Granted, e-books are nifty.  I buy them and even sell them.  And audiobooks are magical, in my humble opinion.  Their stories, mellifluous voices, and discreet sound effects have melted away many a mile for me and mine on long road trips.  But while this major cultural tide does indeed turn and turn and turn—while electronic devices and books sprout like gas stations on a newly paved thoroughfare—there does seem to be something more to say about the subject.

Like secrets.  What about the secrets stashed, folded, scribbled, sequestered, scrawled, scrunched, slapped, and just plain hidden inside the wonderful physical-ness of 3-dimensional books?

Take old books, for example.  These include dignified antiquarian books, yes—the kind my father reverently handled all his long life—but also the merely aging, dog (or fox)-eared, yellowing and outdated, falling-apart-at-the-seams kind of book.

What do they know that we don’t? 

In selling some of my father’s beloved collection, we opened an old book and a letter fell out.  And in lovely educated script, a young man from the early twentieth century told his best friend how much the book meant to him—and gave it as a gift.  Ah, I thought.  A time capsule of imagination within two covers.  How simple!  How deft!

On another ordinary day, a slim volume of poetry offered up its forgotten inscription from the owner—my father, as it turns out—to his bride, my mother, on the very week they were married.  How young and joyful the man sounded!  This love, the book whispered, is now part of my poetry…

Oh, and there are so many more examples of the dimensions inside those 3-dimensional books.

Like: The penciled notes in the margin asking Why?  And Find out more! 

Like: The underlining of misspelled words…so triumphant! 

Sometimes the prize is only a bookmark: Join Our Reading Club!  Or: Donate to Breast Cancer!

There are also shopping lists from old flus (skinless chicken, broth, prewashed baby carrots…) and notes from loved ones (Miss you, Will call tomorrow, Chin up! Don’t forget the feed the animals…).

And let us not forget the small sticky notes detailing the cost of something we’ll never know or have; and pamphlets from an old show, a dance recital, a play.  And business cards, paper clips, even photos: someone solemn, eyes twinkling, carefully posed for the school camera.

These unexpected treasures are mostly worthless, I know (except the antiquarian books, which can be quite valuable).  The past merely bumps elbows with us; we don’t have to linger on it, do we?  Why should we overly ponder the folks who came before and enjoyed this same book, these same words, this same story?

Well, we don’t have to, and maybe we shouldn’t.  After all, if we sentimentally clung to every item, every scrap of paper or discarded morsel of junk, where would we put it all?  Society is going paperless—and the trees are grateful.  Go Green!  I’m all for it.

Plus e-books are cheap, and far superior to schlepping a bunch of 3-dimensional ones onto a plane and losing them somewhere in Tucson.

Yet…Yet.   

Maybe we all have these moments of pure techno-phobia—you know, staring at the multiple remotes on our living room coffee table, hating every last one of them.  At least a number of us (over which age, exactly?) do wax nostalgic about the vanishing world of bookshelves.  I particularly recall the scents of my father’s library, rich in leathery binders, and the thrill of turning those sheets of vellum, first in babyhood and never to stop until we’re old too and done with this earth. 

Who doesn’t crave the weight of a book on one’s lap; the loop of history in such manageable size?  So let’s all hope that e-books never replace the clunky, space-taking, old-fashioned kind.

Maybe they can live together, for generations.  We can learn from them both. 

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My sister Irene's site

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This is my sister's recently opened site, filled to the brim with music and art.  Her song, "Love Again" will be featured on the audio version of TWICE BEGUN (coming soon).