Reviewed by Cecilia Chai
Baron is a Professor of Linguistics at American University. In her introduction, Baron admits she will be going beyond the usual linguistic practice of describing the is into the helpful tasks of considering the ought. This willingness to make some judgments, albeit with grace, makes this book very valuable.
The question Baron picks up in the volume is whether “digital reading is reshaping our understanding of what it means to read.” (xii) She goes on to argue “that digital reading is fine for many short pieces or light content we don’t intend to analyze or reread.” (xii) Her conclusion is that digital reading is here to stay, but so is reading in print. Each has a niche in the publishing world and the academic world. Thus the future is a complementary coexistence rather than extinction of one or the other.
Baron begins with a state of the book address, where she lays out the history of the rise of the e-book and the shift in print publishing. She then provides a history of reading that will make a lover of reading swoon. In the third chapter she discusses the impact that e-reading is having on writing styles, where media are moving to punchier, shorter chunks. This is a chapter that is historiographic and, again, very enjoyable for one who loves reading.
In Chapter Four Baron explains the attraction to reading onscreen, for those that appreciate it. She is fair in presenting the strongest arguments for that form of reading. Still she notes that e-books and e-readers may not be as green as claimed, particularly since most people don’t simply dispose of their hard copy books.
What comes of the discussion is that onscreen reading is more suitable for one-off reading. In Chapter Six, Baron discusses the phenomena of social reading, which began with the book club and has progressed to sharing quotes through Goodreads and other platforms.
Baron dwells on one of the most significant downsides of e-books in her seventh chapter. This is the fact that people feel there is something lacking from the aesthetic experience of reading a book on a screen.
Despite its shortcomings for some uses, Baron concludes that onscreen reading is here to stay as a complement to reading on paper. Her case is compelling and winsomely argued. The ability to get a vast number of resources online is extremely helpful for quick research. At the same time, the opportunities to annotate, spatially associate, and focus on a tangible object are essential for deep reading. Both forms of readings have a purpose and both are here to stay.
I enjoyed this book immensely. Not just because I agree with her conclusions, but because it was well written, well researched and accessible.