A couple of months ago, a woman in our book club showed up with her sleek Kindle while the rest of us were toting along curled-cover softbound editions of The Help. I was curious about the device, but an uneasy sense of reader-pity also rose up: Oh, you poor thing. You’ve lost your way. The topic of Kindle v. paper and ink is getting almost as touchy as politics and religion, even among those of us who try to probe gently in consideration of our neighbor’s opinion before advancing our own. Really? You love it that much? The answer is yes, they really do. As we learned recently, downloaded book sales have surpassed those of paper books on Amazon.
I don’t question my cousin’s enjoyment of a book she’s downloaded to her Sansa so she can listen while she walks. So why this gut reaction to trading out actual reading media?
For me, it might be the way books smell and feel and look. I love to handle them, befriend them, take good care of them. I love the crinkly sound of the protective covering that librarians use on their hardbounds. I love to run my fingers over the deckled edges and study the page design, the font selection, the running heads. I have this streak of pride in which I try not to break the spine of a new paperback. And of course, no dog-ears. Sticking my nose into the pages of a textbook—new or used—at the beginning of a school year was always a heady experience.
I grew up in a small Midwest town where the summer days were muggy and oppressively hot. Our public library was small, but cool and inviting. Outside glare was absent and road noise muffled as soon as the door closed behind me. It was a protected world, and yet it presented a safe passageway to other places and other lives far from the cornfields. I’d sit in the stacks and begin a dozen books before choosing which ones would ride home in my bike basket. I still associate reading for pleasure with heat and humidity.
And then there were the librarians, who seemed so blessed to stay and dwell among all those splendid books when I had to go home to my dreary life. As a girl, I marveled at how good they were at stamping due dates in a tall stack of books. (Many of you remember that sound, a satisfying “thump,” instead of an electronic beep.) I was thankful when they shushed the noisy kids. They were bugging me, too. And when I checked out, I often heard endorsements of my selections and I simply glowed inside. Every librarian I met was so smart and adept, so worthy of my worship.
Lately I’ve been working with some wonderful librarians who are helping arrange my author visits to their schools or public libraries. And I’m still in awe of their earnest love for books and how they encourage children to read. In every state where I’ve traveled to speak, I see librarians who are selflessly hustling—trying to bridge the budget gaps, shoehorning special events and fairs into a full schedule, scrapping on behalf of the voices on their shelves, and especially working for the kids who visit their libraries every day.
I know they’ll say it’s all about the students. But I also know each has a personal story to tell—similar to mine only in that they, too, have fallen in love the written word, be it on paper, on the “pages” of a Kindle, or in the narration of an MP3 player. And that love is contagious.
You can’t see me, dear librarians, but I’m giving you a standing ovation.
Oh, and Santa, if you’re reading this, I’m thinking about a Kindle for Christmas . . .
About November’s guest blogger:
Tricia Brown will be visiting Fairbanks in early December to read and sign her holiday classic, Alaskan Night Before Christmas (Pelican Publishing) at various schools and other venues. She will release four new books in 2011 from Pelican Publishing, Alaska Northwest Books, Fulcrum Publishing, and Sasquatch/Paws IV. Her website is http://www.triciabrownbooks.com/.