I had a good Thanksgiving. One of the major pleasures of the long holiday weekend was the opportunity to read for several hours at one sitting on Saturday morning. That doesn’t happen too often. Between work, house and family, I usually read in short gasps these days. When I do read, I often find myself reaching for the kinds of things you read when your attention is frayed — blog posts, Twitter links, short articles. Nothing too taxing. The hard, long-form stuff gets pushed into my Instapaper account for later. Later never comes.
I am reading Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, a 900+ page wrist-bender of a book. This is the kind of book the Kindle was made for – light weight, easy page turning, no book mark to misplace.
Still, as I was reading, a part of my mind was busy wondering what my daughter thinks I am doing when I read the Kindle. I grew up loving books because my parents love reading. My dad read books and newspaper. My mom read magazines. I saw them reading. I saw the book in my dad”s hands. I watched him work his way through the pages. When he finished, the book changed. I could keep track of how fast he read, how quickly he moved through the pages.
My daughter can’t do that. She loves to read, but I wonder if, somehow, the experience of seeing me read on a Kindle or an iPad or an iPhone deprives her of some essential element that seals that love for reading. The outside of the book never changes.
Worse, when reading on the iPad, how does she know I am reading a book and not watching a video or playing a game or surfing the web?
It comes down to gestures and demeanor, I suppose. The act of reading is essentially a meditative act. The outward signs of the internal activity are steady, intent focus. I’m sure she can tell the difference from when I am reading and when I am doing something else. I wonder if seeing me read on a multipurpose device, like the iPad, diminishes for her that sacred sense I picked up watching my dad read. Or, if there is a sacred sense, if the positive feelings around that act will transfer to the device in general more than to the hidden object of my actual attention.
It is a bit maddening to consider.
I don’t worry so much about my daughter. She already loves books, both paper and virtual. I read in both formats often, so she knows books as objects are important to me. Still, I wonder in how many households will the love of reading become confused or conflated with the love of a specific device. In other words, will the tablet or eReader become fetishized in the same way that books are fetishized?
I had a terrific morning reading last Saturday. I read for a few hours, then played with my daughter, then read some more. Back and forth. Several times, she asked if I was ready to play.
“Not now. Daddy’s reading.” These aren’t words I say very often. Maybe I should say them more often. They are significant words which I think she will remember.
No worries. She didn’t feel neglected. “Okay,” she told me. “I’ll just grab a book and we can read together in our minds.” This was her way of saying we could each read our own books together in silence. I do believe this remains one of the main joys of human experience — the feeling that comes from sitting together in silence, enjoying one another’s company while swallowed up in the delicious isolation of your own books. It is a part of what makes libraries so comforting.
We spent the best part of our Saturday morning this way, she and I. I was reading my Kindle. She was reading a print book. We were reading together in our minds. I’m pretty sure everything is going to be okay.