Saturday, June 23, 2012

Time Enough At Last

At some point, I stopped reading books.

I've never been a huge reader. I started reading fairly early but I was never all that fast at it. I had friends who could read an entire novel in one sitting in 7th grade, but that was never me. In high school and college (where I was almost an English major — I switched to Drama and was just one or two courses shy of a double) I often didn't quite make it to the end of an assigned book, both because I wasn't fast enough and because I was more interested in other things, like spending my time in rehearsal. Or napping.

So I guess it's natural that my book-reading started to fall off. I keep making a point to specify "books" and not just "reading," because the thing is, thanks to the internet, I actually read much more than I used to. I've never been a fan of newspapers (the format, not the content) and magazines tended to pile up, but Google Reader is my friend. It's made content so easy to get, and a well curated RSS feed can bring me things from sections of a site or a paper I might not find on my own (like a theatre-related article from the Real Estate section of the Times). It still piles up but it's a virtual pileup, which I can handle much more easily. I find myself reading a lot of it in front of the TV. Some of it is pictures of kittens but a lot of it is newsy stuff I never would have been reading 10 years ago, and it makes me smarter. But it's not a novel, and I quite like novels.

My real downfall, books-wise, was podcasts. I spend an hour or so on the subway each day, which used to be my book time. It became my podcasts and Angry Birds time. Or sometimes my Twitter or Google Reader on my iPhone time.

So late last fall I declared that subway time would henceforth be Non-Internet Reading Time. I break the rule now and then, but I've mostly been pretty good about it. And hey, shocker, I really like books still. (Of course this now means I'm behind on podcasts and everything else, but I actually think it's a decent trade.)

Also this is hardly a ground-breaking statement at this point but I love love love my Kindle. I'd figured I didn't need one for my low-volume reading and since I already have so many devices, but I love the e-paper and my easily distracted attention span loves that it's a dedicated device. One of the first books in this new endeavor was Carrie, and it turned out my copy from 1988 was crumbly and in no state to read. So I grabbed the e-book and brought my iPad on the subway. As much as I travel with it, it didn't work for me on a rush hour commute. It was just a bit too heavy, a bit too big for the tight space, and since most of my commute is above ground, a bit too sunny. I finished the book on my phone, which was a bit like reading a Little Golden children's book version of Stephen King, with one paragraph on each "page," but it got the job done and worked in a crowd. When I was done I attacked my pile of paper books until getting a Kindle Touch for Chanukah.

I've never been a bookstore person. Unless I know exactly what I want, it's hard to, well, judge a book by its cover, and being a slow reader I'm not one to stand there in the aisle and read a chapter. Similarly, I've never been a fan of libraries and their deadlines. So my favorite thing about the Kindle is the ability to sample anything. If I hear about a book I might even slightly be interested in, I grab the sample for when I eventually get around to it. I've both dodged some bullets and found some great stuff this way. And I always have multiple books with me now. (I've even got TWO library cards again, for the first time in years; the due dates don't bother me so much when everything can be magically zapped back and forth.)

I don't get the hold "real" books have over some of my friends - including (in fact mostly) people much younger than me. It's funny too, because I'm a fairly acquisitive person. In college I had a few books that traveled with me from dorm to dorm, ostensibly in case I wanted to refer to them but in reality just so they could be on the shelf. My living room now has an entire wall of bookshelves and I love them but they're more decorative than anything. It turns out the convenience of getting almost any book I want the instant I want it, and carrying this tiny thing around trumps my love of shiny objects and showing off. (I've still got plenty of "real" books to read too, and of course I'm always sure to have one with me on airplanes for take off and landing.)

Anyway, I was going to post a bit about some stuff I've read, but I've prattled on too long about the device instead of the content, so I'll save that for later. More reading! More writing!

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