The first substantial book I read was the Value Tales. It was the Value of Patience (the Wright Brothers). I read the book to my sister Anna. I’m quite certain I botched most of the words. But I got from cover to cover.
The first chapter book I read was The Boxcar Children (1st or 2nd grade). After, I contemplated running way. I built a fort in the backyard instead.
The first book I cried through was Where the Red Fern Grows. I never picked up Old Yeller.
The first grown up book I read was from Gilbert Morris’s “House of Winslow” series (“Honorable Impostor”). They were Baptist adventure books. They always had romance, adventure, and a solid conversion near the end of the novel.
The first adult book I read was Clan of the Cave Bear and The Valley of Horses. Terribly written. And definitely not Baptist.
The first major science fiction book I read was Piers Anthony’s Macroscope. It triggered a complete and total love of the genre. To this day I will read anything published by Charlie Stross, Peter Hamilton, Neal Stephenson, Stephen Baxter, David Brin, Alistair Reynolds (this itself is a small sample).
I discovered fantasy late in the game (the exception being the childhood standards of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Prydain). I thought the genre somewhat cheesy. Then, a year out of college, I read Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. After, an entirely new set of authors like Kate Elliot, Guy Gavriel Kay, Brandon Sanderson, and Patrick Rothfuss joined my bookshelf.
I completely fell in love with anything written by Robin Hobb. Her ability to create human characters that experience great sacrifice is incredible. I’ve autographed copies of the Assassins Trilogy sitting on the bookshelf as well (somewhat worn because I lend the books out often).
There’s non-fiction too. Lots of history books (Guns, Germs, and Steel, 1492, The Warmth of other Suns), science books (The Ancestor’s Tale, The Elegant Universe, A Short History of Nearly Everything), and religious books (The Divine Conspiracy, Divided by Faith, Celebration of Discipline, Doubt).
I’ve always had a book on hand. I love reading.
The Disappearance of the Physical
After Ren and I bought our house, I took a great deal of pride and excitement in creating a study full of bookshelves. We filled shelf after shelf – even after sending a good number of cases to Half Priced Books. We had our own library. It was comforting, warm, and reassuring. It wasn’t that I ever intended to read all the books again, although a few copies would get pulled regularly for a second (or third) round of reading. Perhaps my kids would read the books when they grew older. Or I could be “that friend” who constantly passed on a new novel to home visitors. Having my own library was my own nerdy version of driving a Mercedes. Yeah, I was grown up enough to own and display lots of books.
But then I got an iPad.
And I picked up a used Kindle off Craigslist for $15.
We didn’t stop buying books. If anything, the simplicity of having a novel show up in one click increased our purchases (and cut down on my visits to the library). They just came in .mobi format (or the occasional ePub).
Our library went virtual.
The change wasn’t even gradual. Around the same time I got an iPad, I also brought home new children and started new jobs. My dedicated reading time took a dip. With less time, making trips to the library became more of a hassle. Downloading books with a click was easy and fast. Convenience replaced the satisfaction the physical.
This past Christmas break I slimmed down the library and gave most of our books away. The walls have art on them instead of bookshelves. The most prominent item is the glowing, alien ASUS router that connects me to Amazon and the Cincinnati Public Library. A solitary bookshelf contains the keepers. Cooking books (you always need pictures). Religious books. A large collection of Science Fiction. And my precious anthology of Calvin and Hobbs.
In religion class I remember learning about Jews and Christians and Muslims being a “people of the book”. This means different things for the different faiths, but shares the concept that a book, the book, has power. Books are a symbol to many things we hold holy.
What does it mean to become people of the screen? Does it somehow affect our identity? Or are narratives and words and ideas really platform agnostic? It really doesn’t matter if it’s paper or glass (or papyrus or clay tablet).
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. But it bears some reflecting that this is one of the moments where technology is, yet again, changing how we interact with our world.