Saturday, August 17, 2013

Confessions of a Book Addict

For as long as I can remember, I have been a book addict. One of my earliest and best childhood memories:
I'm three years old, walking with my mother from our apartment in downtown Warsaw to the public library. Along the way, we stop to look at baby chicks in the feed store window, and on the way back, we may visit the bakery, and if I'm good, I may get a cookie. But the important thing is that we are going to the library, and I will be allowed to pick out one book (usually Dr. Seuss) from the children's section, which, later on, my mother or father will read to me.
Imagine the thrill when I was old enough to get my first library card, and could check out any book I wanted—from any section of the library—and read it myself!

Of course, what I really wanted was to own books. They were my favorite gifts, and I spent much of my allowance on them: beginning with The Hardy Boys, Tom ("Tom said Swiftly") Swift, and paperbacks from the school book club, eventually moving on to grown-up mysteries, thrillers, fantasy, and science fiction.

When I was in college, I discovered my first used bookstore. For a fraction of the cost of a new book, I could buy a used one. I soon did my book shopping almost exclusively at used bookstores—each one unique, depending on the personal taste and character of its owner. I could browse for hours, searching for works by my favorite authors. I craved the thrill of the hunt.

I was addicted to used bookstores.

Then along came e-books. For years, I resisted them. I thought nothing could ever compare with real books. One of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury, felt the same way. He refused to allow his books to be published electronically. "Those aren’t books," he said. "You can’t hold a computer in your hand like you can a book. A computer does not smell. There are two perfumes to a book. If a book is new, it smells great. If a book is old, it smells even better. It smells like ancient Egypt. A book has got to smell. You have to hold it in your hands and pray to it. You put it in your pocket and you walk with it. And it stays with you forever.”

I completely agreed with Ray—especially the part about the smell of books. To me, new books smell like fresh paper, glue, and ink, and remind me of the excitement of the first day of school. But old books are the best; their fragrance brings back memories of childhood trips to the library and happy hours spent browsing favorite used bookstores.

Then, a couple of years ago, Loretta gave me a Kindle. Suddenly I was a convert. Are you kidding me? Think of any book you want to read and—presto!—you've got it on your Kindle! An entire library you can carry in the palm of your hand! And best of all, some of my favorites—classics in the public domain—were free!

Fortunately, just before he died, Ray Bradbury changed his mind about e-books, too. He allowed Fahrenheit 451—his cautionary tale of a future society where books are outlawed and firemen burn them—to be published in electronic format. Since his death, more and more of his books have been released as e-books. A few days ago, I purchased half a dozen of them at $1.99 apiece as "Kindle Daily Deals." In case you hadn't heard about this, every day Amazon lists several e-books for just $1.99. (These days, it's hard to find a used paperback for that price!) Of course, you have to check every day. Otherwise, you might miss a deal on a book you really want.

I've become addicted to Kindle Daily Deals.

I still love libraries and used bookstores, of course, and I certainly hope electronic publishing doesn't put them out of business. Because, with all of the convenience, there is still one thing you can never get with an e-book—

That smell.

Warsaw Public Library

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