The phrase “Send me a man who reads” was the tagline for a series of advertisements — print advertisements, of course — by the International Paper Company during the early 1960s. Published in several magazines including “Reader’s Digest,” the series featured biographies and vignettes about different people and what they liked to read.

The implication of the title was that reading is not only a beneficial habit, but also the foremost skill a person — man or woman — can possess. The moral was that there is no greater predictor of success in life than how much and what an individual chooses to read.

Numerous studies have determined that reading as a hobby has been on the decline in the United States for several decades. The time previously spent in reading books is now being used for watching movies and television, playing video games, surfing the internet, or one of many other pastimes. It’s true that reading, or even listening, to words is required for many of those interests, and those experiences can be enlightening as well. But meanwhile, books — especially the classics from generations past — are gathering dust on shelves somewhere.

That’s why it was rewarding to find myself in a small audience at the Howard Payne University Theatre last month, listening to students offer their semester finals in Dr. Nancy Jo Humfeld’s oral interpretation class. The fine arts of literature, dramatic performance, and oral presentation came together for about an hour. Seven selections of works by authors ranging from John Steinbeck to Shel Silverstein, and from Edgar Allen Poe to David Sedaris, were presented by talented students.

It was a rewarding experience, indeed. If you’re not going to take the time to read, perhaps having someone read to you is the next best thing.

Let’s put the emphasis on “next best,” because while listening to someone recite literature is a special experience, it’s also something different.

A published report on one of those reading studies examined the idea that while traditional books are losing favor, many consumers are embracing electronic books. Authors may even prefer them, because I learned a few years ago that the writers make more money on electronic book sales than they do from printed books. The printed volume does cost more, but much of that purchase price pays publishing and distribution expenses.

Authors’ profits aside, the printed versions of books continue to give most readers more satisfaction than electronic varieties. There’s something special about the printed page. The enjoyment of progressing through paper pages can’t be matched, with the side in your right hand getting smaller and the left getting bigger. Some readers even say the unique aroma of books is something magical.

Another point is even more significant to the discussion. Some studies have found that readers are able to remember more details about what they’ve read when they use printed books as compared to the digital versions. That may be something to consider as textbooks increasingly go electronic. Fortunately, the most important information contained in those textbooks, and other information that’s not, is reinforced by teachers and professors during class.

Sometimes, the bottom line is indeed “the bottom line.” Digital books are less expensive to buy and more conveniently stored. If that means we read more as a result, that’s all the better. But let’s not forget what we lose when we don’t hold a printed book in our hands.

 

Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at news@brownwoodbulletin.com.