A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit

April 01, 2021 10:08
The Norwegian scholar Anne Mangen tested the recall and comprehension of children who read a short story on Kindle and on a print copy and discovered that the order of events and their sense of chronological time in the story were both impaired for those

I must declare an interest here, as an author, I am wedded to the idea of people reading a physical rather than an e book.

The cost of acquiring a physical book is higher and therefore the commission to the author – lamentably and disproportionately small though it is – is relatively higher.

But the argument that I want to make concerns the multi-dimensional joy offered by that bound collection of printed pages within an artistically designed cover.

The Norwegian scholar Anne Mangen tested the recall and comprehension of children who read a short story on Kindle and on a print copy. She discovered that the order of events and their sense of chronological time in the story were both impaired for those who read on a tablet.

Other researchers found that engagement of the tactile sense, quite simply holding the book in your hand, led to greater empathy, immersion in the work and understanding of the narrative.

I find the results of another group of scientific researchers both amusing and yet resonating a bell in my own experience, namely the smell of a physical book. Old books contain lignin, which gives off a hint of vanilla.

Most new books have their own aroma, inviting you to delve into the pages and get lost in their scent.

Because books, whether old or new, engage not only the visual sense but those of touch and smell, reading a print copy exposes the reader to a far broader experience.

On the other side of the coin, staring at the blue light of a screen causes eye strain and plays havoc with your melatonin levels and circadian cycles.

But aside from all the scientific arguments, there is a magical allure to a print copy and book cover.

A cover that catches the eye may well be the first step to acquiring the book which will then sit on your bookshelf, providing a small but artistic element of the interior décor of a room.

Collectors prize a first edition complete with its loose-leaf cover usually because the artwork is so very attractive in itself.

Amongst the dread effects of Covid-19 restrictions, teaching and learning has been confined to on-screen, depriving the student of the opportunity to engage all the senses and reinforcing what I regard as the retrograde influence of technology.

The idea that learning can be compressed into as small a compass as technical gadgetry can devise is the apotheosis of ignorance.

Listen to a conversation of the younger generations and swiftly it becomes apparent that their vocabulary is not merely limited but largely composed of hackneyed phrases linked by the much abused ‘like’.

As a worldwide syndrome, people are losing the ability to articulate their feelings and opinions in clear, structured sentences.(There are even senior counsel at the Hong Kong Bar who seem incapable of finishing a sentence).

Listen to any radio broadcast, whether on the BBC or RTHK and within no time at all you will be assaulted by people – often introduced as experts – who pepper their speech with ‘you know’. Some recidivists take this to screamworthy limits. I find myself shouting at the radio ‘No, I don’t bloody well know.’

One regular morning broadcaster pollutes his speech with so many ‘ums’ and ‘errs’ that you want to plead with him ‘please think before you speak.’

If books or articles were written incorporating all this verbal excrescence, it makes one wonder how many would read them. Which drives me to the conclusion that diminishing numbers of people are reading books these days.

All too frequently, instead of trawling through memory to recall a name or an event or a date, people reach for their smart phone. No wonder brain cells atrophy at such an alarming rate.

The sheer joy of being able to dip into a print copy book to relocate a familiar passage and let the words caress the brain like a balm is a priceless gift that we are at risk of not passing on to future generations.

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Queen's Counsel