Stop looking at the screen

When I first moved to New York City almost six years ago, I noticed an incredible phenomenon on the NYC subway system. Down below the sewer mains, and bustling traffic, people were reading books. The crowded subway cars were filled with readers. Even people who couldn’t get a seat, clung onto the pole with one hand and a book with the other. Their cup of coffee usually balancing somewhere between their arm and chest. For an aspiring writer, it was a sight that brought tears of joy to my eyes.

Studying the covers of the books people read, I considered my commute a living bookstore. Oftentimes I would see the same book more than once and felt compelled to buy it. I didn’t need the New York Times to tell me the list of bestselling books — I could see it with my own eyes.

It was during that time I pinpointed my dream. I wanted to see someone holding my book on the subway. I wanted to see a stranger biting her nails and furrowing her brow as she turned the pages of my thoughts.

Now I’m afraid that won’t happen. Not because I’m not writing, but because everyone has a damn e-reader and I can’t see what they’re reading. Six years ago, people laughed at the kindle and nook. Us traditionalists thought that would never catch on.  Occasionally you would see one or two e-readers on the subway but the rest of us gave those weirdos a look of disdain (or at least I did (or at least I thought about doing it)). Now they’re everywhere.

Five years ago all those screens would have been books. Photo credit: corners311

I have no idea what to read because I can’t browse the subways anymore, and my favorite bookstores are closing down one by one.

My writing has always existed on the screen. Anyone can open up a word document and start typing, but the idea of a team of people who are in the know thinking that my word document is so good they are willing to print it out, slap a beautiful cover on it, and take up valuable shelf space in bookstores across the country is an idea so precious, and so worth fighting for that it has kept me motivated like no inspirational quote, or mentor could ever do for me. One of my biggest professional fears is that by the time I get good enough to be published actual books won’t exist anymore, and my writing will never leave the screen.

Please, I beg you, stop reading the screen. Buy a hardcover book. Buy a paperback. Heck buy a magazine, just don’t let books whither away into oblivion. Don’t kill the dream.

17 comments

  1. Boy, Tracy, do I agree with this!! There’s just something about holding an actual book/magazine in my hand that’s such an important part of my reading experience. A screen isn’t the same for me – call me old school, but I love my shelves and shelves of books at home, and am thrilled when I can pick up a stack of good magazines at the library to read on a lazy Sunday. 🙂

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  2. I feel the same way about books. I like to hold them, turn their pages, and smell the paper — yes the paper of older books has a distinctive scent. I have avoided buying a kindle or nook because I too want to see real books. Although I must admit when traveling kindles are very tempting. I remember worrying that my luggage would go over the weight limit when I packed six tomes on my last trip to Mexico.
    Have you ever thought of opening and running a bookstore? I think that’s something you might love to do. Not a big one, and not one with best sellers (necessarily), but one that has books you, your friends and loved ones, cherish. It would almost be like sharing the very best we all have to recommend.
    xoxo,
    Mom

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    1. I love flipping through a book that I’ve read and thinking, “I’ve looked at every single word inside here.” I don’t know why that’s such a rewarding feeling.
      A bookstore opened up on my street last year. I talked to the owner as he was opening the store and he explained how difficult it was to survive in that industry. A month later he went out of business. I have a lot of respect for the independent book stores that holding on with all their strength.

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  3. I remember books well. They have a feel, a smell and texture. The new ways of reading are cold and impersonal. I miss the jackets, the turning of the actual page and the bookmarks. But then the society is changing and what we thought would last forever is constantly evolving. Kodiak thought it’s cameras and film would be forever. Rotary phones are gone, the telephone girl has grown old. Now even twinkies were almost an endangered species. We can not control the horizontal and not even the vertical, the zone is turning twilight.

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    1. I remember the day Kodak stopped making slide film. I was an art student and it was so expensive to print all my work on slides so I fully embraced the digital trend. Until now I didn’t see those two things related, but you just made it clear. The times are changing – I just wish they’d change a little slower!

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  4. I will NEVER give up the book. Books are old friends who I revisit over and over. Nothing like the excitement of buying a long-awaited new novel and opening it up for the first time. It’s an experience and an aesthetic I hope I’ll never have to give up.

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  5. I laughed when I read what you said about not being able to see what other people are reading. I often feel compelled to peak over their shoulder to see if I can catch a glimpse of the title and author. I also relate to what you said about feeling tears of joy when you see a bunch of people reading. I thought I was the only one. I often experience this every time I go somewhere that sells books.

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    1. Haha I do the same thing!
      One time I was riding the subway and a large group of kids entered. I prepared for the noise and chaos that would ensue, but then every kid took a seat, pulled out a book from their backpack and quietly started to read. It was the cutest thing ever. I asked their teacher about it, and she said they just had a field trip to the library.

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  6. I refuse to buy a kindle or nook or anything that resembles one. I love books and like many said above the smell and feel thrill me. The time and energy that goes into creating a cover that contains delicious stories is something, I think, that is priceless.

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  7. Nice post! I love reading book covers too to see which books are popular at the moment. I have been known to look at an e-reader screen or two. 🙂 Now that I’m abroad, my e-reader is my connection to my favorite magazine and books I’ve been saving to read for a while. There are pluses and minuses I guess, but I still prefer the paper copies too.

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  8. Well put, Tracy. A call from the heart.

    As a codicil to this, I’ve been doing a bit of casual polling as I ride Tokyo trains, and we’re up to, on average, 40% of the passengers staring at their phones. I guess it’s better than them staring at me.

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  9. An interesting topic, Tracy, and one that I can identify with.

    A few years ago, I was convinced that I would never, ever buy one of those damned e-readers. No Kindle for me. Forget it. I want to hold paper in my hands, and flip the pages, and then collect a stack of books when I’m done. I did this for most of my life. That is until my eldest son asked me about what I was doing, and why I didn’t think using an e-reader was a good idea.

    Originally, for many, many years, all I bought were hardcovers. Then, after I decided to begin collecting first edition hardback books, I bought the hardcover, then waited and bought the paperback to actually read the book. After reading, I placed it in a (growing) stack of read books. Well, let’s be honest, a stack of paperback books isn’t all that impressive, really, especially if they are well-used. As my son pointed out, that, along with how difficult it is to take a stack of books along with you on a vacation, started making Kindles (and the like) a more attractive option. I can haul as many books around as I want, my shelves aren’t lined with old paperbacks, and I can reserve my (admittedly small and humble library) space for first editions of books I truly love.

    So that’s where I’m at today. In my home office (which is where I work all day), I have two bookshelves filled with first edition hardbacks of my favorite books and my favorite authors. I get to see them, touch them, even smell them in my office. But I don’t read them. That’s reserved for my Kindle (or the Kindle app on my iPad). Yeah, reading on a Kindle or an iPad isn’t as nice as reading a hardcover, or even a paperback, but when I think about the simplicity of reading a good book anywhere, while still having my book collection, I figure it’s a good compromise.

    Years ago, when I first toyed with the idea of writing a book, all I thought about was seeing my book in print. Nowadays, seeing it downloaded onto Kindles (or Nooks or whatever) is just as exciting to me. No, it’s not the same, but in the end, we as writers are still being read. And ultimately, that’s what we all want. Right?

    Thanks for a great topic, Tracy.

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