Thursday, January 20, 2011

Words on a Page

Do you remember the first time you acquired a treasured object? There are many things around my home that people have given me or I have purchased that bring me joy, but my favorites are the tattered copies of paperback books that fill our shelves to overflowing. These will never be featured on any first-edition booksellers lists, but they are important to me. And there are some I can never give away.

My book-love started early. I remember my first purchase. We were walking through the shops at the Gulf coast resort town on Seaside, still in its infancy. I was probably 6 years old, and since I grew up only an hour or so from the Florida coast, it may have been just a day trip. My childhood friend Jami was with me. She's the one who taught me to keep my blonde locks from turning green by soaking them with Pantence conditioner. But that didn't last long -- I was only blonde until about third grade. At least for that moment, we were two blonde suntanned beach-going little girls on a summer morning. We both liked books.

As we wandered through a wonderful open-air bookshop (I'm not sure Sundog even existed back then), I picked up a paperback copy of Scott O'Dell's The Island of the Blue Dolphins. The purple cover and female protagonist caught me instantly, but the story captured me forever. I still have that book, just like I still have a battered Weekly Reader edition of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice I acquired in seventh grade by mail-order. It has a purple cover, too.

Ever since, I've loved browsing bookstores and looking at titles, reading great reviews, handling books, picking them up, flipping through the pages and checking out the cover art. Staff picks are usually worth a look. What is it about reading a dust jacket on a gem of a hardback book in Goodwill or perusing the literature sections of a Barnes and Noble that always make me giddy? I just love books. The smell, the feel of the paper, the weight of it in your hands.

In the midst of my adoration of the printed word, here comes the onward march of the e-reader. For Christmas, my wonderful parents got me a fourth generation ipod Tourch. And what's one of the first free applications I downloaded? Yes. The Kindle App. How hypocritical of me.

I'm torn, honestly. I read a few chapters of Dicken's A Christmas Carol over the vacation to get a feel for the thing. (Hey, it was free.) Obviously, an iPod screen is much smaller than an actual e-reader, but you can adjust the font and I was comfortable constantly scrolling. It was nice to read short bits while keeping an eye on the kiddos. And knowing I could pick out almost any book I wanted instantly if I only had the money is a nice bonus. Plus, now you can borrow books from your friends who also have Kindles! Cool! One of my friends received a Kindle as a new-mom gift from her husband which I think is quite brilliant. She says it's great for nursing because you can hold it in one hand. Unlike my paperbacks, which I always seemed to drop while trying to get my baby fed. So I resorted to TV.

The more expensive B&N Nook Color, while it is still a great reader on its own, especially for magazines and children's books, also functions the same as a tablet computer and is way more affordable than the iPad. Or so I've heard.

Still, I returned home after my sojourn into the world of electronic novels and picked up a copy of a book that had been sitting, hidden amongst my collection, on a jam-packed shelf crammed with too many others of its kind. Perhaps it is the book itself that captured me, the level voice and soothing descriptions of the rolling hills and rivers of Kentucky. Maybe it was enjoying the wonderful surprises and turns of phrase that you discover in reading a new author. Perhaps. But there's something about turning the pages at night, staying warm under the covers with a lamp nearby, that just isn't the same if you're looking at a glowing screen.

And so I have been obsessed with this most recent read, devouring long chapters at a time, reading late into the night, absorbed completely in the world of Port William while my iPod sits above me, resting idly on the shelf behind our bed. Yes, some of you have guessed -- the author is Wendell Berry, the famed agrarian and lover of simpler things. I'm still not sure how it took me this long to read any of his works--I won't make excuses here--but I am simply loving every second I have spent in the pages of Jayber Crow.

I finished the final chapter during the snowstorm last week. It was a fitting way to absorb those final, touching moments, and I was glad for the chance to enjoy some leisure reading time (mostly uninterrupted) during the afternoons and late evenings, while a rare white blanket covered the world outside my window.

So, for now, my allegiance lies with real books. Words on a page, not a screen. Somehow it is fitting that Mr. Berry reminded me of my first love. He's a principled Luddite, refusing even to buy himself a computer. I do see the irony in typing this out on a keyboard and knowing people may very well read it on their phones. But still, books are my one holdout to technology. Say what you will, but I always hope to have a full library.

P.S. Please don't tell me Mr. Berry bought himself a Nook. I'd be heartbroken.


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