| By Catherine DiMercurio |
For people who love to read, a book is a sacred object. Many book lovers have some form of e-reader, and might acknowledge its convenience when traveling, for example, but most have not, and will not, eschew the pages of an actual, printed book. There is just something about the smell of printed pages, that crisp crackle of the spine as you open the book, the feel of the paper between your fingers as you eagerly devour paragraph after paragraph.
Betrayed by the Book
The tactile relationship we readers have with books, and the emotional one we have with reading, can sometimes become jeopardized. Maybe we are younger readers making the transition from middle grade books to young adult works. Gone is the white space, the large font, gone are the pages that are easy to take in so that we can absorb each word, one at a time. Our ability to remember plot, characters, and themes is tied to how we perceive and recall the words on the page. Transitioning to young adult books from middle grade texts can be frustrating for many young readers who struggle with reading and comprehension, and it can often drive away students who once loved books. Or, maybe we are older readers (or readers who are reluctant to regard themselves that way). We are reaching for the misplaced pair of reading glasses more and more, or we’ve had to use them all day long as we stare at computer screens in cubicles lit by fluorescent glare. All we want is to slip the specs off and page through a book without getting a headache.
When reading becomes a painful, exhausting struggle, it is easy to feel not only frustrated but almost betrayed. What was once a source of comfort becomes an obstacle. The place we turned to as stress relief, as a means of escape, is now fraught with roadblocks – tiny words in blurry formations that we must strain to see. Our energies are so tied up with physically focusing that our concentration, and our engagement, flags. With the connection to the text we once prized now so fraught, we often give up.
The Perks of Large Print
Much research has been done on the topic of large print books and the benefits they offer. (Check out Gale’s recent blog post that summarizes some of these benefits for young adult readers, and this earlier assessment about the benefits of large print by Suzanne Neumann, writing for the YALSA [Young Adult Library Services Association], a division of the American Library Association.) Beyond the data though, a recent Thorndike testimonial puts into perspective that the issue is about more than the challenges faced by readers at one end or the other of the age spectrum. Being able to once again read a book – after that singular joy has been taken away from you – is about wellness and quality of life.
Sandy, a librarian, recently wrote to Thorndike Press to share her story. She tells of the day she and her friend, out on a morning walk, were hit by a truck. Both survived, but Sandy endured severe damage to her left foot, in addition to a fractured skull and a traumatic brain injury. Sandy had been an avid reader, but after the accident, she describes her experience with reading in this way: “I could barely read a paragraph without getting a blinding headache. I could not concentrate or remember any detail of what I read. I was easily confused and distracted while reading. Reading had changed from being a relaxing pleasure to a serious challenge. It was terrifying.”
Sandy was able to return to work about a year after the accident; she found salvation in large print books. Though she could only focus on a page at a time, she found that she could read for short periods. She built on small victories and was finally able to read a book cover to cover once again. Sandy states, “I am so grateful for the progress I’ve made with my reading ability and memory. Large print books played a major role in this healing process. I am once again able to enjoy my favorite hobby.”
There are a lot of people who struggle with their sight, and therefore with reading printed words. According to the 2010 U.S. Census report “Americans with Disabilities: 2010”, there are over 6 million adults aged 15 or older with “non-severe” visual impairment, who have “difficulty seeing words and letters in ordinary newsprint, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses” (“severe” difficulty was defined as “being blind or unable to see the words and letters at all.”) About 321,000 children under the age of 15 also fall into the “non-severe” category. That is a lot of readers, a lot of people who, at one time or another, may grow so frustrated with the struggle to focus on the printed word that they give up on reading. Books unread are dreams undreamed, journeys not taken, lessons not learned, connections that remain unmade. That’s where Thorndike comes in. Large print to the rescue!