There has never been a better time to be a reader. I’ve been reading since I was four, myself, which is a very small slice of the past when viewed in relative terms. But I am also a student of history. it wasn’t that long ago that books were individually precious, treasured and cared for because they were expensive and difficult to replace. Talk a short walk with me, backward through time. The Old West of the Americas, a time of larger-than-life legends. It was also a time of lonely men and women who slowly filtered into almost empty lands. They carried with them books, and wrapped them in oil-cloth, because if they got wet, there were no stores to replace them. A step further back takes us to Gutenberg’s legacy, when printing began to rise and the monks despaired of the new technology devaluing books. A step beyond that takes us to a place where reading wasn’t as important, because the ratio of books to people was such that one person could read the book to others, and why bother?
Now let’s come back to now. I am sitting at a desk almost literally surrounded with books. I have paper ones, ebooks, there’s
probably an au Several audiobooks on that computer. I have a phone with books, and a tablet, and those can be read without losing my place if I am standing in line at the bank or curled up in bed trying to sleep. My children are avid readers, who have access not only to their school libraries, but a large public library that can also borrow from other libraries in the state and University systems. They have phones, computers, and tablets that enable them to read, books, emails, blogs, everything…
This is the true era of reading. It’s not that people are reading less, it’s simply that they are reading less conspicuously. No longer am I wandering through life (well, yes, being me, I do still do this) using my peripheral vision to navigate while I read the book in front of my face. Now I can walk through the obstacle course that is school and life and… read on my phone, which is only about 5 inches by 3 inches. Much less of a hazard to tripping. Or leaving it lay where I can’t remember where I put it down! I once discovered my book I’d been reading, lain down, and searched frantically for… in the refrigerator. I’d gotten a glass of milk. I was a lot younger then.
And back then, in my youth (and not SO very distant, that halcyon time) I didn’t have a choice. I had to hunt for the next book in the series, the new book by that great author (what was their name again?) or a book to read that was like that last book, which suited my mood nicely. I have so many choices now. I can look online for the books I want, and have them at the press of a button. For the ebooks, it’s instant pleasure. For the OOP paperbacks, once so rare and difficult to track down, if at all, it’s a delayed reward of a few days. And as time passes, more and more of those out of print books come back into play as ebooks.
If I am standing in a bookstore, as I was the other day, and cannot for the life of me remember what the name of the author of that mystery series I liked so much was… I can type into my phone ‘mystery series WWI hamish ghost’ and as soon as my slow data catches up with me, I know I need to step to the ‘T” section and look for Charles Todd. Amazon (and I’m sure other online retailers, but that’s the one I use most often) will say ‘if you liked that, you might also like this’ and sometimes I do. If I am sick and want to binge-read, as the book ends a little button pops up offering the next book in the series. Or, in the new and delightful option, will let me buy the whole series as a bundle.
I can choose to stay within my book budget without giving up books. There are many ways of doing this, but my favorites are Manybooks.net and Project Gutenberg. Although increasingly I find that their books are also on Amazon, which makes putting them on my tablet almost too simple. Because then we get into book hoarding. There’s a reason I wrote a dragon on her hoard of books in Dragon Noir. I have had to strip my library too many times, at the bidding of others, and once, to transport my library to safety. That I can weightlessly carry hundreds of books in my bag? Yes, please and thank you and Oooh! is that a book of Ainu folk tales?
I have choices, and I have the knowledge to discern that while books are good, I am no longer limited in who made those books. I can be picky, and say ‘that company is terribly contemptuous of their customers, do I really want to give them my money?’ And I can also see that the authors who are obligated to that company have other books, elsewhere, and used and I really don’t have to support a business unless I want to. I can always drop by an author’s website and drop a bit in their tip jar when I buy a used book, because I want that author to keep on writing the books I want in my hoard. I can be blind entirely to who the author of the books I enjoy is, and what they are, if I decide that. I am no longer limited. I am a reader, and my children are, and my grandchildren (no hurry, my young ones, I can wait at least a decade) will likely read in forms I can’t even imagine this early in the morning before coffee.
So what was your last book purchase, and what are you reading now?