by Pete Mazzaccaro
Last year in this space, I wrote about going to a bookstore while on summer vacation in Vermont and wondering if I’d ever again buy a book. The book I bought was called “Eating the Dinosaur” by the essayist Chuck Klosterman. I thought then that perhaps it would be the last paper book I would ever read.
The thing was this: I had recently bought a Nexus 7 – a very handy and inexpensive Android tablet on which I believed I’d be doing most of my future reading.
One year later and another weeklong vacation behind me and I can report that I’ve only read one book on the Nexus, albeit a very long one – the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I have, however, read numerous print books that I’ve taken out from the library.
So, in one way “Eating the Dinosaur” may have been the last physical book I’ve bought, but it did not, as I guessed, end my lifetime habit of reading books in print.
Much of what I’ve read has not been all that interesting. And I must admit that, as a pretty busy guy with two young children, I don’t get as much time to read as I’d like. It’s tough to find the time to get involved in a full-blown narrative that takes more than 300 pages to complete. So much of what I like to read are essays and articles.
There have been two exceptions. Both are books I’d highly recommend.
The first was a book I used to teach a class on academic research at La Salle University: “Lethal Passage” by Erik Larson, a now 20-year-old look at America’s gun culture that still rings true today. It’s far from an anti-gun polemic, if that’s what it sounds like. It looks very critically at the state of our gun laws and the gun industry, both of which have changed little since the book was written in 1992.
The second is one I began reading recently: “Five Skies,” a novel by one of my favorite writers, Ron Carlson. The story is an account of three men trying to forget their pasts who are brought together to build a motorcycle ramp in the middle of an Idaho wilderness.
Both books were big hardcovers taken out of the library, carted around and read. It wasn’t the most convenient way to read them, but I didn’t even think about it.
There are still a few good reasons for reading in print, despite that e-books are so easy to get, though I suspect my reasons are a bit unusual, and they have nothing to do whatsoever with a nostalgia for the smell or feel of paper.
First, although I’ve migrated my music buying to digital without a shred of nostalgia for the CD, I can’t bring myself to spend $10 or more on an e-book. Not sure why that is. It’s way easier and less expensive to grab the book at a library. The three week borrowing period is also a good incentive to finish a book.
Second, I’ve been battling carpal tunnel syndrome for several years now, and – believe it or not – holding a tablet is not a good way to relieve pain and numbness in your wrists. In fact, it makes the whole condition worse. Here, and this is probably something you won’t read anywhere else, paper books have an advantage: They’re more ergonomic.
So as much as I love the convenience in theory of the electronic book that can be downloaded in seconds to a little book-sized reading device, there are still some good reasons – for me at least – to stick to the old, bound-paper model.