About six years ago I purchased an Amazon Kindle, which is a small electronic gizmo that allows you to read books on a screen. The device can store thousands of volumes in its microchip memory, and these volumes are known as e-books. This term means “electronic books,” but I think it really comes from people’s reactions when they open their credit card bills and exclaim, “E-gads! How many books did I download last month?!”
After spending about $100 for the Kindle, I didn’t want to spend another ten or twelve bucks for each book I downloaded, so I focused primarily on books that were old enough to be in the “public domain.” In other words, I could download these books for free.
I read many books by Dickens, H.G. Wells, Mark Twain, and even Shakespeare. Back when I was reading these books, my wife pointed out that I was finally doing the high school homework assignments I was supposed to do in 1974. She’s right. When I was 17 and required to read those books, it seemed like torture. I chose instead to call my girlfriend (now my wife) the night before a test and beg her to summarize the book for me. (Some people had Cliff Notes; I had Joyce Notes.) But many decades later, as a middle-aged schlep, I discovered that reading these classics was a lot of fun. Not having to worry about taking a test, the results of which could ruin my chances of getting into college, may have been a major reason why I enjoyed it.
However, after six years and hundreds of books (OK, OK, dozens of books), I have come to a startling realization: I am sick and tired of reading books on a glowing screen.
It’s not that I can’t see the print; I can see it fine. It’s just that I miss having a hunk of paper in my hands, with real pages that I can turn, rather than swiping my finger across a screen.
I miss using Post-it notes for bookmarks. I miss being able to quickly see how many pages I have left in a chapter. I miss grabbing a red pen and underlining an inspiring passage and scribbling some notes in the margin. Yes, I realize that Kindles and iPads allow you to create electronic bookmarks and highlight passages and insert little pop-up boxes with your personal notes, but it’s just not the same. Besides needing to take an advanced software class just to learn how to activate these clever little features, using electronic bookmarks and creating little pop-up boxes feels too much like being at my job.
Where I work, I have to use electronic gizmos all day long, including synchronizing my email folders and my appointment calendar to my iPhone and iPad; connecting to the office’s network and printers via wifi; and programing the phone system to automatically send voice messages to my cell phone via audio files attached to email notes. It seems every three days something is being upgraded or modified, and a whole new learning curve must be climbed. Many weeks I spend more time being trained how to use electronic devices than I spend doing my job.
So, when it’s time to relax and enjoy a good book, I want it to be a low-tech experience. I want a hunk of paper in my hands. Now obviously, I don’t want to destroy an entire forest to print up a pile of books just for me. If only there was a place in town with a collection of books people could borrow. Wouldn’t that be great? Someone should look into it.