6.15.2011

The Joy of Reading

I have been thinking a lot lately about reading, books, and the way both are changing. As more people jump on the "reading contraption" option (nook, kindle, etc), physical books seem to be getting short shrift.

I went to the park the other week and noticed, as I walked over the bridge to the green space, that someone had laid out three flat boxes filled with books, presumably for the taking, on the side of the road. This good Samaritan had created small signs from crumpled paper to designate the types of books available: drama, horror, etc. No one was around and there was no donation cup, so it was clear that someone had dumped their books at the park rather than drive to the nearest used bookstore to donate them. Perhaps this happens often, but I have a bloodhound's nose for books, and I've never seen this. People usually want something when they try to unload their books, if only to compensate for their time.

I am inclined to overstatement, but I see this as symbolic of a changing time. Why worry about paper books anymore when they are so easily obtained in e-version? Why keep a bunch of dusty books around when they can all fit into neat rectangular machine? Why, indeed, worry about books at all? What is a book? The physical codex or the story it contains? Rather than wrestle with - or even think about these questions - people have jumped on the e-reader bandwagon with alacrity, leaving books gathering dust in closing bookstores, or on the side of the road, around the country.

As I mulled over these thoughts, I found myself enjoying three reading memoirs, books that praise the value of reading and the beauty of reading physical books. Whether it's snuggling up with a parent and reading Harry Potter, joining libraries after marriage, or collecting as many books for a private collection as possible, the following memoirs describe the types of lives real books can create for their readers.

Over the next few days, I'll discuss Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris, Pat Conroy's My Reading Life, and Alice Ozma's The Reading Promise. (I'd do them all now, but I have a sick toddler, so we're taking this entry step by step.:))

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