Tuesday, March 26, 2013

love and the paper(back) reader

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“Dreams are like paper: they tear so easily”     Gilda Radner
 My daughter said the most amazing thing to me the other day, completely unsolicited:

“Mom, I love the smell of paper! I love the way it feels and sounds and smells. Especially old paper. There’s nothing like it.”

Amazing. Especially in this electronic age.

When she got her Kindle Fire a few years ago, it seemed like a perfect solution for her voracious book habit. Downloading books was an inexpensive and convenient thrill, an acceptable form of instant gratification. But e-reading wasn’t as satisfying for her. She wanted to hold her books in her hand, feel their heft, turn the pages, put them on her shelves and revisit them, even when it means spending her own allowance.

So she gave her Kindle Fire to me.

I didn’t think I would like it. I have a love affair with paper books, too. I knew I would marry my husband when I saw two obscure books on his bachelor book shelf that were duplicates of ones I owned. It’s reassuring that, without intent, we have passed this love of books to our daughter.  

When I started reading Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” a month (or so) ago, I thought I would rip through it quickly. But I had trouble staying focused. It was a small cheap paperback from my husband’s high school days (original cost = $.65), printed in a tiny crowded font on jaundiced paper. I liked the thought of reading a classic in a classic form, but in reality it was unfriendly.

Then I discovered I could download it for free onto the Kindle from Amazon. Eureka! I had to admit, this e-reader thing was pretty darn convenient. And easy on the eyes. Highly punctuated archaic sentences are much friendlier in large black type on a white background. I still haven’t made it completely through “the best of times” and “the worst of times,” but thanks to the Kindle I finally made it to Paris.

In the meantime, I needed something light and contemporary to read as a companion piece. A colleague recommended Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible.”  It was easy enough to download and quite affordable on the Kindle. I read it while waiting in the carpool line, waiting for dance class to end, waiting for the train to pass, waiting for dinner to cook, waiting to want to read Dickens again. And sometimes I just sat in a chair across the room from my family and read when I wasn’t waiting on anything.  

I loved Barbara Kingsolver’s voice, swam in the story, cringed at some of the familiar elements, admired her construction. I wanted more and I wanted it immediately. So for a mere $1.99, I downloaded her first book “The Bean Trees.” Delightful freshman novel, over too quickly, and -  again – easily downloaded onto the Kindle.

Buying books on the go at a moment’s whim is a dream come true for a lifelong bookworm. Except when you forget to charge the battery. Then all that lovely literature is locked inside a dark and heedless shell. Back to the shelf….

My daughter recently made her way through the popular mythological novels and some of the dystopian Young Adult fiction, and needed a new read. A friend gave her the first of Cassandra Clare’s “The Mortal Instruments” books for her birthday. She plowed through four of them in less than three months, while keeping up her school reading, and often begged for the next book before the current one was done.

After she devoured the forth book in the Mortal Instruments series, I thought she needed some balance. I told her I would spring for the next book as long as she read some classic literature in between. She chose “The Hobbit.”

But not just any version. She was enchanted by a small, leather-bound volume with vellum pages, ribbon bookmarks, and a Tolkien-esque charm build right in. It is the kind of book you grow old with, and was only $9 more than the bulky paperback version. I suppose we could have checked it out from the library, but I’m such a romantic sap that saying “yes” to my daughter’s love of paper books was an easy thing to do.

The language of “The Hobbit” has proven challenging to my daughter, who is used to taking two or three books at a time at a steady clip. She got a little restless. Rather than let “The Hobbit” degrade from brilliant fiction to a stumbling block, we put it on hold and she moved on to another classic novel: “Watership Down.” It still isn’t as easy a read as the contemporary science fantasy or dystopian novels she loves, but it’s good. She said it’s like (quote) “Downton Abbey for rabbits.”

This afternoon, waiting for our dinner to be ready, we sat across the table from one another reading, she with “Watership Down,” I with my 50th Anniversary edition of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  

We could have spent that time talking, true. Had my husband been in town we would have done just that, as we don’t generally encourage reading at the table.

But we were both fresh from work and school, stopping for dinner on the way to a dance performance. We needed a break from the spoken word, from electronics, from the hustle and bustle.

So there we sat  - a mother and daughter with not only our love of story and of books, but with a loving understanding and appreciation of one for the other.

And for the silky whisper of the turning page.

I'll keep reading on the Kindle. Like other tools, e-readers have their place and open the market to writers as never before. But call me old-fashioned - an electronic device will never take the place of a book in my hand, tagged in the margin with notes, dog-eared, and shared with a friend. 

Or a daughter.

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