Middle Age is the New 30-Something 02-20-14

A bibliophile loosens up

There are things a person can always turn to, in good times and bad, to help them make sense of the darkness or celebrate the light of good fortune. For some people, it's their families. For others, their religious activities.

As for me, books have been a constant in my life. I can't remember not reading, but I recall the moment I realized I could read any word that I took the time to puzzle over. Empowerment is the best word I know, now, to describe the feeling I had; however, given the age I was and the period of television history through which we were passing at the time, I would probably have described it like J.J. on "Good Times": dyn-o-mite!

Books became my refuge, my entertainment, my guidance counselor, my private tutor and my youth pastor. And they still are.

By the time I hit my mid-thirties nobody ever wanted to help me move again. This is because, in my twenties, I worked in bookstores and haunted used bookshops and Goodwills and flea markets snatching up the books I'd always wanted to own. I bought books the way other people buy shoes or QVC jewelry.

When I moved to WV from SC in 2008, I had no furniture and few boxes of any other type of belongings. I only rented a truck because I had so many books. So when I got it into my head to move back to Glenville and finish school at Glenville State College, one thing was certain: not all those books were making the trip with me.

I invited folks to tote out as many bags of books as they could carry or fit into their own living spaces. Afterward, I carried at least 50 canvas and plastic shopping bags stuffed with books to the local library, paring my collection of more than 500 books down to a more manageable hundred or so.

Not long after this, a friend offered me the gift of a Kindle she was not using anymore.

If I had told the Me of 10 years ago that I was willingly inviting into my life an e-reader, a needle would have dragged across the record and the room would have filled with the harsh light of interrogation: "What? A handheld, battery-operated device without a front or back cover, dust jacket or pages to turn? That's not reading - that's colluding with a robot! Explain yourself!"

Look here. I've generated ample evidence to prove that I, like others who resist e-readers, love to feel and smell and touch and look at a book. There are many books I own which I couldn't part with as objects rooted in the physical world, mainly because of the memories I can conjure regarding smelling and touching and looking at them over many years.

The idea of e-readers was always anathema to me because I was afraid it would change my reading experience. And I won't deny that using my Kindle does change the experience of reading, but not for ill.

Without trying very hard to do so, it's hard to lose your place in an electronic book. When reading my Kindle, I love I can highlight passages that strike me in some odd or funny way and easily refer back to them. I can even type an observation to go with the highlighted text if I want to. I've never been one to turn down page corners to mark my place or write in the margins of books, so this, to me, is wonderful.

The main thing is: all the words are there. Reading them on a screen versus reading them from a printed page doesn't change the way the words enter my mind, or the way they affect me.

If I read a book like A Confederacy of Dunces on my Kindle, I would think back fondly on the experience of holding a copy of that book in my hands on an airplane when I was 18 and headed to Alabama, where I would live for the next 12 years, collecting books the whole time.

But I would still laugh - from my belly upward, until I felt tears at the edges of my eyes - at Ignatius J. Reilly, whose fight against modernity is a catalyst for every adventure in which he finds himself confusingly entangled from document location 1 onward.