Tactile reading

I usually glance at the news online for a few minutes in the morning, once my bleary-eyed self has come to terms with the new day, but I don’t tend to linger on it. My parents buy a newspaper every day, a compulsory purchase. When it arrives it lies on the kitchen table, waiting to be perused by anyone in the kitchen, which is the main thoroughfare and centre of all life in the house. When there are a few readers around (which is a common occurrence) the sections are divided up on a first come, first served basis, often leaving me staring at the sports pages, or reading about expensive properties for sale. Later in the evening, my parents divide up the crossword pages between them. For some reason, the entire paper must be taken away for the crossword enthusiasts: removing the crossword pages from the main paper is considered very indecorous behaviour indeed. The morning after, everyone in the kitchen is reduced to reading flyers and advertising brochures: anything on any piece of paper. This goes on until the daily paper is purchased anew and left on the table so that the ritual can begin again.

Both my parents are smartphone owners who receive constant notifications of an everchanging news feed, but the rites of the newspaper have never changed. It has always been this way (apart from when the name of the newspaper changed a few times, due to a political protest for some reason or other) and it will continue to be so. The joy of opening, rustling and folding down the oversized pages to get to the article you’re looking forward to, is part of the anticipation. It is one of those little pleasures we have that we unwittingly rely on.

It’s as if the physical touch of the paper begins a course that leads the way to the intellectual and emotional exercise of reading. From the moment the newspaper is purchased, and folded over to fit in your bag, the feel of its slight weight on your shoulder, the expectation has begun: you are already preparing yourself for the act of reading. Of course we are reading all the time, constantly looking at signs and directions and texts, but there is a difference between that and reading for the act itself, even if it is the informative articles of a newspaper: we choose our paper, our journalists and columnists because we like reading them. No-one has a favourite road sign or menu. (Although many restaurant blackboards try to do both: they will often try to turn the passive reading of information into a more active, emotional response with quotes and personal comments.)

Added to this is the sensation that the tactile impression of holding the ideas in your hand is not the same as reading them from a screen. The paper you are holding under your arm is full of words and interesting ideas, and you have somehow contained them in one place. This feeling is magnified a hundred times with the purchase of a book. There is something particularly satisfying about holding a hardback in your hands: the weight and feel of it, the hard binding perfect for tapping and touching and holding. And within that weight is a universe of possibilities hidden inside the pages, waiting for you inside the covers. It is a luxurious manifestation of the act of reading from paper.

The Kindle (capital K) has been beautifully designed for comfortable reading: a matte screen, adjustable print and thousands of electronic books at your fingertips. It is a wonderful invention and the only part missing from it is the palpable sensation of holding the art in your hands. How many times when looking at a painting have you wanted to run your fingertips over the brushstrokes? The emotional response that is inspired by art, be it literature, visual art, music or poetry is powerful, and sometimes it changes us permanently, but that response itself is ephemeral. It is the very nature of it to be transient. We take photos of beautiful things to own them in some way, but we can never really hold the emotional experience that a piece of art brings us. We want to have it. We want the impossible: to carry it around in our pockets. A beautiful book is the closest we can get to touching and holding the essence of that artistic expression.

The feel of paper at your fingertips