by Howie Good
They discussed in hoarse whispers the enigma of the blue
guitar. I wasn’t there. I hadn’t been born yet.
this is what we've been waiting for
I’ve wrestled with the notion of the e-reader for the past few years. I admit, at first I was like, No. Way. No friggin’ way. Nope. No. No, no, NO! It seemed impossible to compare a sterile flat screen with the physical book that has a cover announcing what it is and is filled with pages that have a feel and a smell. Trading off a book for a device just wasn’t possible for me in the early days of the e-reader.
Yet I understand this amazing modern age. I’ve reconciled uneasily with how fast life is changing bacause it’s work to keep up. I understand if you can’t keep up with what’s new, you’re old school but in a really uncool, awkward way. If you can’t keep up you miss out.
My feelings about the e-reader changed when I saw my young son lugging a backpack filled with textbooks older than he is. Now there’s a good reason for an e-reader. Text books, especially college text books, would be perfect in an electronic format because they can be updated quickly, subjects can be linked easily for further references and the dire need for those ridiculous backpacks with wheels will hopefully go away. Forever.
Environmentally? Sure! Let’s save the trees! I see the upside to keeping forests intact although honestly, I give little thought to the trees when I am immersed in a great book.
I have seen people with the e-reader. It doesn’t really grab me like, Oh my gosh there’s an e-reader! It’s just another electronic gadget that commands its owner’s attention so completely that those people and things surrounding him or her cease to exist.
As far as feeling that books are going to fall before the almighty e-reader the way VHS fell to DVD, I am no longer frought with despair. The birth of the e-reader is a response to what the public wants but it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the book. The e-reader has its down-sides: it needs to be plugged in to work. You can’t read it in the tub. It’s very expensive to leave at the airport.
For me, the worst thing about the e-reader is probably what makes it one of the best things: it can hold a huge number of books. Imagine, all my favorite books in one little gadget.
My favorite books are often my traveling companions. They’ve ridden with me on trains, buses, planes and smokey cars of people I barely knew. They’ve kept me company in lobbies, waiting rooms, bars, bathrooms and hallways waiting for the bathroom.
My books haven’t just kept me company, they’ve helped me find friends. I’ve met like-minded individuals who light up with, Oh, I love that book! after glancing at the the title. I’ve met equally shy people who, like me, never just say Hi but venture with a So how do you like that book? I’ve even had fantastic, heated debates with a complete stranger about the importance of Kerouac’s On the Road. How can an e-reader inspire that exchange?
My favorites books are beat-up and dog-eared with underlined passages. Occasionally there are some highlighted paragraphs and most are filled with little scribbles in the margins. All the war wounds of my books are testimony to their travel with me and my travels and travails into them. How could an electronic device compare to the life my books lead?
While feeling less threatened by the electronic reader, I admit I do despair for the future of books in future generations. These are the people who will grow up with electronic devices as the norm and might look at books as I look at a phone with a rotary dial. In the path of progress some things are, unfortunately, lost along the way.
Here are some of my books that have sparked the best friendships, conversations and insights from strangers:
DIVA by Delacorta. A French novel and not a great translation, it was made into a much better movie. I took this on a bus from Boston to NYC and sat next to a musician who loved the soundtrack from the movie. We talked for the entire trip to New York.
ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac. This was the book that lead to a shouting argument on a train from Salem to Boston. It was ridiculous!
I brought the book on the train to look pretentious but the whole idea of the Beat generation, the characters and ideals, were a joke to me. Maybe I just had a hangover. Maybe the poor guy who wanted praise Kerouac reminded me of my blissed-out college professor. Whatever it was, I ended up in Boston being called an uptight, closed-minded hypocrite. The memory still makes me laugh – it’s the best part of the book for me.
THE BASKETBALL DIARIES by Jim Carroll is a great collection of poems that better defines a certain era. It is edgy and sharp. I carried this on the bus to and from work in Worcester, MA and had developed an odd group of friends who had read it. We met often for coffee and discussions after work. It takes me back to such a great time in my life.
My books are interlaced with memories, times and places that help define who I am. Could I ever get that with an e-reader?
BY LACEY N. DUNHAM
There are a lot of reasons why I never get anything done and, perhaps oddly, chronic procrastination is not among them. As a kid I procrastinated constantly on every school assignment, from a diorama of the solar system (back in the days when Pluto was still considered a planet) to math homework (I hated math) to adding the finishing touches to my “novel” in the fifth grade. Since those years, it’s become nearly impossible for me to sit still for anything except eight hours of sleep each night, and even that annoys me as I wonder why I’m wasting one-quarter of my day drooling into my pillow.
So if procrastination isn’t the problem, what is?
I blame books. I blame reading. I may, even, blame the Internet and all its magical portals that lead me to worlds far and wide (also known as the eighteen tabs I have simultaneously opened in Firefox).
I love books and reading both, so it seems unfair to blame them for my problems of never getting anything accomplished. But it’s true. Have you seen my Goodreads list? I’m usually reading several books at time, from novels to non-fiction to short story collections to poetry. No one has ever called me a one-book pony, though I sometimes wonder if I wouldn’t get more reading done by focusing on just one at a time.
With so many books being published, magazine articles to read, and blog posts to keep up with, how can I find time to clean my house? Or cook dinner? I have to squeeze reading time into every available nook and cranny in my life if I actually want to get on with my life. I go to the gym only if I can prop a book or magazine on the treadmill for company as I lumber along. While everyone else bops away on their iPods and watches “The Office” re-runs on television, I read about the rise of Cosmopolitan’s controversial femme, Helen Gurley Brown, or a fictionalized account of the pitiful American health care system. Sometimes, I even read The New Yorker. At the gym. On the treadmill. With a five pound weight in each hand. Am I a nerd? Yes. Am I a fit nerd? Hell, yes.
I live in a metropolitan city with great public transportation system (most of the time) that makes for the perfect reading time. Commuting to and from work, to dinner with friends, or to a movie, I skip the sudoku for a book instead.
Despite all my attempts to twist reading around my life, I still feel as if I’m not reading often enough to keep up. An overwhelming number of books are published each year and in the almost 600 hundred years since movable type revolutionized book printing, a nearly infinite number of ancient texts, classic works, and publisher’s backlist beckon to be read.
So I never get anything done. Although, I suppose there are worse ways to spend one’s time. At least I’m not manufacturing dynamite or playing World of Warcraft. I’ll take reading over most pursuits any day.