Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Thinking about Books

Late last year I bought an iPad and began to read books using the Kindle app when traveling so that I would no longer be lugging around a book or two or three on my frequent travels. While I found I was reading more, I also noticed that I was enjoying it less, missing the many different experiences which go along with reading - holding a book, looking at the type, feeling the paper, glancing at the author's information, backtracking, thinking about the cover design/art.

When I spent the day with two great friends, both avid readers and book lovers, much of the day ended up being centered around the subject. One friend runs an organization that has developed a reading curriculum for small children. According to her, research indicates that if a child becomes reading proficient by the end of second grade and able to read chapter books, the other skills for learning/growing/succeeding will fall in line. Without those reading skills and that hardwiring, the journey is so much more difficult. So it got me wondering about the debates about the roles of teachers, the amount of time small children spend holding electronic devices rather than books or being read to, and hoping like hell that schools remain funded and committed to making each child not only a reader but an experiencer of books.

Together we visited a show at the Donna Seager Gallery, "The Art of the Book Sixth Annual Exhibition of Handmade Books, Altered Books and Book Related Works". Talk about loving books. These works of art took the notion of books and turned it inside down, upside down, and multi-color. Whether through altering books, creating non-traditional books, re-using pages for whole new purposes, sculpting books, or referencing them in paintings, it was clear that for thes artists involved in the show, as well as for Donna Seager, the book is a multi-sensory object to be held and lingered over, allowing for discovery and contemplation in every interaction.

The show, the day with my friends, the conversations and the inevitable trip to a bookstore all swirling around inside my head, aided by a glass of wine, made me start thinking about the electronic age being a kind of equivalent to the fast and faster food that started with TV dinners and brought us to a world where for many, a home-cooked meal means something taken from the freezer to the microwave. That world is now soundly challenged by locavores and foodies, first ladies and food-cart proprietors, and I hope and suspect the same might happen with readers and book lovers. Don't get me wrong. I love my iPad. But I love books, and never EVER want to see them replaced by an electronic reading experience. It just misses, not all, but many of the points of a book.

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