By Linda Conlin, ABOC, NCLEC

In this age of digital devices, many of us still indulge in the pleasure of reading hardcopy books. The intriguing cover illustration never turns off. It’s always there on the nightstand inviting you to take the next peek inside. A book never needs to be recharged, can survive a coffee spill, and doesn’t emanate nasty blue light. Yet, like their electronic counterparts, books present visual challenges.

Print size and contrast cannot be changed to more comfortable parameters in hardcopy. If you’ve ever read reproductions of antique books, you know that the font can be unusual and the print can be broken, requiring greater visual concentration. Depending on where the reader is enjoying the book results in variations in posture, lighting and reading distance. How many of us remember reading under the covers with a flashlight as children?

Proper reading posture, I was taught, is sitting in a chair that holds the back straight, thighs parallel to the floor with feet flat on the floor, head straight, and the book held up to the eyes. At least 60 watts of light coming from behind and illuminating the book is needed. Mary Poppins may have enjoyed reading like that, but most people don’t. We read slouched in an overstuffed chair, or lying in bed, or stomach down on a beach blanket. Those comforts can make it difficult for anyone who requires vision correction to read.

A pair of reading glasses is the simple solution, but we know that meeting our patients’ visual needs isn’t always simple. We’ve learned to ask detailed questions about patients’ use of digital devices, and those same details are useful for avid book readers. “How much time do you spend reading?” “Where do you like to read?” “Where is it comfortable for you to hold your reading material?” “Do you need to look up to see at different distances while reading?” “What kind of lighting do you use when reading?”

Single vision or multifocal lenses task specific for reading are an excellent second pair opportunity, but be sure to account for the patient’s most comfortable reading distance. Patients who want one pair of glasses for everything must be walked through some trade-offs. Progressive lenses may not work well for every reading posture, such as lying on one’s side in bed. Photochromic progressives may be acceptable for outdoor reading, but wouldn’t a pair of polarized, progressive sunglasses provide a greater all around benefit? In all circumstances, antireflective treatments result in greater comfort and reduced eye fatigue. It’s also important for us to make recommendations for proper lighting when reading. Light that’s too bright can be just as uncomfortable as light that’s too dim.

Check out the great information about vision correction and reading hardcopy books in our CE Understanding the Art of Reading Traditional Books at Then take a relaxing browse of a library or bookstore and curl up in your favorite spot with a good book.