Our Lives

Our Lives: Reader surrenders to digital world of books

Our Lives columnistSeptember 28, 2013 

CindySchaefer.AL.050113.JEL

Cindy Schaefer.

JLEONARD@NEWSOBSERVER.COM — JULI LEONARD

I totally judge a book by its cover.

I hold it, study it and soak in its promise before making my selection. A good cover offers a glimpse at what’s inside without giving away the best parts. A nondescript cover bores me.

Not long ago, though, the book lover in me turned traitor. I blame it on age. My always perfect vision has become a little fuzzy, and I was frustrated by having to always search for my reading glasses. I picked up my son’s Kindle and figured out how to blow up the size of the type.

A couple of good reads later and I had to admit it wasn’t all bad. Being able to load books from my wish list without leaving home is fun, if not a bit dangerous. It’s way too easy to push that button and stock up.

I was a hard sell when it came to entering the digital world of reading. I am not from the generation where modern technology is intuitive. I learned to type on a manual typewriter, for heaven’s sake. The real advantage of an e-reader is convenience. But even that is debatable.

It was two years ago on a family beach trip when we turned on my husband, Glenn, for his attachment to his Nook. While the rest of us lugged magazines and paperbacks in our beach bags, he proudly showed off his nifty little contraption and tried to sell us on its efficiency. We weren’t buying. He ignored us, settled in with his toes in the sand, and engrossed himself in the final chapter of a novel. Several pages from the end the battery died. Our niece graciously offered to share her copy of Seventeen magazine. My sister laughed. I took pictures.

Beloved books are keepsakes. Decades ago, I would save my allowance and make a much-anticipated trip to the bookstore at North Hills, where I would happily plunk down my 50 cents in exchange for another Nancy Drew mystery. Those hard-earned yellow hardcovers still line a bookshelf in my home, even though I never reached my goal of owning the entire set.

But as often happens with supposed progress, beauty has given way to volume. An e-reader is a whole lot easier to pack than the dozen books I hope to devour when away from home. But it is just so ... clinical. There’s something about feeling the pages between my fingers that elevates the connection and evokes nostalgia.

Books are woven into the story of my life, from the family Bible where we transcribe notable events to an Agatha Christie novel that instantly transports me back to Mr. Mordhorst’s seventh-grade classroom.

I don’t know what prompted me as a young teen to one day peruse my mom’s shelves. Until then, my presumption that they housed dull parental fare had kept me from looking any further. But that day I pulled her copy of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” and never gave it back. The cover drew me in and the rich words captivated me. I never would have come across that gem had it been hidden on an electronic device; I have read it at least a dozen times since. It’s just a paperback – torn, worn and not even worthy of a used bookstore. And yet I can’t bring myself to replace it.

My son, Kevin, treasures a two-volume Shakespeare set that belonged to my dad when he was a student at Yale more than 50 years ago. Kevin loves Shakespeare, but even more he appreciates the history behind the pages that were first turned when his grandfather was his age. And when he needed books for a class several years ago, he headed to our library at home. Which is how a somewhat ancient copy of “The Great Gatsby” with my maiden name on the inside cover and my own adolescent notes scribbled in the margins made a second run in a high-school English class. The years hadn’t changed the story, but the aging book connected the dots. I love that.

As it turns out, a bout with Bell’s Palsy earlier this year has left my vision even more compromised, and reading without glasses is no longer an option, even on a Kindle. So while I am not shunning the new technology and will certainly reach for it now and then, I’ve decided paper still trumps glass. At least for now.

Schaefer: cschaefer63@nc.rr.com

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