Recently a friend recommended a book to me.
Like most things, this is not as simple a thing as it once was. When I was a kid, if your friend wanted you to read one of his books, he’d lend you his copy, you’d read it, and you’d give it back. Today, with ebooks, it’s not that easy. The publisher or author decides whether you can trade or lend the book. This is another of those modern innovations where you pay money and get something less than ownership of what you bought, but that’s not what this post is about. I only make mention of it because in this case my friend had the book on her Kindle and was unable to lend it to me.
Her recommendation was not positive enough that I’d want to buy the book, so I wound up going to the local library – which, after all, is what it’s for – and eventually getting an actual physical paper copy of the book to read. I spend a lot of time riding the train to work every day, so I stuffed the book in my case to read during the ride.
Many years ago I used to ride the commuter train, and in those days it was filled with people reading books, magazines, or newspapers. Not so today. Everyone reads on a device – sometimes an e-reader like a Kindle or Nook, but more often a tablet, phone, or laptop. Typically I read on a phone. But because of the circumstances I had this paper book.
Did I say everyone uses a device? Well, not exactly. A few people still carry actual books. But those people are almost universally over 40. It’s very rare to see younger people with actual books. (Bibles are an exception, but let’s not go there.)
Once I became aware of this, I realized I was becoming self-conscious about reading a paper book in public.
That is a sentence I never thought I would write. Or say. Or even think. Self-conscious about reading a book? The very idea, that a book – not some specific book, but books in general – could mark you as old-fashioned and slow! But there it was. I realized I was being stereotyped just by the fact of having gray hair and a book. Look at the old guy, still using books. He’s probably technology-phobic and doesn’t have a smartphone. Maybe he’s going to go home and ask his grandson how to get the Googles. Get with it, geezer! Ha ha!
Yes, I know it’s the 21st century. Print is dead. If I could have had the book on my device, without paying $13 to read it once and never look at it again, I would have. If the DRM had allowed the library to lend me an e-copy, I would have taken that option. It’s easier and less to carry. But it was strange and demoralizing to find myself with this other reason too. I don’t know why it should even bother me, but it does.