To Nook or Not to Nook?

8 Mar

When my husband first mentioned the idea of getting a Nook, I was very hesitant. After all, I have always enjoyed the reading experience. I love the way certain fonts look on a page. I love underlining sentences in a book that I wish I could claim as my own. I love folding the corners of pages that grab me, just so I can reread them over and over again (yes, I’m a page-folder). How could an e-reader even come close to replicating this experience?

Well, my husband surprised me with a Nook just after Christmas this year. I think it was his way of trying to lure me into the technological world. He does everything online, while I usually use more “old-fashioned” methods. As he handed me the Nook, I could just imagine him saying, “See? This is a book and it’s technology. Not so bad, huh?” And … he was RIGHT! I really enjoy reading e-books, much to my surprise.

Yesterday I discovered an interesting  link to a cartoon through Dana Huff’s blog. The cartoonist uses Matilda, a popular children’s book character, to decry the use of e-readers. In the cartoon, Kindle and Nook users are depicted as easily-distracted individuals who are  “swindled” into purchasing e-readers simply because they must accumulate technology. In addition, e-book readers are portrayed as unimaginative people who have lost the ability to use context clues to denote the meaning of unfamiliar words. Pretty bleak viewpoint of those who choose to read with a Nook or Kindle, huh?

I found myself frustrated with this cartoon for several reasons. First, people should be free to read in whatever mode they want without being criticized by others. I find this point to be especially true in my work as an 8th grade Language Arts teacher. I teach students who are part of the Facebook generation. At any given point in the day, most of my students are using multiple forms of technology – iPod, laptop, video game consoles, etc. Many of my students have also begun using e-readers. I’m not going to prevent my students from reading e-books – a form of technology they are comfortable with – simply because I have a preference for pieces of paper bound between cardboard covers. And I certainly don’t think they are intellectually inferior because of their electronic reading habits.

In addition, the portrayal of Nook and Kindle users as unimaginative “dim-wits” is unfounded. Yes, there are interactive children’s books that can be purchased for e-readers. And, yes, these children’s books can shaken, jiggled, and swiped to elicit a reaction. But I doubt this is the standard literary fare of most e-book owners. For example, I just finished Persuasion by Jane Austen. If I were to check out this novel from my local library, the text would be exactly the same as the version I read on my Nook. Therefore, since both print and electronic texts are the same, it is safe to say that an electronic version of a novel requires just as much imagination as a paperback copy.

Finally, what’s wrong with using the double-tap feature to define an unfamiliar word? Yes, it is often possible to use context clues to ascertain a word’s meaning. But sometimes context clues are not enough. As a teacher, that’s when I ask my students to consult a dictionary. I suppose double-tapping the screen of an e-reader is easier than looking up a definition in a dictionary, but isn’t the effect the same?

If you would have asked me for my opinion of Nooks and Kindles just one year ago, I would have smiled and said, “E-readers? I suppose they’re good for some people. But I prefer paper-and-ink books myself.” My, how the times change! And I suppose it’s our responsibility to keep up with them.

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