I am a book lover. The walls of my office are lined with bookcases that hold my Inklings collection, classic fairytale picture books, research for my current project and two shelves of writing and literature studies. There are Bibles and devotionals in our bedroom; theology in the spare room; travel books, Africana and miscellaneous fiction in the family room; and current magazines in the living room. There are books in every room of our house including the bathroom.
But when I pack my bag for a trip I have to choose. A Bible, a devotional book, and my prayer notebook take up a lot of space before I ever think about reading material for the plane. I’m a fast reader; it takes a thick book to get me through a four-hour flight. And I have a habit of reading before I fall asleep. How many nights will I be gone? How many volumes do I need? Will there be any room for clothes in my suitcase? I did discover a decade or so ago that the Classics take longer to read than light fiction. I read Moby Dick on a recent trip. (Would have made a good short story.) Don Quixote was delightful. War and Peace lasted me for weeks!
But imagine having one book or a dozen take up the same amount of space. In my ideal world, they take up no more space than my iPod. In the real world my devotional book and prayer notebook get left at home unless we are traveling by car. In the e-book world, I could take a whole set of commentaries as easily as my little travel Bible, and read popular page-turners instead of Dostoevsky.
My daughter got a Nook last Christmas. That’s the e-reader from Barnes and Noble. One of the innovations of Nook over Kindle is that it allows loans. She administers a Facebook page with more than 2000 members, linking people who want to borrow with people who have to lend. They have more than 700 readers in their book club.
She got me reading e-books when Barnes and Noble offered free downloads of classics. “The reader is free,” she told me, “and you can read them on your computer until you buy your Nook.” (Unfortunately, this promotion is over.) On my recent trip to South Africa, I read Jane Austin cuddled in bed with my laptop. (I know, she’s not Robert Ludlum, but she is good.) With the computer on my lap I had two hands free for my cup of tea. I could click on the footnotes and get explanations of literary references or cultural practices I didn’t understand. And it was easy to click back to the text. My place was automatically marked when I closed the program, and how far along I was in the book showed on a strip at the bottom of the page. I could even highlight passages I found particularly witty (in multiple colors), but I had to copy them to a Word document if I wanted to hold on to them when I archived the book to save hard disk space.
My e-book reading friends tell me that they read far more than they did when they couldn’t slip their library into their purse. They also tell me that they still buy hard copies of the stories they treasure most. I can see that coming for me, especially when I pack for my next trip. But then, no device will work when I take my dream trip through the Grand Canyon….