Books and More Books

I’ve been arguing with some old friends lately about the future of books, and I’ve got to say that I’m getting sick of it. My friends, who are the scholarly type, swear by “real” books and regard my collection of ebooks with disdain. They prefer the feel of a real book, they say, and they argue that the easy availability of ebooks somehow cheapens the industry.

Hey, I love books. I’ve been reading since I was four years old, and there’s still something breathtaking and beautiful about cracking the spine of a brand new book. The thought of spending an afternoon inside a Barnes & Noble leaves me weak-kneed and gasping. Given the choice between a stack of brand new books or a night on the town with the man of my dreams, I just might choose the books.

Unless the man was Randolph Mantooth, of course, but that’s a subject for a different blog post.  

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t read everything and anything that was put in front of me. Cereal boxes, newspapers, Mom’s Reader’s Digest Condensed Books . . . you name it, I read it. I devoured it. Absorbed it. It didn’t have to have great literary merit or staying power. I didn’t always have to enjoy what I was reading; if I started it, I finished it–even if I hated every word of it.

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On a few rare occasions, Mom had to step in and snatch one of my sisters’ books out of my hands before I got to the “good” parts. I really didn’t see the problem then, but now I can sort of see her reasons for not allowing a second-grader to read My Darling, My Hamburger or Forever.

We didn’t really have a TV at my aunts’ cottage during the summers, so I remember reading coverless paperbacks from boxes my Aunt Noni would bring home from her beauty salon. Now I understand that there was something a bit shady about the fact that the covers had all been removed, but at the time I just considered them to be a bounty of summer reading. I drooled over those boxes the way most kids would have drooled over boxes of candy.

Once in a while, the whole family would get caught up in a trendy book, and we would take turns reading the same copy. My sisters and I would get impatient and read it together, with one of us reading aloud to the others while we sunbathed in the back courtyard.

I seem to remember attracting an audience a few times the summer we were all invested in Flowers in the Attic and its sequels.

It was a little over a mile from the cottage across the bridge and into town. We could cover the distance in a matter of minutes when we wanted to go to McKenzie’s Bakery for cookies or to Captain Nemo’s for ice cream, but that mile seemed to stretch out forever when I was on my way to Arkin’s, the only bookstore in town. I’d save all my money for that day and then spend hours searching through the few shelves of books they kept at the back of the store, hidden away behind the more tourist-friendly Hallmark items in the front.

I always tried to ration the books I bought from Arkin’s. I’d tell myself I was allowed to read two chapters per day, or maybe three. Then I’d end up turning on the tiny reading lamp by my bed and staying up into the early morning hours to finish reading what I’d started.

During the school year, I fed my appetite at the book exchange hosted by my elementary school. Kids could bring in their used books in exchange for tickets. Then, on a chosen night, all of those used books would be spread out on tables throughout the school, and we could go “shopping” with our tickets. One ticket per book, and I’d come home with grocery sacks full of them.

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I was reminded of that years later as an adult, when one of my clients offered me some of her old books. She was a retired school teacher, moving from her house into an apartment, and she wanted to give her books to someone who enjoyed reading as much as she did. I was expecting scholarly tomes, so I was stunned when she handed over two bulging sacks of paperbacks and romance novels. Harlequins, Silhouettes, Mills & Boon, plus solo titles by the likes of Debbie Macomber, Nora Lofts, Mary Stewart, Danielle Steele and more.

The next two months are a blur.

When I was recuperating from my car accident in 2011, my husband’s mother and brother went together to buy me a Nook and a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card. I wasn’t sure if I could ever get used to reading a book on a tiny electronic device, but let me assure you that no one in history has ever stretched a $25 book budget farther than I stretched that little card. I found freebies and public domain books and splurged on .99-cent specials, and I burned out that first Nook in less than a year.

I still love bookstores. Money is tight, so I can’t buy as many “real” books as I used to buy. I simply can’t afford it. Besides, I have moved so many times in recent years that I simply don’t have room for all the books I wish I could own. I’ve been through three Nooks and I’m currently in the process of wearing out my first Kindle Fire. (Sorry, Amazon, I still prefer the Nook.)

So, what’s my point?

I love books. I always will. It doesn’t matter if they are on a blinking electronic screen or a tattered paperback. A book is a book is a book.

I can shop for ebooks when insomnia hits at three in the morning. I can load up on free samples or 99-cent specials and experiment with genres and authors I might not be able to try otherwise. (I know, I know; there’s a long-running argument among writers on the subject of freebies and 99-cent specials, but I’m taking off my Author Hat here and strapping my Reader Hat firmly to my head for the moment.) I’m not usually a big fan of change, but in this case I’m embracing it.

It doesn’t have to be one or the other, as long as we keep reading.

It’s 2016, guys. Whether you get your books on paper or delivered electronically, don’t ever stop reading. Teach your kids more than how to read; teach them to love reading, no matter what the format.  Today’s pre-teen reading on a Kindle is the natural evolution of yesterday’s pre-teen reading under the sheets with a flashlight.

Step out of your comfort zone this year. Make a resolution to try something new. Read a new format, try a new author, read something in a genre you’ve never tried before.

Grow a little.

Have some fun.

Try something new.

Isn’t that what reading is all about?

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For the record, I am taking my own advice on reading new things right now. I just finished Dangerous Allies by Rickie Blair, and I’m about to dive into the next one in the series. I’m not usually a fan of thrillers, but I am so glad I tried this one. Check it out!