Friday, November 21, 2014

Jenn on Books: Books vs eBooks + our love story.

My relationship with books begins in toddler-hood, when I'd escape to my room and sit on my red carpet under a heap of little golden books. I don't remember this as much as I'm told about it and have seen pictures, but it makes a lot of sense.

As I ventured through childhood, books were always there.

I have fond memories of my Grandma reading to me when I visited her house, using musty books she pulled from her basement that were left behind from my Dad's childhood. I can still conjure the sound of her voice as she over-pronounced certain letters with that fancy old-fashioned way of hers. As I approached middle school, I often wrote my own books about holidays and comfortably avoiding disaster after driving through winter storms - there was even an embarrassingly tragic screenplay called "Why Me" that I forced my friends to rehearse for a performance that never happened. I fell for a few notable picture books, like The Stinky Cheese Man , before moving on to chapter books. I read most of The Babysitters Club and American Girl (both of which I absolutely adored), and I was totally crazy about the Forever Angels series by Suzanne Weyn. The books were dreamy and beautiful, and came with angel stickers in each copy. I saved a few sheets of them through the decades, always wondering if I could figure out what they were called again (it took some serious google prowess in the act of writing this to find it, after wondering for 20 years!)

Once in a while I'd be brave and pick up a Goosebumps book, and then brace myself for being terrified for a week. In high school, when I didn't want to do my assigned reading, I'd read Buffy the Vampire Slayer novels. And in college, I was all about Nicholas Sparks and budget romances I could pick up at the grocery store on our way to Denny's at 3am.

Despite my long and loving history with books, I don't pretend to be the most well-read person around. I didn't have a ton of exposure to the classics, and the school book fair was always a let down because my parents had no money for me to shop with. (I did occasionally spend my dime (usually reserved for 2 pretzel rods at lunch) to buy a girly eraser for the end of my pencil. I can't imagine what those cost now!) And while I like to get through a decent amount of reads every year, I also like to process what I read for a while instead of diving in too quickly to the next thing. 30 books a year is my happy place.

In adulthood, my tastes have expanded quite far & wide.

I adore YA fiction, and love memoirs. I like to fit a few psychology based non-fiction books into my list every year. And I'm always on the hunt for a series to get swept away in. But really? I'm up for almost anything.

Harry Potter was really my first exposure to a lot of things. Fandom, fantasy, YA. We were living in Charlotte when I finally tackled the series, and I actually first read a few of them as library rentals (and of course, later bought them).

As you can see, books and I had a lot of history together. So when eBooks came out, I was not interested. Not even a little bit. I'm not sure if it's actually when ebooks "came out" so much as ereaders like the nook and kindle were introduced to the world. I fought it for a long time! As recently as Luke being born, I was still checking books out from the library or purchasing them used for a dollar or two from eBay or thrift books or I'd collect a huge stack and work my way through them. In 2009, I spent a ton of time in my recliner with an infant Luke - nursing, holding him for naps, rocking him to sleep. I passed the time with books - it was a record year for me (40-something).

When we moved back to Buffalo and took up temporary residence in my childhood home, I was thrilled to discover that the library card I signed up for when I was 7 was still active! I lingered in the stacks anytime I could, memories of searching them for my mom when I finished in the children's room surfacing. I signed Luke up for a library playgroup where we'd read stories and sing songs before playing with germ-encrusted blocks and squeaky toys. I was just so happy to be there!

When we bought this house, I spent a day running errands with Luke the same week we moved in. I took us to the DMV to get my new NY license first thing in the morning. It wasn't at all that I was concerned with getting in trouble should I get pulled over - it took me almost 3 years to get my NC license when we moved there! It was 100% because I needed a current license with an Erie county address in order to get my Erie County Library card. Unless you're local this won't mean so much, but I grew up in Niagara County. As I just mentioned, I loved our hometown's library, but its sister sites were fewer and smaller. There is a vast library network in Erie county comprised of 37 locations, 5 of which are in my neighborhood, and 2 of those are a 2 minute drive away. An Erie County Library Card meant access to anything available at all of these facilities, including an easy to use hold system where they could access any of the thousands of books that exist between all branches. It was like gaining the key to the city! Or at least a city-sized library system. So the very moment I had my temporary license in my hands, I left the DMV and went straight to the library to get my card. I spent maybe 15 minutes between being eligible for one and getting one.

For a while, I took out my usual stacks, and LOVED it! I loved the hold system because it meant not having to shush a toddler while sifting through the Dewey decimal system for a book that was likely in the wrong place. I could just step up to the counter, hand them my card and $.25, and have exactly what I wanted. (This system is still on my list of favorite things ever!)

