Sunday, May 16

Why Paper Books are Better for Your Brain (Plus, 3 Books to Read this Month)

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Now, more than ever, our lives revolve around a screen. Whether it’s a weekly meeting with colleagues or your child’s remote ‘classroom’, virtual quiz nights with friends, or a catch-up with Granny and Grandpa, the digital world has allowed us to connect in ways that we never thought possible.

But, people are also experiencing fatigue and burnout due to the crumbling boundaries between work and home life. We may live in the internet era, where everything is digitised and super-efficient, but that doesn’t mean that our love affair with literature is over. People still love to read an old fashioned, printed book. The paper book vs e-book conundrum has been the topic of countless research papers and articles around comprehension and brain function, but in the end, numerous studies have shown that paper and ink seem to eclipse their electronic counterparts.

A remedy for digital fatigue

work from home

The merits of reading are undeniable; various studies have found that just reading for just six to 10 minutes a day can reduce stress and improve mental fitness. Many reading advocates will tell you that it doesn’t matter what you read, as long as you are reading, while reading does have benefits overall, there does seem to be a benefit to reading on paper. You can’t beat the feeling or scent of a ‘real book’ and paper is the perfect remedy for digital overload.

It’s no secret that the death knell for the paper book has been prematurely tolled on numerous occasions, but against all odds, the paper book keeps making comebacks. The pandemic, for example, was good for book sales with more than 200 million print books sold in the UK alone (the first time since 2012 that number has been exceeded). Similarly, in the US, printed book sales amounted to just over 750 million units last year, marking growth of 82%, the highest year-on-year increase since 2010.

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Another widely examined area in the world of reading is that human brains were not even designed for the act of reading, but have, over aeons, evolved to make sense of letters, words and sentences. In the world of neuroscience, reading is considered neurobiologically demanding,  which makes it a form of exercise. Exercise, as we know, keeps us sharper, agile and more resilient. Why should it be different for our grey matter?

A paper book also offers a sense of control and is more immersive. We know where we are, and how far we have to go, but we can also lose track of time in a thoroughly gripping paperback.

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What about children’s literature?

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Bestselling children’s author Julia Donaldson famously refused an e-book version of her most famous title, The Gruffalo. “The publishers showed me an e-book of Alice in Wonderland,” she told The Guardian. “They said, ‘Look, you can press buttons and do this and that’, and they showed me the page where Alice’s neck gets longer,” said Donaldson. “I thought, well, if the child’s doing that, they are not going to be listening or reading.”

Educationalist Dr Lauren Stretch, founder of NGO Early Inspiration and ECD specialist, is an enthusiastic champion of the paper book. She believes that early contact with books teaches children to respect and care for them, while physical contact with a volume – turning the pages – creates a greater feeling of engagement with the medium as opposed to merely holding a tablet.

Stretch also regards time spent huddled over a book as absolutely invaluable; it’s a great way to unplug and be present, even if it means reading the same book every night with your four-year-old.

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Doctor’s orders

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There is a plethora of literature and studies about the impact of technology on sleep quality and our overall health. It is widely accepted that the use of light-emitting use of light-emitting electronic devices for reading, communication, and entertainment “before bedtime prolongs the time it takes to fall asleep, delays the circadian clock, suppresses levels of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin.”

When going to bed, put your mobile phone on charge, and don’t look at it until its alarm wakes you up in the morning. Writer and neuroscience enthusiast Kerry Benson offers good advice: “When you need a break from the digital world, don’t underestimate the power of paper and ink. Consider turning off your electronic devices, getting a book, and curling up to turn the page.”

Celebrate World Book and Copyright Day

World Book and Copyright Day, which took place on 23 April, offered an opportunity for book lovers to celebrate the joys of reading. But, there’s no reason the celebrations can’t continue all through May and beyond. If you’re looking to get into the World Book and Copyright Day spirit, here are our picks for 3 books to read this month:

The Upside of Being Down by Jen Gotch

The Upside of Being Down by Jen Gotch

In her first book, The Upside of Being Down: How Mental Health Struggles Led to My Greatest Successes in Work and LifeBan.do founder Jen Gotch shares the empowering story of building a multimillion-dollar brand, embracing her flaws, and finding creativity while struggling with mental illness. An inspiring read for anyone who struggles with anxiety, depression, or even just stress.

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Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

The New York Times number one best-seller from Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation star, Amy Poehler, Yes Please is a memoir like no other. In this hilarious book, Poehler offers up a big juicy stew of personal stories, funny bits on sex and love and friendship and parenthood and real-life advice (some useful, some not so much). Powered by Amy’s charming and hilarious, biting yet wise voice, Yes Please is a book full of words to live by.

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Simply Delicious by Zola Nene

Simply Delicious - Zola Nene

Yes, cookbooks count as reading too! Fans who have been following Nene since her days on SABC 3’s Expresso will adore this collection of recipes from the South African celebrity chef. Filled with plenty of simple and delicious recipes, this is a must-read for anyone looking for new ways to enjoy local flavours.

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