An Ode to Books, Both Paper & Electronic; also, An Ode to the Readers, Writers & Bookish Among Us

You know what books are? Books are people talking, talking their dreams and ideas into momentary reality, except the moments aren’t just moments. The moments become moments which can stretch into periods so long, it can seem like an eternity.

It all began with falling in love with letters and words as a little girl, their sounds, their pairings, and their groupings. In my very early years as a child, I can remember riding in my father’s Chevy Nova (orange, with black top), staring in fascination at the passing store signs, noticing all the many ways letters could be shaped to announce a business name. Fascinating! It was like a letters and words parade, I thought.

And to my father’s proud delight, I would read every sign I saw out loud, like I was a little martian from another planet, trying out earthly names on my young tongue. Those moments between us were rare in-between episodes of healthy father-daughter fare, when there existed a bit of peace and normalcy in our family routine, rare occasions which I learned to savor while they lasted, providing good memories to be tucked away in my child’s mind for future comfort and validation, a reminder that all was not completely lost or hopeless in my world. 

My father must have instructed my mother to sign me up for a library card because it was Mama who brought me to that wonderland of wall-to-wall books for the first time. What a place it was! I could choose as many books as I liked for borrowing, AND they were all free?! It was like being a kid let loose in a candy store.  

Mama was not one to notice what any of us liked or didn’t like and respond to it. She wasn’t that kind of parent. My mother was of the dysfunctional, old school belief that children were to be seen and not heard, otherwise— womp!— a slap on the mouth or get me the belt. And yet, somewhere in my childhood heart, I knew she meant well. And she did. She just didn’t know how to sustain those brief periods of decent parenting to help us thrive, similar to her husband, who didn’t know either.

My wounded, crazy, abusive, parents— I loved them anyway. They may have neglected to read me bedtime stories (a vision too laughable to contemplate), but alas! I have them to thank for encouraging my love of reading and stoking the flames of my inchoate writing passions.

Like so many millions of children before and after me, for countless and disparate reasons, books have always been a form of escape. During those quiet periods of reading, I often felt safe and “normal.” I spent plenty of hours reading about characters who traversed exciting worlds of adventure or who navigated fledgling and close-knit friendships or who spent their young lives growing up on farms, surrounded by animals who offered companionship. Whoa! For a city girl like me, whole new ways of life were suddenly open to me. 

Stories have always swept me into loving embrace, no questions asked, no conditions inflicted. I went from falling in love with letters and words, to a deeper, more bonded love with books and I have never looked back.

And yet ….

I have deliberately resisted electronic books since their widespread appearance and successful marketing efforts, first by Sony in 1997, and then by Amazon and Apple, in 2007 and 2010. Electronic books? Nope. Not gonna, won’t ever, don’t wanna. 

For a long time I turned my nose completely up at ebooks and scoffed with exaggerated disdain. Fuck ebooks and fuck ebook readers, I repeatedly huffed throughout the years. The paper-book readers who embraced ebooks were traitors and sellouts, in my estimation, contributing to the rapid demise of bookstores everywhere. May their eyes be burned out of their skulls by those blasphemous and fraudulent electronic book pages! (Drama-queen much? Why, yes, don’t mind if I do 😉 )

My young adult daughters concurred with my extreme opinion about ebooks. We are a family of constant readers and paper-book lovers. I had successfully passed on my love for books, reading to them frequently from babyhood to until they became little readers, themselves. 

Later, as ebooks began trending, my daughters and I circled our wagons, insulating ourselves from the unstoppable evolution of the book industry, and we refused to participate. Sadly, the writing was on the wall and the steadily turning tides would not be stopped by the dwindling numbers of paper-book-reading purists. 

Traitors were being charmed and lured to the other side. Yes, I confess. I finally gave in to become one of them.

On June 4, 2019, unbeknownst to my daughters, in preparation for airplane travel, I tiptoed off the reservation, sneaking quietly into enemy territory. It came down to money (as it always does in our capitalist society). I was only trying to be prudent, seeing how ballooning airline costs were the result of fees buried cleverly in bag check charges. We needed to travel lighter!

