print vs. digital books
Summer used to mean trips to the library, at least once a week and usually more often. Books had to be gathered from under beds and behind car seats and children rounded up and loaded into those same seats, wiggling with anticipation over the new stories they’d discover and bring home.
Often we’d get sidetracked and end up grabbing a shave ice from a local teenager sweltering in a temporary shed covered in plastic raffia. I used to keep baby wipes in the car so sticky tiger’s blood wouldn’t dot the new book covers.
But now things are different. Last week my 14 year old daughter asked if I could take her to the library. I turned away from my computer, blinking. It’s the middle of July and I haven’t had a single strawberry shave ice. We’ve driven by the library a zillion times. Why haven’t we stopped in?
Oh, man. Does this mean I’m a terrible mother? My kids are not reading this summer. They are going to fail their SATs and end up addicted to video games and living in my basement until I die, a cold Diet Coke clutched in one hand and a dusty library card in the other.
Quick! How many books do they have to consume in the weeks before school starts to catch up? 10? 20? We’ll give up tv. We’ll give up sleep. We’ll—
“Mom? Did you hear me? Can we go to the library? Or can you at least recommend something from your eBook collection? Since I can’t pick up the books and check the back, I don’t know what’s good.”
Oh, yeah. EBooks. Between gifts, subscription services, and purchases, there are thousands of books in my digital library for the kids to choose from. “Son,” I yelled up the stairs, “what are you reading?”
The 16 year old peeked over the railing. “Last week I read Brandon Sanderson’s newest. Yesterday I finished the entire Sherlock Holmes collection and I’ve started on Terry Pratchett.”
“So you don’t want to go to the library?”
He waved his smart phone at me. “Whatever for?”
My daughter said, “Well, I want to read The Fault in Our Stars.”
“Mom’s got it,” he replied. “Check her Amazon account.”
“I also wanted dystopian.”
“Mom’s got the Legends series.”
“I want books.”
I get where she’s coming from. There’s something about holding a book, measuring your progress through it, trying to slow down when you know the end is coming up and you war with yourself over wanting to prolong the journey as much as you want to find out what happens.
I also know that eBooks are immediately available and infinitely more portable.
At the library, I wasn’t surprised that when my daughter borrowed Legend by Marie Lu she had to put her name down on the wait-list for the next books in the series, Prodigy and Champion. It’s popular and there were four or five kids ahead of her. I also wasn’t surprised when she came to me at 11 pm asking how to download the final two books.
The desire to know what happens next crushed the book purist in her.
And now I fear I’ll have to find new excuses to make summer shave ice runs. But the kids are reading. Won’t have to finish the basement after all.
Among my bibliophile friends, I’m the only one who loves eBooks. When you read as many and as fast as I do, being able to keep a stack of novels on hand without hauling a small trailer around is a definite plus. So is packing an eReader or smart phone into a purse instead of a 700+ page hardback the size of a loaf of bread. I also like being able to change the size of the font with a flick of the thumb so I can read without my glasses. There are still many nights when I read far longer than I should, but the side table light no longer shines in my husband’s eyes when he’s trying to sleep. He probably considers that a plus, too.
Unlike most digital gadget owners, in those odd moments of waiting for piano or soccer practice to end, I’d rather pick up my phone and lose myself in a novel instead of playing another round of Angry Birds. In our house book apps in all their forms are on everything—smart phones, Kindles, IPads, IPods, laptops, desktops, and Nooks. Our four family members share accounts and content, so it’s not unusual for two of us to be reading the same digital book. It works well if everyone disables auto-sync and uses a virtual bookmark. The kids also like having the literature they’re studying in school available on their IPods, so they can tell me they’re studying when they’re probably doing something else. I especially like that most of the classics they’re studying can be downloaded for free and don’t result in overdue library fines.
I made the switch to mostly eBooks when the first Kindle came out. Back then new releases were about half the cost of a hardback, a significant savings for someone who devours new fiction like potato chips, and while I did miss passing around books I’d finished, I no longer had to worry about where I was going to put them all if I got them back.
As an adult I’ve found most books are like a box of tissues; I read them once then toss. It’s the same with movies; I almost never want to watch a movie twice, even ones I really like. For me, knowing what’s going to happen seems to suck the joy right out of the experience, like a balloon minus the helium or a wrapper minus the candy.
But things were different when I was a kid. You could argue that books and movies were rarer back then and that would be true. However, I’ve seen this with my own and other kids who grew up with over-flowing cornucopias of books. Favorite children’s books are read and re-read. They’re treasured.
Over the years almost all of my adult books have migrated to the local library or thrift shop. However, through the years I’ve kept the books I owned as a child along with most of my kids’ children’s books. Packed away in waterproof boxes in the basement are Dr. Seuss, the Magic Tree House, Lemony Snicket, Harry Potter, and friends, all patiently waiting for the next generation of young readers to discover their words and worlds. I find a sense of peace in knowing that regardless of changing digital formats, battery life, screen glare, and economic upswings and downturns someday some little kid will get to hold a well-loved and often read book. He or she will get to turn the pages and step into the story, stray crayon marks, peanut butter-jelly thumbprints, and all.
So even though I really love the practicality of eBooks, when Jolly Fish Press said they wanted to publish One Boy, No Water and the rest of the Niuhi Shark Adventure Series as hardback children’s books, I was thrilled. After all, it’s tough pack an eBook in the basement for the grandkids.