A coworker commented the other day how much she liked my reading “mudflap girl” decal on my car. After work, as I paused to appreciate it again, I realized that the sticker was obsolete. I need one reading a Kindle, now. I made the switch in July after taking a test drive of Scott’s through a whole book and finding out that I really liked it. Prior to that, I’d been reluctant to consider going digital, which is kind of funny given the gadgets I’ve collected over the years, but then again, I still buy stationery and write with pens. How was I going to dog-ear pages that held bits of wisdom I wanted to be able to find again? Turns out, there’s a feature for that. And I love my Kindle.
I love not having to keep track of my bookmark. It’s always on the page where I left it. I won’t have to buy anymore bookshelves (which I don’t have room for anyway) because Kindles hold thousands of books. I don’t have the guilt pangs of seeing a growing stack of unread books piling up on my nightstand; they discreetly wait their turn on the device. And physically, reading is easier, because a short novel and a 500-pager weigh exactly the same and can be handled by one hand; my wrists are happier, as are my eyes. When my eyes are tired, I can bump up the print size; this’ll come in even handier as my eyes age with the rest of me.
The one thing I don’t like about it (and this was pure genius on the part of Amazon) is that I can no longer share books with friends, because to do so would be to be without my Kindle for however it longs to take them to read it. All I can do is give recommendations. Which is kind of a bummer, because people who are readers like to share what they read with their other reader friends. The other thing I don’t like is that they just dropped the price to almost half of what I paid just three months ago. Natch.
I think I heard the complaint most recently from Scott, but I hear it all the time, about how people don’t read anymore. I tend to think that’s not true. I think probably the same percentage of the population are avid readers since literacy and public libraries became widespread. People cite TV and computers and videogames as the things that prevent reading, but I watched TV every day growing up, and most days now, and am on the computer constantly, and yet I still read, and always have been a reader. Granted, my experience is not everyone’s, but I suspect that most readers are curious, and take in information via all available media; for those who love books, and love learning, those other things are an addition, not a replacement.
I think being a lover of books is equal parts natural inclination and positive exposure. Some people are hooked early, and some people are grateful to graduate from school so they can leave reading behind. The latter were never touched by the magic of books, of a library full of any kind of adventure you could think up, I guess. They do not know the bittersweetness of being in the middle of a bookstore, feeling a little sad that you’ll never be able to read ALL the books that interest you, let alone all the books there are, in a single lifetime.
I was one of the early ones. I don’t actually remember a time when I couldn’t read; my mom tells me I was reading before kindergarten. In 1st grade, I was in a combined 1st-2nd-grade classroom, and quickly worked my way through the SRA cards. (Remember those?) Ms. Ricci had the 2nd-graders doing book reports, and for every one they did, they got one of those sticky dots on a shape (it changed periodically—sometimes it was a feather, sometimes a Christmas tree or Easter egg) with their name on it on the bulletin board. I can’t understand what the appeal of those little sticky dots was for me, but knowing myself after long acquaintance, it was quite probably the recognition factor. I imagined that the world was dying to laud those who amassed a bunch sticky dots representing the impressive number of books they’d read, and I wanted to be among the laureate. So being the proto-nerd I was, I begged my teacher to let me do book reports, too. She was no doubt baffled by such a request, but as it harmed none, she made me a feather, too, and I was on the road to being the sticky dot valedictorian.
What can I say? 6-year-olds are naive.
By 4th-grade, book reports had lost their shine, and I’d already figured out that any moron could write a decent book report by reading the information on the back cover or dust jacket flaps. I still read, but book reports were a waste of my time, and I completed them in the aforementioned manner. I’d moved on to bigger and better things: I hung out in the school library every chance I got, including after school, with Sister Aquinata, who was surprised to hear “I already read that,” when she suggested Little Women to me. I once stayed so late that I decided it would be a good idea to call my mom to come pick me up from school, since she’d already be home from work. Instead I got yelled at, because I was supposed to be home taking care of my little brother, not hanging out at the library. That was a loooooong walk home that day.
When I became a teacher, I learned that a lot of kids are big readers, but adolescence often interrupts that, and some never return to it. Which is too bad, because I’m convinced that academic success belongs to readers. Readers are exposed to so much, not the least of which being language, that they have the prior knowledge necessary to make the acquisition of new knowledge easier. You get the allusions; you have the vocabulary to figure out new words and make connections to foreign languages. And maybe, you learn to trust books as valid sources of information, and are more receptive to them in general. Schools are tough places to be if you’re not a fan of books and reading. I used to tell my study skills students that I could teach them all kinds of tricks and strategies, but reading regularly was the best thing they could do for themselves if they wanted to improve in school. I don’t know that I sold anyone with that spiel, but I know it’s true. Reading made me the insufferable brainiac I am today. And I will stand up straight, push my glasses back up my nose, and wear that label with pride.
It is reading that has transported me, challenged me, comforted me, explained things to me, and developed in me the love of the written word; I’m a writer because I am a reader. Reading looks different now, thanks to technology, but I’m still the same reader I’ve always been; even when I’m messing around on the internet, most of what I’m doing is reading blogs and articles and conversation threads. Oh…and adding virtual sticky dots to my Shelfari bookshelf.
Old compulsions die hard.
So what about you? What’s your relationship to books and reading? Old friends or nemeses? Old school or digital?