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November 15, 2013

To E-Read or Not To E-Read.

My house is rotten with books.

I have so many books, if I needed to build a second house, I could just take all the books out of my first house, layer on a little spackle and voilà!

I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember. It was easy to love them in my family, because my mom was an avid reader. As long as I had a book in my hand, I could do no wrong. From a young age, I came to associate books with goodness—the more I read, the better a person I would be.

It started with the simplest stories; “The Egg” and “Miffy At The Zoo,” by Dick Bruna, and anything by Richard Scarry (whose name we pronounced SCAR-ee in my family, as opposed to my best friend’s family who said—we believed ignorantly—SCARE-ee).

When I was seven, my mother bought me a book called “The Bear’s Toothache,” by David McPhail and then surprised me by taking me to a book signing where the author himself etched a cartoon bear on the inside of the book jacket along with the words, “For Erica, With warm regards.”

I couldn’t have been more impressed had I met the queen of England, and in fact, I’m certain I would’ve been much less impressed.

I loved Dr. Suess, of course, (My favorite of his being “What Was I Afraid Of?” and the line “Then I was deep within the woods/When suddenly I spied them./ I saw a pair of pale green pants/ With nobody inside them!) but was equally passionate about Beatrix Potter, particularly “The Tale of Two Bad Mice,” and “The Roly-Poly  Pudding.”

When I was 10, I made a big splash with my family by writing an additional chapter to E.B. White’s “Stuart Little” because I was dis-satisfied with the outcome of the story.

I titled it Chapter XVI, “Found,” and in it I re-united the main characters Stuart and Margolo, and sent them on their way back to Stuart’s “mum,” who I determined had been “worried sick about them.” (We were living in England then, and it’s fairly amusing to look at my prim and proper penmanship, which has since dissolved into a barely legible scrawl.)

Around that same time, I was given an illustrated Bible for children—a vexing gift since my family was non-secular, but I’m sure it was because everyone else in my tiny English school had some knowledge of religion which I completely lacked—and I pored over the dramatic watercolors depicting the flood, Noah’s ark, the plague, Adam and Eve (I could almost see their naked bodies—scandalous!), the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah and more.

I was so fascinated by this version of the Bible that I decided to read the real one, cover to cover, a venture with which I never got far, but that was only because the words in the mini white leather bound Bible I had were as small as the angels on the proverbial pinhead.

When I was 12 or so, I became addicted to science fiction, constantly burying my nose in stories by Anne McCaffrey, and Madeleine L’Engle. Leafing through “A Wrinkle In Time” can still give me chills.

I also glommed on to Shakespeare and memorized this line, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds, admit impediments. Love is not love, which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove,” repeating it like a scared mantra several times a day. I had no idea what it meant, but I knew it was important, and that if I just had command of the syllables, the meaning would come.

In college there was never any doubt as to my major; English literature, and I carted around my Norton Anthologies with great self importance. It was inconceivable to me that so much transcendent writing could be squeezed into two volumes, even if the paper with as thin as airmail stationary.

When e-readers (what a horrific name) first came into vogue, I was alarmed, but only vaguely.

I figured they would never gain any traction, that they would always be prohibitively expensive, that they would never measure up to real books anyway, and that anyone who was a true bibliophile would never put up with that nonsense.

Now Kindle has their 3G paperwhite, tidily priced at around $183, and if I thought my Norton Anthology had a lot of words crammed into a modicum of space, it was nothing compared to the libraries these innocent looking things manage to hold.

The pros: cheaper books (which means more books), not having to store said books in the rapidly diminishing space of my home, and the ability to carry as many books as I want wherever I want, anytime I want.

The cons: not getting to hold (or smell) a real book, not getting to make notations on the pages, not having the book as a physical reminder of the experience of reading the book, and not being able to pass on copies of the book which have been infused with that experience.

I reluctantly purchased a Kindle Paperwhite this week.

I don’t know yet if the pros outweigh the cons. I do know that I already feel like I’ve gotten sucked into some un-named evil. Probably the way pen and paper authors felt when people started hammering away on typewriters and then computers.

But the world is changing and I don’t want to be left behind. I’ll give this e-reader a chance. When libraries become handheld, and all the pages that have ever been printed are stored in attics and basements, it will be the stories that live on.

I just hope that trusting them all to the delicate atmosphere doesn’t mean we have the potential to lose them forever.

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

{Photo: Wikimedia Commons.}

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