When Henry was born and I had my hands full (quite literally) with two babies, I didn't have the same luxury of sitting down all day with chunky novels. I relented to an ebook or two, using my phone to read them. As my 27th birthday approached, I realized that being able to hold something effortlessly one-handed, without even needing the other to turn the page, was a luxury I needed in my parenting a newborn life. It was almost painful, but I asked my parents for a nook as my gift.

I purchased a few books from the nook website before learning how to download library ebooks to it through my computer. It was in the endless hunt for new ereads that I discovered the ebook swapping community, and things drastically changed.

Suddenly I was reading almost all ebooks between my nook and my phone. I became obsessed with collecting them. Even now I have about 200 that I posses and want to read but haven't yet found the time. I (very embarrassingly) racked up a pretty high library bill, so I ignored my account and stuck to my ebooks.

After a while, I started missing the library. More than anything, I wanted to take the kids to story times without feeling enormous guilt about being there, and I wanted them to be able to check out their own books. So little by little I paid off my fees (they were up to $48....eep!) and we started using the library again for the kids. Once in a while I'd grab something for myself, especially if I couldn't find the ebook yet really wanted to read it, but the convenience of ebooks kept me from fully diving in again.

This was the majority of my book attitude for the past 3-ish years. Until this Summer, when I had an epiphany.

Luke had this sprawling suggested reading list from school, and we were slowly but surely requesting them from the library. (It's infuriating trying to find them yourself on the children's section shelves as they are never quite in order.) He asked me to get his own library card, and I obliged. It was such a proud day for him! He showed his new card to everyone he saw for a week. I checked out a few books for myself during that time, too.

So it was during all of this reading that I was thinking about my parental influence on them in regards to books and reading. I was always proud of the massive collection of kids books we have (as I encountered many studies about just the presence of a children's library in the home increasing their literacy), and I loved the fact that we read books together every night. I was thrilled with the enthusiasm Luke was showing in completing his reading list and getting his own library card. He even started showing new steps in his literacy development - predicting outcomes and picking up on non-verbal clues in the illustrations. My favorite was in When Sophie Gets Angry - the outline around her would change from a happy sunny yellow to oranges and reds the more angry she got. He noticed that even before I did! He noticed the darkness in the room in The Napping House relenting to daylight as they approached morning. I was so impressed with him, and so happy with all we've done to show a love of books. One important piece of enforcing a love of books in a child is to lead by example - of course, as with anything in parenting. I was always reading around them, so I felt like that box was checked.

One day, I was reading an ebook on my phone, and Luke said something like, "stop staring at your phone, Mom!" I told him I was reading and showed him my screen, and he still wanted me to stop. And then it dawned on me.

"This leading by example thing only works if they see me reading actual, physical, paper-made books."

If they see me enthralled with my phone or my nook (which to them is easily assimilated with an iPad, Henry always wants to play with it as if it is one), they don't know if I'm reading a book, answering an email, sifting through Instagram, or trolling Pinterest. (Or rapid-texting my BFF about how they're driving me nuts.) They have no idea unless I tell them. But what about all the times they don't ask? They instead just see an example of mom staring at her phone. They don't know or care if I'm stimulating my mind with some elegant prose or killing brain cells taking buzzfeed quizzes or watching my YouTube subscriptions.

And just like that, I totally changed my mind. I not only wanted to show them a better example, I immediately changed my preferences. As soon as I read through a few physical books, I longed for the feeling of pages, the smell of paper, the satisfying feeling of pages building up under my left hand as they shrunk under my right - my bookmark working it's way towards the back cover. I loved stopping to look at the cover. I loved my kids bringing whatever I was reading to me, saying "here's your book, Mom!" Luke even asked me to read some to him, and he sat through whole chapters with zero pictures, quietly staring at nothing while he conjured his own mental pictures and asking me to keep going.

So for me, books win.

That doesn't mean ebooks are a thing of the past for me, necessarily. In fact, I usually have 1 physical book and 1 ebook going at the same time. There are many moments that I'm confined to a dark room nursing Jake to sleep, and I pass the time with an ebook. It's also nice to have a book with me at all times if I end up having to wait for something unexpectedly, or on a long car ride when the kids have passed out and we're trying to be quiet. Or when I'm 15th in line for a book at the library - affordable ebooks come to the rescue. And I must admit - I sometimes miss the define feature when I'm reading a physical book - I do love that instant access to a definition when I'm curious!

I love them both, really, and they obviously each have their perks. I'm willing to roll with the times and be able to enjoy both formats. I like versatility and convenience so that books can still be an active part of my all-too-busy mom life. But overall? Real books are king.

How do you feel about it? What do you prefer and why? I'd love to hear your thoughts and your love story with books, too!

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  1. great post---what great insight--our kids really don't realize we are reading when its on a screen! thanx for sharing.

  2. I love it! I've always preferred the feel of the book in my hand, but it's a good point that for kids who don't like to "read", the computer may be a better option. I'd never thought of it that way before!