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With a little research, I discovered that our local library was not only a lender of books, cds and videos, but they had recently begun lending out Kindle Fires as well. Umm, holla!! Did somebody say FREE? How could I resist trying out a free ereader?

My husband already owned an  Android tablet, a gift from his current employers for his many years of service (say what you want about FedEx, I love how they take care of their employees).

I saw that I could download three or four books for each of us to take on vacation without adding to the closely scrutinized weight of our luggage. Umm, hello? Winning!

When I told my daughters about my library Kindle loan, the reaction was mixed, but the initial disappointment was unanimous. (We take this paper-book supporting thing very seriously). I promised them, I will always support paper books with my dollars and remain a loyal patron of library support. But I also now enjoy reading on the Kindle, I really do. We are still adjusting to this new way of life, their mother, a new member of the e-book reading lot. I can’t blame them for being disappointed in me. But I know they will get over it …. eventually. 😉

Less than two weeks ago, I purchased my very first Kindle Fire. To say that I am ecstatic about owning my own Kindle Fire would only be putting it mildly. What I discovered through use of the library’s Kindle loan is there is an entire world of extra books available to the avid and passionate readers of the world. Woo-hoooo!!! Lately, my world has been an avalanche of books—deeply discounted and sometimes even FREE! 

Gone are the days when I was restricted to ONE local library. Now I can go online and get library cards and checkout ebooks from participating libraries all over my region and state. Oh! Be still my book loving heart.

 

~2~

 

As a full-time writer, I once wondered if it was a good or bad idea to actively read other books while in the process of writing my own book. At first, I honestly didn’t know. I thought there might be some rule of thought around this, so I researched it. The answers were mixed, laced with personal tastes, and often, quite conflicting. Many of my favorite, known authors offered their commentary in books and articles on the topic, some for and some against reading while writing. Those who were against reading while writing said, they read other books while on breaks or vacation, once a project is completed. For a while there, I still wasn’t sure what to do. 

Well! Guess what? As my writer’s life has continued its unfolding, as I cocooned off more and more from the known, fickle, can’t-shut-the-fuck-up-for-even-ten-seconds, noisy world, as my self-confidence continued to bloom, and as I found my writer’s footing more securely, feeling less shy about standing on my own core beliefs, I figured out my answer to the question.

Duh! I’ll do what the fuck I want. 

Nowadays— having cultivated my own world by deliberately withdrawing from the trends and routines of the known, larger world— I have discovered this: looking around to see what other writers are doing as a way to employ my own writerly habits is akin to discovering I have breasts and a vagina, and then consulting other women to figure out what to do with them. Phffft! I think I can manage, Outspoken World. Thanks anyway for your conflicted offerings, but I am going to pass on your suggestions.

In the past three years I have learned a few things about the book writing process. It is very personal and very individual. Book writing takes time, the kind of time that can not be contained or restricted with narrow timetables. I’ve learned to allow for creative blocks, allow for mistakes and corrections, allow for self-development, allow for growth, allow for life’s interruptions, and allow for boredom with my own work. 

Therefore, I allow for constructive distractions like crocheting, journaling and book reading, to name a few. Every happening counts, every painstaking and happy moment, every nugget and slice of life, they all mean something and each one, no matter how small or arbitrary it appears, adds a necessary element to my book writing process. 

I am the driving force, I am the engine that makes the magic happen, putting all the words onto the page. Not The World and its fickle trends, with its uninvited shoulds, coulds, and best practices. Nope. It’s me, formerly broken, newly magical, steadily becoming, Maria.

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And so, for the past month, I have been reading book after book after book. And I have been delighted with life (most days, anyway) because for me, reading is a thing of worship. It is a beautiful descension into Otherly Worlds, where a not-so-secret language flows with perpetual love and homage to letters, words and the human imagination.

Life is School and either we are in it passively, bumping around and reacting to the unending stimuli like amoebas, or we are grabbing it by the reigns, co-authoring our destinies, enjoying its wild and bumpy ride. I’m doing the former less and less these days. Book reading keeps me in the writing classroom. And I love it here because I am an eager and hungry student. 

