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The Bookblog / 22 February 2022

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Reading Changes Your Mind

So here’s a strange one...

About the middle of last year I started making a website to read books on. Right. Strange. Partly I did this because of the pandemic: working from home, in a shed, etc., etc. But also, like all of us, the pandemic made me think about the state of our planet and the role we play. The problems we solve are the problems we focus on. And I worry we’re losing the ability to stay focused and think clearly. We outsource our thinking to algorithms and ‘snackable content’. We like & subscribe.

The planet’s in a mess and the robots are thinking for us. Sounds like sci-fi, but isn’t.

Reading helps. Taking the time to read someone else’s long-form thoughts (a.k.a., a book) builds our attention span and trains us to think for ourselves. Digestion takes time, and we have to do it ourselves.

“Think before you speak. Read before you think.”

Fran Lebowitz

I figured helping people to read more might actually change the world for the better. Right. Even stranger. I did warn you.

I read a lot, and I read on digital devices the most. We all read on digital devices the most. But we don’t read books. Short-form reading has moved online, but long-form reading has not. Over 80% of news and editorial is read on screens now. But only a little over 10% of books are read on screens. And on top of that — surely related to that — book reading as a whole is declining.

Less than half UK adults read a book last year. The US Arts agency reports consistent decline in reading rates and directly links this to “a larger retreat from participation in civic and cultural life”. Without reading, we expect our learning, our entertainment, and our opinions to come to us - and to come via easy, passive channels. Spoon fed culture. No chewing. What’s next? Feed me. Keep it short and sweet.

Our attention spans are wearing away, and we’re losing the ability to think for ourselves. Thank you for reading this far.

We live online, but books are not fun online. They’re unloved. Generally, ebooks look worse than physical books. Meanwhile, physical books are having a design renaissance. They look fantastic. Ebooks are a publisher’s afterthought.

So are books broken online? Are we ignoring them for a reason? Are they no longer relevant? Or are they just presented really really badly on our screens, using the same technology that gave us late-1990s websites? (Hint: yes.)

Middle of last year, I tried to read some ghost stories on my iPad (M. R. James — the best). I bought the complete works, and it had no contents page, no way to find the story you want, typos everywhere and something weird going on with the right margin. Untouched by human hands probably, and certainly unloved.

So I ended up making Bookwise.io. It’s early days. There’s not ‘millions of books to choose from’. Right now there’s 400 really great books, and they’re all free. They’re classics for a reason: Jane Eyre, A Christmas Carol, Treasure Island, The Lost World, Nineteen Eighty-Four — you cannot read those books unmoved, or unchanged.

Bookwise is also a new kind of thing. It’s a ‘Progressive Web App‘. It works on absolutely anything; it’s totally ad free; it doesn’t track you; and it could never harm or slow down your device.

I’d love you to try it out. A hobby is becoming a madcap scheme. I figured I’d share.

And I hope you agree: Reading changes your mind.

Visit Bookwise.io — try it out, let me know what you think, and enjoy reading.

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