About books. December 30, 2010Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: books, pleasures of books, reading
Silence Dogood here. As a book editor, book writer, book collector, and lifelong book lover, I’m a bit confused, bemused, and downright aggravated by a number of developments that have been brought to my attention in the past week. I was sort of holding it all in until I got this morning’s DailyCandy e-mail. (DailyCandy is a service that tracks and promotes cool shopping sites and trends; check it out and sign up for e-mails for the latest online sites and specific cities, kids, etc. at www.dailycandy.com.) But really, this was too much.
Today’s DailyCandy e-mail was promoting, among other things, a website called BookSwim (www.bookswim.com). I quote: “Like Netflix for novels, the site lets you rent ($24-60 per month) unlimited classics, best sellers, and everything in between with free shipping and no late fees.” Um, gee, ever heard of the library?!! You could get the very same services minus the $24-60 monthly fee. Doh!!!
Then there’s the e-reader (Kindle, Nook, and the like). People say they like these devices because they’re portable. Um, so are laptops… and books. Our friend Susan recently told me that she knew two people who were addicted to these devices. One loved hers because she could take it with her and read during her daily bus commute, or if she were stuck somewhere, such as the stylist’s, for awhile. Also perfect circumstances for books. The other was addicted to virtual bookstore shopping, surfing the choices and then announcing to his wife that he’d so enjoyed his latest trip to the “bookstore.”
Well, how about Amazon, or Barnes & Noble or Borders or any of the many other bookstores with an online presence? Or how about going to a real, brick-and-mortar bookstore and checking out the selection in person? Or, again, doing your “shopping” where it’s free—in the library? Or patronizing your local used-book store for great deals on books, many of which are out-of-print and otherwise unobtainable?
I suppose it makes sense that a generation of MP3 and iPod users, brought up on downloadable music, would naturally be drawn to downloadable movies and books. But I confess, I don’t get it. I like to hold the thing I’ve paid for in my hands, to know it’s actually mine, not some virtual piece of ephemera that could vanish at the touch of a virus or some kind of massive power failure or disruption. Paying for what is ultimately online content just goes against the grain. And I really like the idea of passing along, of sharing. If I don’t like a book, DVD, or CD, or decide that one pass-through is enough, I like to pass it along to the local used-book store or used music/movie store or library free books bin. Someone else might enjoy it in their turn.
The third development in this quartet of aggravation is the “I-don’t-read” phenomenon. Our friend Rob’s son recently confessed to me that he had never read a book. How someone could reach 22 years of age without reading even one book is amazing to me, yet there it was. He spends a lot of time online, he said. He asked me how I went about reading books. He wondered if reading books might help improve his writing. He wanted to know how many pages I read at a time. But basically, he wanted to know why I bothered.
I tried to explain how books took you out of yourself into other worlds, other times. How you learned things reading that you would never have known or known to look for. How reading stimulated the imagination in a way movies and TV never could, because when you read, you create the visuals in your own mind. More, your choices in TV and movies are so limited compared to the wide world of books, where you can choose from millions of volumes in every conceivable subject. And how, yes, reading does increase your vocabulary and improve your writing (and speaking) skills.
Rob’s son is the second person I’ve met who’s told me he’s never read a book. “I can read online, instructions and so on, but I just can’t seem to get through a book. I know I should read, I buy novels, but after a page or two I just can’t go on.” This guy is 50, very smart and successful, so I guess it’s not a generational thing as I’d been tempted to assume.
Finally, a friend told me she was concerned that reading books had never really taught her anything. She’s a voracious reader, but feared that she’d been wasting her time reading for entertainment rather than acquiring valuable life lessons. After thinking it over, she could only think of a single instance when a book had had any impact on her life.
I was flabbergasted. I feel that I have learned something from every book I’ve ever read. Some books have shaped my life’s direction; others have given me wisdom, filled my mind with wonderful scenes, phrases, and characters, helped me master a skill or learn a recipe or improve my health or identify a plant or bird or know how to give my dog first aid.
I cannot think of one book in the thousands upon thousands I’ve read that didn’t give me something to take away, in my life or imagination or dreams. This is the power and the joy and the wonder of books, their great and enduring ability to give. Like music and art, it is, after love and the beauty of creation, the greatest gift available to us as human beings.
And with books, as with music and art, you can return under different circumstances or at different times of your life and find things you didn’t see in them before. You can anticipate the delight of sharing favorite books with friends and family. You can even write them yourself. So please, don’t write them off.
‘Til next time,