Maybe I’m an anachronism, but it still feels different reading words from a screen. Maybe it’s the long years of reading them from a book with bound pages made of paper. There’s an intimacy between me and a book that I just don’t feel with a computer or an iPhone. I’ll spend days studying a book, absorbing all it has to offer. Books on my shelves feel like close friends. Humans have loved books for at more than a millennium, and scrolls before that. Screens are new.
|Trinity College, Dublin|
I just purchased my first Kindle book, but I only did so because it’s out of print. I searched for a hard copy, but I really want to read it and it’s not available in any other form right now. Though I’ve only read a little, I’m sorry I don’t own it in hard copy. I can’t mark it up by underlining powerful passages with my pen or a highlighter. I won’t be able to close it on my finger and think about a poignant line or paragraph. I cannot turn to the book jacket and look at a picture of its author to help me get a feel for the person who weaved all those words together.
|Illustration from Book of Kells|
Library books I avoid, especially if they’re non-fiction because I can’t mark up a book that doesn’t belong to me. I may check out a novel because they’re a one-off — read and discard. If it’s a particularly good novel from the library, I’ll look for a used copy on Amazon or at a yard sale after reading it just so I can pass it on to someone. Seldom do I make a mark in a novel. If it’s a great line or paragraph, I will underline or highlight — only as a compliment to the novelist I want to next reader to see. I won’t write in the margin because the work belongs to the novelist. It’s not for me to add or subtract from what he or she has created.
My reading pattern has been non-fiction during the day and a novel at night. A lot of my non-fiction is online in the form of news and commentary. I’m a news junkie and I check various news aggregator sites several times a day. I like reading news online also because the stories are interactive: I can comment on what I read. If I get to a story late and there are more than a couple of dozen comments already, I won’t add mine. Sometimes the comments following a piece are more erudite than the piece itself. At night, however, I prefer to be carried away in another plot from somebody else’s world before sleep takes me.
While I can read a book all day for several days, I can't read from a screen very long. After a few hours, I just want to close the laptop and do something else — something physical, usually, or maybe pick up a book. It just feels like a better way to take in information from a biography or an historical novel.
Some of my closest friends disdain novels because they’re fiction. They’re incapable of suspending disbelief and think fiction a waste of time. Occasionally I’ll plead that a good novel can be more real than non-fiction, that we can know what a character is thinking and feeling in a dramatic situation. The novelist is pouring himself or herself out through a character in ways he or she would never do autobiographically, I claim, but I cannot persuade them.
Though I like reading it, I’ve never tried writing fiction. Perhaps I will someday, but I’ve never gotten the urge. Perhaps someday I’ll be inspired, I don’t know. Another thing: I’ve never read fiction online. I know it exists there, but I don’t choose to access it with an electronic device and I’m not sure why.
Most books have a smell and I like that. Computers do not. New books with shiny paper have their own pleasant smell. The paper mills producing that paper have an unpleasant smell, but that same paper bound up in a book exudes an agreeable fragrance. Go figure. Old books have their own smell too — a kind of musty smell not unlike my late grandmother’s apartment. The musty-smelling books’ authors are probably dead by the time I’m reading their words, but their thoughts live on as they join with mine.
|They wouldn't let me take pictures when I saw the actual Book of Kells at Trinity College|
Reading from a computer screen, I always have the option of clicking on something else. There’s a certain stress associated with that — the temptation to move on to something that might be more interesting produces a kind of tension. Sometimes we have too may choices here in the 21st century. With a book however, that option isn’t there. I go where the author wants to take me. I can relax and look out the window while he or she does the driving to wherever he or she wants to go.