Not far away, in a bedroom I call an office, is my beautiful slide rule, the computer that saw me through an engineering degree.
The world has changed. My first electronic calculator cost one third that of my slide rule, performed more functions, and had greater accuracy. Sometimes these days you can find a slide rule in a museum, right next to Neanderthal Man.
Are physical books also slated for extinction? I hope not because there is something special about the connection I feel when I settle in with one. These days, though, this Florida dweller has replaced the hypnotic fireplace with the humming air conditioner. I’m encouraged because I’ve heard comments saying “real” books are making a comeback.
I don’t like the term “real” books. To me a book is not a pretty cover and pages you can turn. It’s a story that holds your interest. Or a math text you can pore over as many times as desired. The essence of a book doesn’t change just because it’s encoded with 1’s and 0’s.
We tend to think of audio books as a fairly recent phenomenon, but the Talking Books Program for the Blind was founded in 1931. It was a lifesaver for my mother who was blind the last 20 years of her life while books on CD entertained my father-in-law, a prodigious reader, when his sight ebbed.
I embrace the old and the new in my own reading. In fact, I’m always working on two books at the same time.
The traditionalist in me loves the old fashioned kind, the one made of paper. Usually it’s a mystery. Nothing better at the end of the day than curling up with a whodunit, trying to unravel the plot and work out the guilty party. Mostly they come from the library and the torn pages and food stains form a connection with the previous readers who have placed their imprint on the same surfaces.
My second book is audio, embedded on a temporary basis in my iPod, and accompanies me on my runs and dog walks. These books tend not to be mysteries. I especially enjoy audio when the book is long, has multiple characters, or contains difficult Russian names. The readers, usually professional actors, are wonderful, using different voices for the various characters, thereby keeping me straight on who’s who. And it’s nice to be distracted as I bend to pick up poop.
I have many friends who swear by eBooks. I do too, because, when one of mine is sold, the royalty is surprisingly large. My daughter is a Kindle fan. She tells me she’s listening to my latest, Patriotism, while commuting to work. She says it’s interesting because Kindle can read it aloud but often makes strange choices as to pronunciation. For example, the book might have “The wind is blowing,” and the Kindle voice might pronounce “wind” as in “Wind your watch!”
I can understand the attraction for eBooks and occasionally I make a purchase. Especially if it’s a book I want to keep. I for the most part no longer store books on a shelf. Instead they’re in my really old Kindle. My own books reside there. Yes, I do want to keep those. But there are others that seem to speak to me, including The Elements of Style, the classic Flatland describing a two-dimensional world, a sad history of the Everglades, a description of the heyday of transistor developer Bell Telephone Laboratories where I spent seven years, and a biography of an interesting mathematician named Claude Shannon.
It’s clear there are many ways to read. What’s your favorite? Whatever it is, it’s the right way.