Programmed for Paper

I’m programmed for paper.
Both my parents were avid readers, and they raised my sister and me to be the same way.
Our house was always full of books and magazines. As a child, I’d always buy five or more books each summer, read them, and then swap them around the neighborhood, anxious to get my hands on more. More books. More paper.
Also, my dad was in advertising, and one benefit of the job was he’d receive every magazine his ads were in. We probably got twenty-five or thirty magazines each month. I never knew the magazines came because of his job. I thought everyone got them, that houses came with magazines.
So, I grew up reading. I was never one to fold a page down to keep my place, but I’d often lay a book or magazine down, spread open to the page I was on. Occasionally I’d even use a bookmark.
At age sixty-four, I bought an iPad, and when preparing for a trip, I downloaded Kindle and got a few free books. I never read them, choosing instead to pack several books for the trip.
Then, a month later , I had to get my hands on a copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s Small Wonder quickly to read in time for my next book group. I looked on line and found a used copy that would cost me only about four dollars, shipped. But it would take about a week for me to get, maybe longer if the shipper was slow. So I took a deep breath and did it: I bought the Kindle version for around $11.
Never thought I’d do it, but I have to say it was interesting. I really liked that I could turn the machine off, but when I went back to read again, it would open to the page where I’d left off. Too many times, with a paper book, I neglect to put the book down properly, and set it instead on its back cover, and it promptly closes, losing my spot. Kindle never forgot what page I was on.
I also liked that I could read at night without a light on! Fabulous. The Kindle is back lit, easy to read in the dark. When I wanted to stop, I’d simply close the cover on my iPad.
But a Kindle is not paper. I like the feel of a book in my hands. I like the smell of paper. I like turning pages, and I like bookmarks. I even like laying the book down, spread wide, holding my place for me.
I usually have a book or in the car, for in case I’m early arriving somewhere, stuck in traffic, or if I see a sweet park or shady rest area and feel the need to read for awhile. Carrying my iPad is just as easy, except I can’t leave it in a hot car for the afternoon as I can an old paperback. I have to always carry it with me if I want a book on hand.
I like that I can leave a book out on the front porch and no one will steal it. Can’t imagine leaving my iPad out for a day or two. And if it rains? Paper is reasonably forgiving, and although the pages may be warped and wavy, I can still read my book. My iPad would drown for sure.
One of the things I like best about paperbacks is finding them used. I can roam the thrift shop or stop at a yard sale, and often as not I leave with a book or two. Or three. And if I enjoy reading the book, I always know someone to pass it on to.
It is such a joy to find a good mystery for a quarter, or even better, for a dime. And it is a joy to pass a book on. E-books will sit on my iPad forever, or at least until I delete them, but I’ll never find one at a yard sale, and I’m not about to loan out my iPad for a week so a friend can read the book. I’ll never find an e-book for a dime.
I like the look of a bookshelf covered with books. I love to go into the home of a friend who is a book lover. I gravitate to the bookshelf, gazing at titles, pulling off interesting books, negotiating a loan. How do you do that with e-books? They sit on a tablet. They don’t line a shelf, leaning to the side or propped up with a brick or a vase or a pile of books stacked on their backs.
Something is lost with an e-book. True, you can carry a dozen or so books in one small tablet. Or a hundred if you so choose. But to touch a book, to finger the cover, to flip it over and read the back cover nurtures my soul. In a moment I can keep the book or put it back, based on holding it in my hand and seeing if it speaks to me. To pick up a book that someone else has read, see the worn pages and read notes someone else has written in the margin feeds me in a way the pages of an e-book never could.
I fear the day there are fewer of those dime and quarter books in the thrift store, fewer because people are buying e-books. I’m sure book publishers fear that, too.
I also fear our children will not learn to love books and magazines and newspapers. One of my earliest memories is of “helping” my dad read the paper by pointing out the few words I knew. I was three, and I would pick up his newspaper, scanning for “the” or “and” or “to.” I’m sure that can be done on a tablet, but part of reading a paper is folding it, arranging it so the story I want to read is centered in front of me.
I enjoyed Small Wonder. I found I could highlight sections of the e-book – and some mysterious popup would sometimes happen telling me that three others had highlighted the same section. That connected me, in a way, to other readers. But it’s still not the same. I want that book on my shelf. I want to loan it out and have it come back. I want to touch the paper, smell that delicious book smell, and lay it down spread open to save the page I’m on.

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