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Friday, December 30, 2011

My View of a Book I've Never Seen


   It started out like this: I was online, reading a review of a book on Bloomberg.com. The book was about the building and design of our American Highway systems. The book, The Big Roads: The Untold Story of theEngineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways,by Earl Swift, was right up my alley. Or maybe right up my road. You see, I was sort of raised on the Interstates and U.S. Highways. For a time, when I was a kid, we didn't have a house; we simply lived in a van, then a motor home, while traveling from town to town. That was it. On a day-to-day basis, I was able to sit at a window and watch the Interstate roll by. Oddly enough...I loved it. And so, after reading the review, I knew I wanted to read this book.  I mean, it was a book about the design and construction of my boyhood backyard. Now, I was not at home at the time I read the review, so I emailed the name of the book to myself, so that when I arrived at home I could look it up on Amazon and buy it. What troubled me, when I did find it, was that it was too close to Christmas to buy it with a clean conscience. I really should have waited in case someone might buy it for me. So I added it to my Christmas wish list, and waited.
   I love books about building things. I read a book on the building of the Erie Canal, and one about the building of the German Dreadnoughts. I once read a book about the design and publication of the King James Bible. These kinds of things fascinate me. Mainly because I could never be the guy who says...hey, I think we could dig a tunnel from England to France. Okay, I might think of it, but I'd have no idea how to go about it. I mean, I still think that when my wife and I climb aboard that Air France flight to Paris this Spring, it will be sheer magic that gets that big, heavy, lump of metal off the ground and into the air. Magic! That being the case, I love to watch Modern Marvels, and I enjoy reading these types of books.
   Now, let's ignore all the patient waiting I endured, and certainly ignore the shaking and nervous ticks I performed as I forced myself to sit still and not click that buy-with-one-click button on Amazon. Suffice to say, I was a good boy and did not spend money on myself so close to Christmas.
   The good news is that Simon, my youngest, came through for me. He bought me the book, and it was nicely wrapped and waiting for me under the tree. Only the book was not really under the tree. I received a picture of it. You see, my son was fully aware that my wife had bought me a Kindle reader for Christmas. So, with great joy, I downloaded my new book.
   Within two days I was finished. Cover to cover. The book was a complete marvel. I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in major engineering feats as well as a nod to the nostalgic. I could not have enjoyed it any more than I did. It blew the scale away.
   But here is the part that has me taking a step back in deep thought:
   At no time had I ever held this book. I'd never hefted it with one hand to test its weight. Never flipped the pages to take in the new-book smell while checking to see just how many pictures were in it. I had never set it on the table in front of me where I could look upon it with that simple joy that comes from buying a new book and seeing it in your home. Surely this meant I had not been able to enjoy it like I would have if I had physically bought the book.
   Maybe. That would be hard to prove. Difficult to disprove. I'll leave wiggle room here.
   However, I do know for certain that I loved the book. I couldn't put it down. It was a real page-turner. I was sorry to reach the end of the book. Even though it had no pages, and it was not a book, it fit all of these clich├ęs. But at no time did I feel like I was missing anything. This was a surprise, since I was a scoffer when I first heard of the Kindles. I'm an old book-lover who just can't get enough of that old book smell. I love to hold a book in my hands, and all that sentimental hoo-hah. I mean, since I was about nine I've collected books. I was really proud of my old, dusty, hardback edition of Oliver Wendell Holmes The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table even though I had no idea what an autocrat could possibly be. It didn't matter. I had the book. I would often pull it off the shelf and page through it, despite the fact that I couldn't follow any of what was being said. Then I'd gently replace it, my eyes shining with admiration for it. I'm that kind of book lover.
   From time to time, I like to sit and look at the books on my shelves. I read the spines, and remind myself just how great or not so great each book was to read. They are like old friends to me. Will it be the same for this new book I downloaded? I don't know. Perhaps I'll begin to browse my list of books that I've read on Goodreads as a substitute for looking over my bookshelves.
   It is too early to tell. But for now, I can say that I think I'll transition into this brave new world of digital books without too much discomfort. Who knows? Perhaps I'll never buy another physical book again. I doubt it.
   I do worry about what I'd do if my Kindle died and I had no way to power it back up.
   That would transform this sci-fi story into a horror story.


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