I’ve been moving a stack of books around my bedroom for months now. I dust them off periodically, wonder when I’ll get to reading them and, then, feeling guilty, look the other way.
I moved the stack recently from the bedside table closest to the side of the bed where I sleep, to the one at the far side. Out of sight, out of mind, out of guilt.
The stack has been growing for the past 12 months, the books having found their way to me from various sources. Two or three were gifts from friends who rightfully thought a book would always be the perfect choice for me. I borrowed several after friends told me they were worth the read. Some I picked up in second hand shops. Old habits die hard.
But those books sit unread. For the first time in my half-century life, I am not drawn to reading books, at least not the ones made of paper.
I blame it all on my iPad, that sleek, trendy technological tablet that came to me as a gift last Christmas. I love it, for the same reason I’ve always loved books – it takes me into a new world every time I flip open the cover.
I wonder if I’ll grow tired of the tablet and return eventually to the life I once knew, the one where I read from a book every night before drifting off to sleep; the life where I cracked the spine on a new book almost every week, and sometimes more frequently than that.
It’s not that the tablet keeps me from reading books. I download e-books from time to time; in fact I’m currently making my way through the thousand-page autobiography of Salmon Rushdie. It’s slow going, but not just because the author’s prose requires some thinking on my part.
It takes me a long time to read any book on my tablet because there are so many other distractions so close at hand.
Email, Twitter, Face Book, YouTube, the whole worldwide web of information, are all within a thumb-click’s reach on my tablet. So is Ticket to Ride, my favourite game. And British television, thanks to an App I discovered that lets me watch as many BBC shows as I choose for a mere $8 a month.
But the real culprit that keeps me from focusing my mind on e-books or paperbound books, is a handy little magazine App called Zite. I choose the topics I’m interested in and Zite populates my e-magazine in real time. Every time I go there I find new articles to read.
Some of them are rubbish, of course – blogs that have no basis in reality and are poorly written, too. But many are stellar articles culled from iconic magazines like the New Yorker, or brilliant blogs written by experts in all sorts of fields.
I’ve populated my Zite App with all the topics that interest me – photography, travel, theology, spirituality, creative writing and gardening. I’ve added sections on places that I want to know about – Atlantic Canada and New Brunswick, Tuscany and Asia. A section on Toronto gives me a quick scan of the latest news.
I’ve also, ironically, added a section about books, which gives me reviews and author interviews, the kind of reading material that would usually compel me to reach for, well, a book.
But I’m rarely extending my reach beyond my tablet, and so I’ve begun to wonder if I shouldn’t impose some sort of discipline on myself.
There may be good reasons to do this – I read (in a Zite article, of course) that reading from a backlit tablet at night can interfere with sleep. And here I’d blamed my fitful sleep patterns on the fact that I’m over 50.
I also worry that I’ll fall asleep and let the tablet crash to the floor, which would be an expensive mistake. Paperbound books are so much more forgiving; you can toss, drop and throw them around without damaging them beyond readability.
Guilt is the major reason I consider limiting my tablet time and going back to my relationship with books. I’ve been feeling slightly unfaithful as I walk past that stack of spines in my bedroom. There they sit, patiently waiting to be noticed by me, wanting to give me pleasure without any brain-damaging wireless waves circling around my head.
A new year approaches, with the age-old opportunity for resolutions. Perhaps, in 2013, mine will be to return to the paper-populated world of books. I’ll start in the country closest to home, the little island rising from my night table at the far side of my bed.
Lynda MacGibbon is a transplanted Maritimer living in Toronto. This column is imprinted on newsprint each Friday in the Moncton Times & Transcript. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @lyndamacgibbon.