Writers and readers are a dedicated club of human beings, loyal to the longest standing tradition in the the history of civilization, the tradition of storytelling. Once any of us sign on, we dedicate most of our lives to honoring our love of storytelling. We are a large and diverse multitude, appearing to each other in many shapes, sizes and shades of color. We are bloggers, authors, poets, philosophers, musicians, reporters, entertainers, and more— our job titles, numerous and extremely varied. 

Some of us are less bookish than others— and that’s okay! We need the different flavors that we each bring to the storytelling world. 

As for me, I am passionately bookish. I used to dumb down on that fact to make non-bookish people feel comfortable because that is what The World taught me to do. Majority rules. And no matter what circle we travel in, this is a known, steadfast rule of the patriarchy. Sad but true, a not so-fun fact: the patriarchy is a breeding ground for bullies and tyrants. 

Most of us have a story or two about being made to feel like some kind of weirdo because we loved books, writing and/or reading. That’s what happens when we are outnumbered by morons.

 

~3~

 

On a last note, I can say this: ebook reading has taken me to an entirely new level of confidence and empowered feelings. My reading options are less limited simply because there are more books available to me at any hour of the day or night. And! I am not at the mercy of a handful of small-minded librarians making book selections for the library shelves. Ha! With an e-reader I can visit other libraries and a wider variety of book stores.

And! I am no longer at the mercy of the mammoth book institutions who are all promoting and selling numerous of the same kinds of books. Ha! Now I have access to lesser-known writers and their work, the indie writers and the self-published authors. I no longer have to dig for them as if I were hiking through remote jungles, searching for gold. Electronic readers not only promote the best selling and popular books, they also deliberately promote the wonderful work of lesser-known indie writers. 

Memo to the New York Times bestseller list: fool me once, shame on you! Fool me twice, shame on me! You guys may have a history of picking good books, but you have also morphed into an outfit of frequently lying liars—makes it hard to take you seriously anymore.

Here’s the thing: don’t tell me what to do. Don’t tell me who to love, who to hate, who to tune out and who to listen to. I hadn’t realize until now that this is what was happening in my book reading life for decades. Memo to The Establishment: you are NOT the boss of me. 

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When I choose a book to read, I am choosing a friend to come into my personal space, to come into the living room of my mind, to sit on my couch, to dwell within my thoughts for long hours and days and even, weeks. Nowadays, all are no longer necessarily welcome. Nowadays, I only want the writers who make my heart strum, nowadays, I need resonance. I need the deepest of truths, even if it is wrapped in the pages of fiction. Nowadays, I enjoy a little vulnerability in my prose. 

Besides, knowledge is power. I am enjoying watching the way my own mind has expanded, continuing to open up more and more each day. For a woman who was once a girl, who became a woman, who honestly believed she was dumber than almost everyone around her, who honestly thought she didn’t deserve to open her mouth, fearing the litany of foolishness she might possibly unleash, it has been freakishly awesome to observe my own dawning light of genius grow from a flicker to a roaring flame. 

I have experienced surprise reactions to my previously held thoughts of negative self-perception. Ok, I get the love and admiration from some of my homies, known and unknown to me. But check it. How could I have known just how smart I might be if no one ever told me? I am the off-spring of self-loathing adults who felt so threatened by my existence, who so feared that I would go further than they, that they did everything they could to hold me down and hold me back. Right. So I am fighting for my life here, I am working to undo the earlier damage done to my thinking, and I am fighting for the life of others like me, standing up and speaking up, as a reminder that it ain’t over until it is over. We can begin again anytime, in every single moment and every single day– we are always free to begin again.

Thanks for reading! Keep shining your beautiful light into the world. We so need it!

Love, Maria

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P.S. Here are a few of my favorite books read in 2019 so far.

Fiction

In the Kingdom of Men — Kim Barnes (I’m halfway through the Kindle version and it is my hands-down, favorite book this year)

All Grown Up — Jami Attenberg

Emily, Alone — Stewart O’Nan

Before the Fall — Noah Hawley (I enjoyed most of it, but the ending wasn’t that great)

Take Off — Joseph Reid 

End Game — David Baldacci

Non-fiction

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget (memoir) — Sarah Hepola

No One Tells You This (memoir) — Glynnis Macnicol

Will Not Attend (memoir) — Adam Resnick

Silence in the Age of Noise — Erling Kagg