A book in the hand is worth two wireless reading devices

Pam
Pam Frampton
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"A book reads the better which is our own, and has been so long known to us, that we know the topography of its blots, and dog's ears, and can trace the dirt in it to having read it at tea with buttered muffins."
- Charles Lamb, English poet and essayist (1774-1834)

Summer days as a kid, I used to head for the woods. A heavy book tucked under my arm, I'd climb over our steep back fence and take the well-worn dirt path to an old abandoned well.
There were gaps in the weathered planks that covered it, but it was still solid enough to sit on or, better yet, to lie on - the silvery-grey boards warm against your spine as you held "Macbeth" or "Black Beauty" or "Alice in Wonderland" in front of your face to block out the glare of the sun.
Clouds scudded across the blue sky and the heat of the day brought out the spicy incense of spruce needles and sap, warm earth and ferns. You could hear the water trickling by underneath you and hear small birds chirp and flit through trees, camouflaged by dappled light.
And you could smell the faint mustiness of pages thin as onion skin, feel the fine nubbly texture of the book's cover, trace the indentations of your father's signature in blue ink on the title page and marvel at how many people in the world had read this same story before you, and how many would read it after.
Later, as a teenager, I would stretch out on a well-worn blanket on the lumpy grass of our backyard and devour stacks and stacks of Harlequins, their cheap pages sullied by greasy fingerprints made by baby oil and suntan lotion, snickering at the predictability of protagonist and plot, but secretly hoping my own life would unfold in the same crescendo of passion and intrigue and adventure.
And eventually there was university, schlepping across campus hunched over with the weight of a leaden knapsack, knowing every sharp corner of every hardcover tome digging into my back and wondering if there would ever come a time when I would walk through life upright.

Tactile experience
The physicality of books then - as now - was a vital part of the reading experience. The heft of them in your hands; the refinement of the cloth cover inside the glossy dust jacket; the embossed lettering and handcut pages.
It's a fact that most people do judge books by their covers - books appeal to our eyes, our nose and our sense of touch. Reading is a tactile, sensuous experience, as well as an emotional and intellectual one.
Which is why, while I can appreciate the convenience of various recently introduced "wireless reading devices," I also feel a slight sense of foreboding.
Will a 10.2-ounce handheld electronic "reader" replace honest-to-goodness books? Will their crisp reading screens, scrolling text and tasteful grey fonts replace the pleasure of holding bound volumes, of turning individual paper pages while filled with a delicious sense of anticipation, excitement or dread of what is to come?
Will electronic versions of books downloaded to your reading device within 60 seconds of purchase match the satisfaction of finding a sought-after novel in a bookstore, or stumbling upon a slightly crumbling first edition at a flea market, or rereading a book you studied in school and rediscovering juvenile observations jotted in the margins in a girlish, loopy hand?
Not for me. Never for me.

To each her own
Now, I would say to members of the younger generation that you can keep your amazing "next generation" Kindles and your eBooks, and I'll stick to my old-fashioned paper, ink and glue, but I don't think it's simply a matter of new age vs. middle age, or a love of high tech vs. Luddism.
I don't even think conventional books are under huge threat - yet. Not everyone has the $250 it costs for a wireless reading device, not to mention the subsequent price you pay for every book you download.
Instead, I think that just as some people would embrace the concept of popping a magic capsule every day to take care of their dietary needs - thus freeing up the time and effort it takes to prepare real food - there are people who simply prefer the convenience of modern technology. After all, it's much easier to have a book delivered to your reading device than it is to poke through a bookstore looking for something - that is, if you live somewhere that has a bookstore.
And there's nothing wrong with practicality - Kindles and eBooks can be taken anywhere, allowing people to have several volumes with them at once without having to shoulder all that weight.
But there are some of us who view reading like cooking - that while there's a lot to be said for convenience and saving time, sometimes the slower, more laborious process is, in the end, the most rewarding.
Looking around my living room at the stacks of books is a little like being on "This Is Your Life" - there are volumes that have been with me forever, as well as newer acquaintances. Some of them have ideas that clash with each other, and some have had a greater impact than others - it's like being in a room filled with people you love.
And you can't get that from plastic and batteries and 16 shades of grey.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram's story editor. She can be reached by e-mail at pframpton@thetelegram.com. Read her columns online at www.thetelegram.com.

Geographic location: Wonderland

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Recent comments

  • Andrew
    July 02, 2010 - 13:28

    Oh come on - we know you hate technology and development in downtown St. John's, when's the column regarding the end of society as we know it coming?

    The Kindle and other portable book readers are great tools and I would prefer them over traditional books in a second, if only because of the portability. Thousands of books in your hand - and I've been reading (paper) books for years.

  • william a.
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    great article on the sensual experience and intellectual uplift of paper books. Bacon said, some books are to be tasted, others relished and others completely digested. Keep on writing , Pam.

  • Andrew
    July 01, 2010 - 20:16

    Oh come on - we know you hate technology and development in downtown St. John's, when's the column regarding the end of society as we know it coming?

    The Kindle and other portable book readers are great tools and I would prefer them over traditional books in a second, if only because of the portability. Thousands of books in your hand - and I've been reading (paper) books for years.

  • william a.
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    great article on the sensual experience and intellectual uplift of paper books. Bacon said, some books are to be tasted, others relished and others completely digested. Keep on writing , Pam.