Wednesday, January 9, 2019

I just bought a printed book. After years of ebooks, it's weird to read it.


Above: my first and most-recent hardcover books, separated by about 70 years

Books have always been extremely important to me. As the photo shows, even as a little kid, I used the bathroom as a library so not a moment of potential reading time was wasted. In 2019, the only piece of furniture I can visualize from the Bronx apartment my parents brought me home to in 1946 is a mahogany bookcase. I share my bed with my wife and usually my iPad or Kindle Fire.

Before TiVo gave me the ability to fast-forward, I always read during TV commercials. I read at most meals—even at restaurants. Some people think it's rude. I think it's efficient.

I've been accused of being addicted to reading. Like other kinds of addicts, I've resorted to sneaking and cheating to satisfy my addiction.
  • When I was in first grade, I had a ridiculous 7:30 PM bed time. I got into bed, pulled the blanket over my head, and read with a flashlight.
  • Later, maybe in third grade, when my technical skills improved, I came up with a better solution. I put a bright light bulb in my bedroom closet and it was bright enough to illuminate a book when I was in bed. I attached a long string to the pull-chain that controlled the light, and put a tennis ball at the end of the string. When I heard my parents approach, I yanked the string to shut off the light, and tossed the tennis ball and string into the closet to hide the evidence, and made believe I was asleep.
  • The ultimate evolution of my scam occurred around sixth grade. I installed a photoelectric cell in the garage, aimed outward. If my parents were out for the evening, and then came home when I was supposed to be asleep, the car's headlights would trigger the photocell which then rang a bell in my bedroom—so I could shut off my light and shut my eyes.
  • Later on, my parents didn't care how late I stayed up, and I often read until midnight, and started again around 4 AM. 
  • In my senior year in high school, my English teacher required us to read and report on one book each month, with a bonus if we could read one book each week. I half-jokingly asked her what would happen if I did one a day. She half-jokingly said she'd give me an "A." I read the books, wrote the (short) reports, and got my "A."
  • When I was in college, I was still building book shelves a week before I was going to move out of my apartment and go to New York to be a magazine editor. (Assistant editor, actually.)
I've always had a strong reverence for books. Maybe it comes from my parents, who were avid readers. As a Jew, I am part of "the people of the book." 

When I see books in the trash, I rescue them. When a friend's older brother and his buddies gathered around a barbecue grill at the end of the school year to burn their school books, I tried to rescue the books, but was blocked by superior force. Assholes!

I seldom think of sin, but if sins do exist, book burning is certainly high on the list.

A few years ago I figured out that my house has nearly 400 linear feet of book shelves, which means I must have (GASP!) nearly 4,000 books. There are also books in cartons, and in drawers and in my car, and on my phone, computers, Kindle Fire and iPad. In the old days there would be books on UPS and USPS trucks heading to me.

I order books from Amazon at least once a week.

I'm a fast reader, but I can't possibly read fast enough to keep up with the inflow. The only obvious solutions were to become a faster reader (unlikely at my age) or buy fewer books.

Instead, I started giving away books, and began buying ebooks only. I save space, and can resume reading anywhere.

A few days ago I was in a dollar store. I couldn't resist looking at the one-buck books. The store had about a dozen titles. Four seemed interesting. One was purchased. I started reading it as soon as I got out to my car, to wait for my wife to finish shopping.

I was able to prop up the book on my steering wheel as in the old days—but I tried "swiping" pages with my fingers to flip the pages. It did not work. I was also unable to highlight text or look-up words, and I had to remember to take the book from the car into my house.

I suppose I have become an e-guy.  

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