The View from My Seat archives


Published January 12, 2021



Paper books are my choice over digital

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

I have gone old-school on books.

I now prefer reading words on paper, not digitally on my iPad.

You may think e-books would be perfect for a retired senior citizen like myself. They are cheaper, and you can carry an entire library on one device and also save some trees. Most importantly for us seniors, you can increase the font size.

But for several years I have struggled to finish e-books in a timely manner. I often needed to renew e-books I had checked out from the library.

I seldom had to do that with print.

At first, I thought it was just the aging process. Maybe I couldn’t concentrate like I once did. Maybe my eyes were going bad.

What was happening?

I didn’t zero in on it until I checked out the digital version of “News of the World.” I had been looking forward to reading this best-selling Western drama by Paulette Jiles.

I anticipated rushing through it in hopes of finishing it before the movie came out on Christmas Day. I went to bed each night looking forward to reading the wonderful descriptions of Texas after the Civil War. I felt as if I were reading “Lonesome Dove” all over again.

But, as good as it was, I had only read about 50 pages after a couple of nights.

The problem became obvious. I was addicted to the news, and the iPad offered way too many distractions for this retired journalist. Old habits are hard to break.

I would read a couple of pages of the e-book, but then felt I needed to check the online versions of the New York Times or Washington Post for the latest headlines.

I would read a couple more pages from the book, then check the stock market futures. Read more, then check my email. I would even check the rants on Facebook or the opinions on Fox.

I would read for an hour before turning out the light but only a few minutes had been spent with the book.

As an experiment, I took a gift card to Barnes and Noble and bought “News of the World” in print. I settled into my living room recliner and deliberately left the iPad in the study. It felt comforting to hold a traditional book in my hands.
I read without interruption for two hours (except for the inevitable 5-minute snooze) and moved deep into the book.
I finished it the next day.

I am now on to John Grisham’s latest legal drama, the print version.

I feel a little bit like an old fogie holding back digital progress, but it turns out I am not alone.

At the beginning of the 2010s, the world seemed poised for an e-book revolution, but it never came.

Instead, at the other end of the decade, e-book sales have stabilized at around 20 percent of total book sales, with print sales making up the remaining 80 percent.

“Five or 10 years ago,” says Andrew Albanese, a senior writer at Publishers Weekly,” you would have thought those numbers would have been reversed.”

I have noticed some fringe benefits to reading on paper.

It is stress-reducing to not have the iPad handy to check the latest election and pandemic news.

Also, I notice less eye strain. Experts say digital content causes more interference with your blink rate and increases dry eye symptoms, leading to more discomfort while reading.

Finally, with traditional books you don’t have to look for a wall outlet, just when the book is reaching a crescendo.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)