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Point of View: Reading in Nostalgia Mode

A Brightness Long Ago

I’m reading a book.

Which is not news, in and of itself, although regular readers will know that I somewhat famously went for years without reading any, due to my insane work demands and habits.

But this is different.

I’m reading an actual physical book – a hardcover, in fact – something I can hold in my hands that doesn’t disappear when I set it down (though it often does flip back to the first page). It was my birthday gift to myself – the work of an author I love that I can actually touch and smell. OMG, I miss the aroma of coffee, books and bookstores.

And while I bought this book in April, it sat on the shelf for five months while I finished other things I’d promised to read, beckoning me every time I walked by.

“Read me,” it whispered.

“I really want to. But you see, so-and-so’s book has to come first…”

I totally blame so-and-so. You know who you are. πŸ˜‰

And yet, finally here I am, reading this beautiful book. And it’s just like I remembered, right?

Well not quite.

Yes, it’s wonderful to hold it in my hand – to caress the ivory paper, to trace my fingers along the lines of words printed there.

But it’s heavy. Every time I lift it up, I remember how much hardcover books weigh, and when I open it up, I have to use something to prop the damned thing open for the first and last fifty pages, so it doesn’t slam closed on me while I’m reading.

I have to remember to finish the page I’m on, so when I come back to it next time I’ll know where to start. Somehow, on my tiny phone screen, it’s much easier to pick up where I left off.

I also have to be careful not to set it down where it might be a little wet, lest I ruin the cover. I take the dust jacket off while reading hardcovers, but I still want to keep the actual cover in good shape.

There’s something else, too, that’s changed. Years ago, when I used to go through lots of physical books, I would read for an hour or two at a time and become totally immersed in the story. Sometimes I’d get carried away and read deep into the night, and end up feeling groggy the next morning.

But although the book format is different, my day-to-day busy life hasn’t – I can barely find time to read three pages at a time. My reading is as fragmented and distracted as my real life.

Just as I’ve gotten used to Zoom as a substitute for meeting folks in real life, I seem to have gotten used to eBooks in place of the physical thing. My phone is always with me (say what you will about that, but it’s true) and I can whip it out to read a few pages wherever I may be – in line at the post office. Waiting for Mark to come back to the table with coffee. Or even while trapped in a fake elevator while being mocked by a puppet version of Sue Sylvester (yeah, I may be watching a little too much Glee).

The point is, eBooks have made it easy to carry an entire library with us, one that would put that little one in Alexandria to shame. I can pull up my current read and enjoy it anytime, anywhere. And unless I want to haul my heavy paperback book wherever I go, that’s not true of physical books.

Still… there’s something marvelous and nostalgic about the printed word. I fall into the story more easily than when it’s constructed of electronic words on a digital screen, and doing so touches something deep in me that’s rooted in a childhood spent lost in magical worlds.

Maybe there’s a place for both in my life. Maybe it doesn’t need to be screen vs. paper, but each in its own appropriate place and time.

I’ll get back to you when I finish my new read. Gotta run – its magical world beckons.

To my reader and writer friends, how do you feel about physical books vs. eBooks? Are you exclusive to one or the other? What are your pros and cons?

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