My son and I borrowed the delightful It’s a Book by Lane Smith from the library the other day. It’s been on constant reading rotation ever since. In this cautionary tale, a donkey queries his friend, a monkey, about the monkey’s “book,” the likes of which donkey has never seen. “Do you blog with it? Tweet? Do you need a password?” asks the donkey. The monkey’s constant refrain is “No, it’s a book.” The donkey has trouble understanding that the book is not technological, like everything else in his life, but eventually finds himself immersed in the story anyway. My two year old loves to chime in and tell the donkey, “NO! It’s a book.” A word of caution, though: the author uses the word “jackass” rather than “donkey.” I’ve chosen to substitute “donkey” when I read it to my son. I’m not above cursing or anything — it’s just that I don’t want my son repeating “jackass” on the playground quite yet. Otherwise, I wholeheartedly recommend this amusing but perhaps scarily prescient tale.
I’m not particularly worried that my son will grow up not knowing what a book is, like the donkey/jackass. We have tons of books in the house, probably too many for a New York City apartment. My husband and I have always been readers, and we tend to cultivate sentimental attachments to books, which explains the assortment of crumbling Russian language novels (his) and well thumbed novels still wearing a “used” sticker from the University book store (mine). I can’t pass by a bookstore without stopping in, and I take my son to the library every week. This child can’t escape books.
However, I’ve noticed changes in our reading habits over the last ten years or so. Mainly, our reading has turned digitized over this time period. Blogs and website content have replaced hard copies (though I still get the physical New York Times newspaper delivered to my door on the weekends). I’m not really crazy about how this has affected my overall reading habits. On the internet, I feel like I’m just jumping from link to link, or I find myself lazily attracted to pretty images on well-designed websites. Plus, browsing is a time suck that eats into — well, everything, but it hampers more substantial, long form reading.
This shift to digitized reading became very pronounced when I received a Kindle as a gift. I felt ambivalent about E-readers before I received one. On one hand, I liked the idea of instantly getting a book whenever I wanted it. On the other hand, I enjoy the physicality of books, which is absent with an E-reader. I like the smell of old books. I like wandering through bookstores and libraries, picking up random volumes that catch my eye. I like turning pages. I like to see how book covers introduce the contents of a book. I’d miss all that with a Kindle.
Now that I have one, I must reluctantly admit that I like the Kindle. It’s light and portable, great for commutes and for travel. I can get many books instantly. I find I read more, because I don’t limit myself by saying “only two more pages,” because I have no clue what page I’m on. I like that the Kindle tells you what percentage of the book you have completed; it’s like a challenge to finish half or three quarters of a book by bedtime. However, the Kindle has it’s drawbacks. I harbor a fear that Amazon will erase or take back all of my books. Sure, this may sound like some paranoid dystopian fantasy, but they’ve done it before. I also don’t like that it can malfunction or stop working altogether, as electronics are wont to do. That probably won’t happen with your average paperback, unless you drop it in a mud puddle or set it on fire. Also, I can no longer lend out books if I’ve bought the digital version.
Still, I don’t read exclusively on the Kindle. After all, I can get books for free at the library (though there are some free books available for download on Kindle too). So, I tend to go back and forth between the Kindle and the physical books. For instance, if I’ve been waiting too long for a particular book to come off my reserve list at the library, then I might buy it. If there’s a particular book I want to support, such as one written by a local writer or a favorite author, I will buy the book, likely the physical copy.
My son does not do any digital reading. I couldn’t imagine reading him a book from my Kindle. Do people even do this? It just doesn’t feel right. I don’t think he would like it, anyway, unless there were images (though he could get book images on other platforms, and I’m sure that this will change on the Kindle in the near future). At any rate, I try to keep him away from screens as much as possible, mainly because he is so attracted to them. He loves our Iphones. He is constantly trying to get on our computers. I know this is a losing battle, and I don’t deny him screen time completely, but while I still have some modicum of control his main media entertainment will remain old school. Who knows what his reading future will looks like. Will they even be using physical textbooks when my son enters grade school? Perhaps he’ll be taking an IPad to Kindergarten. I don’t know. In the meantime, he’ll be the luddite kid merrily telling the other children on the playground, “It’s a book, jackass!”