Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Pleasure of Paper, of Holding a Book Shared by Many Others Over Time

In my reading hands at the moment is an old fashioned hard copy, from my local library, of E. L. Doctorow's masterfully wrought The Waterworks. Before that, I'd reconnected, not reading her since childhood, with Mary Roberts Rinehart, being held in thrall by her nifty tale, The Bat. I'd fled to Rinehart for a guaranteed good read after giving up, at page 184, on one of my favorite authors, Henry James — how could so great a pen turn out so tediously trying a work as The Ambassadors?

Why do I resist the iPad, when sometimes I admire it from afar in the hands of others in cafes, on buses? Up close, as I again found it to be a few days ago at Best Buy (wanting, really wanting, to get myself an electronic toy — okay, to impress somebody, too), the latest iPad, as those before it, looks to me like a cross between a high tech lab measuring device – and a piece of fine crystalline jewelry.

A real book is so individual, so historical in the wear of its pages, some fresh and new, others worn with creases at the top edges were previous readers stopped for a break. And I will add a few more creases as well. Each book, all together as varied as a crowd of people, bears a unique look in cover design art, in the layout of words across the pages, the chapter headers, the font style.

And perhaps, best of all, a book forces me to settle into a relationship with one object. I do not relish sharing my reads with a million other apps lurking under the screen, with the purr of the device teasing me to check my e-mail or do a quick search for something buzzing about in the corner of my distracted mind. The personal concentration of holding a book in my hand is lost.

A few weeks ago, I decided that every day around noon, after spending the morning on writing projects, I would shut down my PC, and what a relief. I am forced, in lieu of being drawn stupidly and addictively back and back to my computer, to consider other non-PC projects, like reading old fashioned books. Like cleaning up the clutter. Like laboring over my model roller coaster to see if somehow, someday, I can make it never never ever derail again. Around five, my computer is allowed back into my life.

I am starting to look forward to my new electronic-free afternoons.

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