Well intended: Green reading
Published 1:07 am, Friday, January 29, 2010
On the first day I went on the Internet, I fell in love. It was an afternoon in July in 1995 and I met the man I would eventually marry, as well as had sudden suffocating access to everything I could imagine. On that day, the 85 pounds of 1971 World Book Encyclopedia that my parents had moved across the country and back became obsolete to me. The world was at my fingertips. From my southern California kitchen, I flirted with a man in Cambridge, Mass., and corresponded with my boss in Hong Kong. I would never again wait for a love letter or purchase order carried across oceans via airmail or inscribed by fax. Everything I desired was instant.
My children can't imagine a world before wireless everything. I can't blame them.
We're moving. The corners and cupboards have been cleared of clutter: business cards, birthday invitations, single socks, the wrong shade of lipstick, ticket stubs and tiny T-shirts have been discarded and recycled. Our clothing is sorted and there is a pile of boxes by the kitchen table ready to be packed. But, in my office there is a small library of perfectly nice, sometimes even life-changing, brilliant books.
A month ago I purged the kids picture books. It was heart-breaking to me, at first. I recalled all the nights we were propped against pillows reading stories. I wanted to read those stories to my grandchildren but had no desire to carry them around for decades, and who's to say I'll have grandchildren anyway? And there might even be better books by then. I put the books in canvas bags and drove to the Department of Social Services in Bridgeport, where they have shelves of children's books and a laminated sign that say, "Please Take One." An officer opened the door and a friend and I staggered in slouched under the weight of the stories. Five or six children waited politely with parents while we unloaded the memories. There was Angelina Ballerina and The Big Brown Box, and The Five Little Pumpkins and The Giving Tree.
"Do you have any for me?" A little girl asked, as brave as could be.
"What do you read?"
"I'm a very good reader," she said. "I read at a third grade level." She didn't look older than 6. I fished through my bag and handed her several of my daughter's old favorites. Before we left, she was reading aloud to a younger sister, who had picked up a copy of Toot and Puddle. A mother was reading a book about cooking healthy for toddlers that I had enjoyed and the friend who had been industrious while I was bantering lined up the rest of the books neatly on the shelf.
My attachment to the past was nothing compared to the present of these stories. They were meant to be in the hands of children and not an attic.
As a writer, I love books. I love the way they feel in my hands. I love the weight of them, the presence and comfort of their pages. I remember the scent of my first Shakespeare. My paternal grandfather left his library to my parents where it moldered in our garage for a few years. By the time I rifled into the dusty boxes, Hamlet's corners had been nibbled by mice. But what genius. I carried it around as much for affect as affection. Books, beloved wonderful words in print on pages -- beautiful books. I can imagine my own name embossed on the spine of my books. I know the size had shape of the stories I want to publish. And thus I know how much room they'll consume on a shelf or in a landfill.
I don't write to impose my ideas on others. I write because I must, and because I want to consider other ways of looking at things. Someone told me many years ago, that we first develop empathy from story. I believe that. I was Christopher Robin and the Velveteen Rabbit and all the beloved characters of childhood. Weren't you? So, if stories are meant to inspire thought, does it matter if they are printed on paper and resting on nightstands and toilet backs? Or can they just be words we pass as if in oral tradition, ephemeral but important?
And what do I do with the pile of books in my study? I'll donate them to the library and they can be read and loved by others. We're fortunate in Westport to have such an amazing library. I am terrible but improving about returning things on time, but am in awe of their collection and programs. On occasion, I am clever enough to reserve a book I've heard about or read a review on in advance and am grateful when I am so organized. But this is the exception and not the rule.
I also have a Kindle reader. I've had one since they day they were introduced and have grown affectionate towards digital literature. But it has taken a while and beside my bed there is often a library book, the Kindle and a newspaper or magazine as well as some impulse novel purchased from Barnes and Noble. I love that I can highlight passages on the Kindle and download them to my computer. I am not tech savvy to know which digital reader is the best. But I do anticipate that more and more we will become used to reading a screen instead of a page. I look forward to the prices falling and more titles becoming available to children who don't have access to the resources mine have.
I don't print my manuscript and make corrections with a pen. Nor do I print them and mail them to editors, friends or mentors. A print cartridge will last me six months and I groan when the kids want to print out their homework.
For years, I collected glass pens and loved to dip them in ink and make marks on paper, I drew or wrote poems and the scratch and drip of ink on paper delighted as much as anything I can imagine. I envy those who have kept up their penmanship and the strength of their writing muscles -- my words go from mind to fingers to screen and then out into nothingness or hard drive, most of the time. I am grateful for local papers such as this one, and for the Sunday New York Times, which makes weekends so much more civilized. I love to tuck a section into my coat pocket and try to look unapproachable at the dog park or in the post office queue.
But my days of collecting books are over. As are my days of bikini wearing and diaper changing have gone so too have my days of storing my books.
Krista Richards Mann shares her "Well-intended" column with the Westport News every other Friday. She can be reached by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org