Monday, November 9, 2009

Technology or Not Technology

Grams loves books! Anyone who knows Grams even a little bit knows that I am an avid reader. I love to read almost anything.

I remember distinctly the first time I could recognize the words "See Spot run" in my first grade primer Fun With Dick and Jane. To be able to see printed words and to understand what those words meant when I saw them on the printed page was pure magic. I was hooked from the very beginning!

Sometime shortly after my first grade year, sets of World Book, Childcraft and Golden Book Encyclopedias appeared at our house. I suspect that my Aunt Nava bought them because I know that such an investment would probably have been too large of an expense for my parents. I spent many hours poring through these books. I especially loved the Golden Books. They were beautifully illustrated and written for children and I wish I had them today. Childcraft was full of fun experiments and good instructions for hobbies and kept me busy many summers. And for several years those were pretty much my only books. I learned nursery rhymes and fairy tales from reading them over and over again. I used those encyclopedias well into my teens.

In 1964 when my family moved to Corpus Christi I discovered something new to add to my reading enjoyment ... the bookmobile. I knew about libraries, although I don't remember ever going to the library before our move. But to a 10-year-old girl in a new city where I didn't know anyone, the bookmobile was a godsend.

That summer, every other week, the bookmobile would drive up to the recreation center right around the corner from my house and open its doors from 9 a.m. until noon. This was when I got my first library card. Before I could borrow books, my mother had to take me downtown to the big La Retama Public Library and get me a library card. Books became my new best friend! The bookmobile introduced me to The Bobbsey Twins, The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I learned about adventures with The Island of the Blue Dolphins and The Call of the Wild. I don't recall many of the other books I read that summer, but I do remember being consumed by reading to the point where my mother would occasionally nudge me out the door to go outside and play. I can point to that summer as the beginning of my lifelong love affair with books.

As a teenager I discovered trashy novels. I'm pretty sure I would have been in big trouble if my mother had known what was contained within the pages of Harold Robbins' books, and The Carpetbaggers and A Stone for Danny Fisher which I read around the age of 14. After high school I discovered romance novels. I started with Harlequin Romances but soon advanced to such notorious bodice-rippers as Nora Roberts, Johanna Lindsey and Kathleen E. Woodiwiss.

Although I still occassionally indulge in a trashy romance novel, I like to think my reading has evolved. Thanks to the influence of my son-in-law, who is a high school English teacher with very sophisticated taste in books, and the Book Snobs (my ladies book club), I now read a wide variety of books including bestsellers, classic literature, mysteries, Victorian novels, biographies, almost anything.

I love the tactile nature of holding a book in my hand and leafing through the pages. I like the way books smell. I like the idea that other people have read this exact same book and then passed it on for someone else to enjoy. I love walking into someone's house and looking at the books on their bookshelves. I like to pick up a book that was printed more than a hundred years ago and know that it has been read by generation after generation of people. A big part of the joy of reading is sharing books. There is nothing I enjoy more than reading a book and passing it on to a friend or acquaintance for them to enjoy.

Keeping my nightstand from being buried by books is a constant challenge. I'm not even a "book saver." I don't keep most books, I read them and pass them on or sell them at Half Price Books to get more books. But still it would be very easy to turn into one of those people whose house is defined by stacks of books, magazines and newspapers.

A couple of years ago, my kids gave me an MP3 player and a subscription to Audible.com. Since then I do at least half of my reading by listening to books on my MP3 player while I'm driving. I thoroughly enjoy it and have listened to books that I would probably never get around to sitting down and reading.

For quite some time now I've been looking at and reading reviews of the Kindle and now the new Nook. I must admit I love the idea of instantly downloading books to such a device and of having all my books in one lightweight and easy to carry electronic device. I'm attracted to the idea of less clutter. I've considered asking for one for Christmas or my birthday.

Here is the conundrum. It won't feel like a book; it won't smell like a book; you can't share it like a book; and it won't actually be a book. You can still tell your friends about it and encourage them to read it, but you can't hand it to them and say, "I really enjoyed this and I want to share it with you." I think that's at least half the fun of reading. I'm not quite sold on this new technological approach to books. So, for now at least, I'm sticking with my stacks and bags of actual hard-copy printed books. I'll keep my clutter in order to keep the joy of sharing books with my friends.

I'd be interested to know what you think, especially if you already own an electronic device for books. Should I leap into the 21st century or stay safely ensconced in my clutter?

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