Neck lamps are a bookworm’s best friend

As convenient as e-readers are, I can’t quit actual books. Maybe it’s their reassuring weight, the satisfying crinkle of their pages, their beguiling musk; but there’s something addictive about that combination of paper, ink, and glue.

Despite this — and as much as it pains me to say it — physical books aren’t perfect. One issue that’s been a particularly large albatross around my neck is reading in low-light environments. When I do so, I’m either keeping my partner awake with a blazing bedside lamp, twisting my body into awkward positions to illuminate the pages, or — worst of all — having to turn on the dreaded Big Light.

But you know what? That’s all history. I’ve seen the light! More specifically, a neck light. And the longer I use it, the more certain I am that it’s a gadget every bookworm should own.

A neck light (or neck lamp) is exactly what it sounds like: a light that sits on your neck. The majority of models are U-shaped with an LED bulb at the end of either arm. These are flexible, meaning you can adjust the position and angle of the light. Many units — including my Glocusent, like the one in the video above — come with an array of white color settings from very warm to cool and the ability to toggle through brightness levels. Even better, they’re cheap, often costing under $30.

I started searching for a solution to my low-light reading woes years ago. The first thing I tried were those clip-on book lights often sold in stationary stores. While they do the job, it’s not a particularly good one, as they can only uniformly brighten the top of a single page and have a tendency to flap around wildly while reading.

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Undeterred, the next gadget I tested was a headlamp. This was an improvement but had its own problems. During long reading sessions its weight and strap became uncomfortable, especially as I had to keep my head still and at a slight angle to keep the light consistent.

Soon afterward, I stumbled across the neck lamp. I was skeptical at first. Not only did I think it’d have a raft of problems similar to the clip-on light and headlamp, but gadgets you strap around your neck don’t exactly have a glittering track record.

Just think about the Bose SoundWear, a horseshoe-shaped speaker that rests on your shoulders because… I’m still not entirely sure. Or, indeed, the Pulsetto, a stress management device that uses radio waves to (supposedly) stimulate the vagus nerve in the neck. Why? Wellness purposes, of course.

No, the neck light is more akin to the unsung hero of the wearable world: wireless neckband headphones.

Because of the rise of true wireless technology (thanks, AirPods), these “neckbuds” have been largely forgotten. This, friends, is a crying shame, as both they and neck lights share a lot of positive traits. Specifically, they’re comfortable, relatively inexpensive, and, due to their size, tough to misplace.

There is one key difference between them: it’s a lot more embarrassing to be seen outside with a neck lamp — and neckbuds are embarrassing enough.

Illuminated in a dimly lit corner of a bar like some sort of nerdy angler fish

For better or worse, I’m a man who likes to read. As such, I’ve taken my neck lamp to a number of public places. And what I’ve learned is this: you shouldn’t. It’s tough to seem suave, discreet, or mysterious when you’re illuminating a dimly lit corner of a bar like some sort of nerdy angler fish.

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There are some exceptions I’ve discovered in my… tests. A neck lamp is broadly accepted in public places with a modicum of privacy, think a plane or train, but in most other cases? Unless you’re truly above caring, you’d best keep it at home, people.

All in all, this is a minor quibble. While it’s true that wearing a neck light won’t get you invited to the Met Gala, I’ve got a big TBR (to be read) pile to get through anyway. And fashion isn’t everything. Sometimes you just want something comfortable, efficient, and affordable. Like sweatpants. The neck lamp, then, is the sweatpants of the reading world: cozy and best used in the comfort of your own home.

Beyond even that, I can genuinely say the gadget has improved my life. My partner is no longer sleep deprived, my posture isn’t quite as appalling, and, blessedly, the Big Light remains unused, all for the price of a single cocktail in Manhattan. 

I believe a neck lamp can help others, too. From going over documents in a dark office to combating some effects of presbyopia as people age, this gadget can make an actual difference in people’s lives.

But wouldn’t a Kindle work just as well? Honestly, there’s no better way to read in dim environments — but I’m not ready to give up on my romance with physical books. And if you feel the same way about paper and ink smushed together, then you also need to get yourself a neck lamp.

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