating the glories of marginalia. She notes how the decline in codex reading has affected today’s college students, to whom professors assign fewer—and shorter—texts than in the past. She notes the obvious advantages of e-reading (including its democratization) but adds that the majority of readers prefer the codex and cites research confirming what many have long felt—that retention is much better with codex reading. Her own research study is a little questionable—as she acknowledges, she had no random sample, for instance.

A clear call for common sense and reason that will likely fall on ears covered with headphones.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-19-931576-5
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2014


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