Baron, Naomi S. How we read now: strategic choices for print, screen, and audio. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021. xiv, 284 p. ISBN 978-0-19-008409-7. £19.99.
Naomi S. Baron is an established researcher of linguistics and reading. She has been exploring the changes in our reading processes and habits introduced by digital technologies and presenting the results of her research to other scholars interested in this multidisciplinary and complex topic of reading. This new book not only builds on her vast knowledge and understanding of reading habits and new phenomena that we observe in our reading culture, but is also directed at the wider audience of educational practitioners, parents, media producers, and readers themselves. It shows the alternative ways of reading, their impact and consequencies on our lives, learning and minds, but also the importance of making conscious, intentional strategic choices depending on our purposes and goals of reading mainly in learning and teaching.
The structure of the book is explained and the purpose of each part is presented in an introduction. I will follow this structure as it helps to demonstrate the variety of topics covered in this rich text, but also discloses to some extent the changing understanding of reading activities. In the first part the general issues are presented and the author draws on different disciplines to demonstrate the richness of the reading concept and the modes of reading, the role that our senses and bodies play in this process, who the readers are or how the reading relates to literacy. The whole chapter is devoted to the reading materials and their formats. An interesting problem is raised in relation to the changes in the process of reading: what is actually the reason for the observed differences? Are they introduced by the nature of text, or maybe technology, or our own heads, i.e. psychology, assumptions, and intentions? The third chapter in this part is based on some large investigations of students and the teaching faculty perceptions about students reading to elicit the strategies applied in reading for learning. This chapter looks at different dimensions, not just skimming or deep reading, but actually how we choose to treat the texts while learning and what we do with them in print. The author also raises the question about the transfer of these strategies to digital formats and how they are transformed in this case.
This last issue is explored much more deeply in the second part of the book. It looks further into the main question of whether the content or the container affects the reading of small children and school-age learners. The chapter on reading multiple texts treats a very complex issue showing the transition from reading multiple texts in print to using multiple texts and documents online. Though research is not abundant in this area, the author pulls it together and demonstrates what are the predictors of success of such reading and that the findings of the studies can be rather controversial. The final chapter 6 in this part provides research-based recommendations for effective digital reading as well as cautioning for the unintended consequences that may occur.
The third part is much shorter than the previous two, but it turns to the growing body of research about reading with audio (or audio reading) and also presents the first investigations of video enhanced reading and learning. The author outlines the similarities and differences of reading the text and listening to it, identifies the affordances of audio reading and of using the combined modes for various learners. The main emphasis as elsewhere in the book is on reading for learning, not for pleasure, thus the role of audio and video materials as well as combination of different platforms can result in both positive and negative outcomes as shown by researchers. I have appreciated a short chapter, in which author suggests how to use all available platforms effectively to achieve the best learning results.
In the final part of the book, the reading issues are set into a wider context of the technology development, the economics and policies of teaching and learning, general attitudes of learners about the learning itself and reading. The main message sent by the author is rather simple, but backed up by the rich research material on which the whole book is based: Read more. Focus when you do. Medium matters. (p. 230)
I would like to emphasize again that this book is not merely an opinion of an expert, it is clearly and openly based on vast research material conducted throught the world, mostly in the US and European countries (predominantly in the Northern part of it), so it presents a solid basis for understanding the reading in the modern world. On the other hand, the structure and presentation of the content helps the readers to absorb this rich content. Each chapter starts with introductory questions guiding through the following text and ends with summaries of findings relevant for the readers.
I share the concern of the author of the Foreword, who is another eminent scholar of the reading brain, Marianne Wolf, that the circuits in our brains built by reading printed texts may atrophy when using other media instead, but this book shows ways of training and developing reading brain capable of deep concentration on different media. It also shows the possible dangers and the ways how to strategically direct learners, especially the young ones, to avoid these pitfalls. However, more research is needed for this as ever.
University of Borås
How to cite this review
Maceviciute, E. (2022). Review of: Baron, Naomi S. How we read now: strategic choices for print, screen, and audio Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021. Information Research, 27(1), review no. R732 [Retrieved from http://www.informationr.net/ir/reviews/revs732.html]
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