I’ve always heard so much about Kindles and Nooks and other electronic devices for reading electronic books. I’ve never really used one, but I could imagine how much easier it would have been on my back to have my college chemistry, physics, and biology textbooks in electronic form on a piece of equipment smaller and lighter than a laptop. I also think of the convenience of adding a new book to my collection anywhere I can connect to the Internet. It’s also nice to be able to search on a few key words and find the exact page.
Then there are drawbacks. If the device isn’t properly backed up, you have to start all over if the device gets broken through negligence (translate gets thrown in frustration) or age (more than one year old). If you work with computers for your employment, you add to the eyestrain and repetitive motion issues by using an electronic device.
On my darker, more negative days when I feel out of synch with all the technological advances in our society, I positively long for a good, solid, real book. And so, my husband re-won my love, affection, and gratitude recently–he ordered a new book for me to read. I could feel my excitement building as I ripped open the box it arrived in and unwrapped the book from the bubble wrap (yes, I secretly have this obsession with popping the bubbles–that adds to the joy).
I held that book for just a few moments. I caressed the cover and ran my fingers over the slightly raised letters in the main title of the book. I pondered with curiosity the relationship of the secondary title to the main title. I flipped the book over and read the summary and critiques.
Because it was late in the day, I made sure the kids were headed to bed. I filled my cup with something to keep my mouth moist. I threw some throw pillows on the couch and pulled out my favorite blanket. It is blue polyester trimmed and covered with unicorns; I have treasured and protected it through college, graduate school, a bad marriage, and nearly a decade of being a single parent. My parents got it for my 12th birthday. I turned the light to just brighter than a night light but not as bright as daylight.
I proceeded to curl up and begin to read. At first, the transition from electronic to hard copy was difficult. I had a hard time focusing and my page turning was clunky. As the new book smell of paper and ink wafted into my nose and the ideas lept from the page to turn somersaults in my brain and wrestle with my experience, my physical mechanics of reading got better and better. Turning the page became an exciting expression of completion with a devout wish for more. I kept going until I finished the entire book two hours later.
There truly is something to be said for the act of reading a real book, for processing the ideas at my speed and not a machine’s, for reading the book my way and not in the path the programmer of the web page picked. The physicality of reading a real book–the smell of paper and ink, the pressure of my thumb and index finger around a page I’m turning–seems to imprint the ideas more deeply in my mind.
So, someday, we’ll be in a museum together, and the power will go out. The backup generator will not work, and you won’t be able to find me. I will have wandered in the darkness with just the backlight of my cell phone to the gift shop. You will find the gift shop missing a few items: beeswax candles, a cheesy lighter made in China, and several books.
When the power finally comes on, I will have devoured two or three books by candlelight and have started yet another. I may even have fallen asleep. You will find me curled up near the fossilized remains of the dodo.