July 12, 2011

Unforeseen Dangers of the eReader

The Raven Lunatic column which appeared in Indiana newspapers the week of July 5, 2011

In this house, we are book lovers--first class bibliophiles.  Our mutual love of reading is probably a factor that drew my husband and me together.  We both prefer an evening of reading and writing to a crowded party.  My husband and I find our vocation and avocation through reading, writing, and a shared love of the written word.

Books possess something almost spiritual. Opening a new book, and diving in its pages to discover a yet unknown world is a sublime experience. My love affair with books began in the third grade in Miss Heckman’s class at South Whitley Elementary School.  During the 1965 school year I came down with all the usual childhood diseases, and spent weeks at home.  Miss Heckman visited our little yellow house on Walnut Street every few days, bringing school assignments and chapter books.

That winter she introduced me to “The Sugar Creek Gang” series of Hardy Boys-style books set in Thorntown, Indiana. In researching this column, I learned that the series was published from 1940 to 1970 and written by Hoosier Paul Hutchens. That long winter and the adventures I read only whetted a curiosity about the wider world beyond the little yellow house.  And I’ve never stopped reading.

Because I consider myself somewhat traditional I’ve always felt “You would have to take my book out of my cold, dead hands.” (That’s a crude paraphrase of a Charlton Heston quote.)  Since the inception of eBooks, I have firmly rejected them. I could not conceive of a world where electronic books sold more than traditional physical books.

I was wrong. 

Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble recently announced they are selling more eBooks than physical books. 

Perspective changes with age.  Perhaps I should open my mind to the advantages of the electronic reader, less clutter, multiple books and magazines for travel, free access to classics, and spectacular back lighting for reading in bed. (That last one may not be important to most people, but it is important to me.)

An old proverb states “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

It was with every good intention that I purchased eReaders for us.  As I walked out of the store that day with our new toys, I knew in my heart I would reread “Little Women” right away and finally finish “Jane Eyre.” How can any bibliophile admit to not finishing Jane Eyre? The devil, you say.

Some books would never be acceptable on an eReader—poetry such as my new anthology by Caroline Kennedy or books that feature treasures of art and architecture. 

During the first two months I had the eReader, I savored some old favorites, purchased others, and bought some best-sellers.  I couldn’t stop.  I read an eclectic list—an inexpensive history of London,  “Heaven is for Real,” “Peace like a River,” Wishful Drinking,” “Caleb’s Crossing,” “Computer Blogging for Dummies,” “Same Kind of Different as Me,” and Tina Fey’s book. 

I was relentless; I couldn’t stop.  I was reading more than I read since my 1965 forced encampment in my childhood bedroom. It was a good thing.

Then an unexpected plot twist, and something that had never happened to me before.  I became addicted to a video game, Angry Birds™. Hostile Avians, Feathered Fowl, call it what you want.

 Not since I slipped quarters in a college Pac Man machine had I become so engrossed in an electronic screen. 

This goes against my character, the same strong will that would not let my child ever own a Game Boy, an X-Box, or, well, I don’t know a third one.

Wait, am I not a bibliophile? Don’t I eschew these banal things of the world? Don’t I see myself sipping unsweetened iced tea and reading “Little Women” in my own erudite fantasies?

Apparently not.

I succumbed to the Angry Birds™, and now sometimes I hear a voice in my head saying “Must Kill Pigs, Must Kill Pigs.”  Isn’t that voice supposed to say something like “Which of the March daughters loved Marmee best?”

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, great.  Go back to your newspaper, read “Time” magazine, read your eReaders or your physical book.

Get away while you can.

Do not under any circumstances download Angry Birds™ to your electronic device.  For if you do, all sort of reason will fly out of your head, as quickly as the red cardinals bounces back on his slingshot to knock down the wooden towers.  If you buy an eReader, simply use it to read. Remember, you have been warned.

Soon, I’ll get back to Jane Eyre.  Really, I promise.

© By the author 2011.