Curling up with a warm e-book

Last week was my birthday. Because most of my family was out of town, all merriment was postponed. My sister Karen called to find out how I celebrated my birthday. She was surprised by my response.

I went to the library and took out a book I'd been saving for my birthday, The Prince of Frogtown, by Rick Bragg.

Most people are surprised to learn that I enjoy reading more than almost anything else I can talk about in polite company. I'll read nearly anything: graffiti, cereal boxes, fine print on User Agreements, anything. I'll spend hours surfing the web learning about architecture, French Impressionist painters, Ernie Kovacs, nearly anything. I tell people I'm like a magpie. A magpie is a bird which will pick up tiny objects and bring them back to its nest. People who live in the country know better than to leave a window open without a screen, because a magpie will see an earring gleaming in the sun and fly in to steal it.

I was one of the earliest adopters of the Internet, and I understood it was the greatest invention of the 20th Century. I had not known how quickly it would dominate the publishing world, sucking away readers from newspapers and magazines the way a factory trawler wipes the ocean bottom clean. Had I known, I would not have been so overjoyed.

Although I spend hours on my iMac surfing the web, I have yet to fully embrace the world of portables including handhelds. I have a Twitter account, but I'm not a self-absorbed Jersey Shore denizen who believes everyone is interested in what I just ate or where I got my latest tattoo.

I spent a good deal of my working life in bookstores and newsstands. I loved the smell of the old oil-based printer's ink when I cut open a fresh bundle of newspapers. (I don't miss getting my fingers dirty.) I love opening a fresh newspaper no one else has touched, turning pages and folding them over, and then folding them in half again, lengthwise, so I can read it the way commuters do on the subway.

I came to believe some of the best writing was ephemeral; printed on cheap paper that yellowed and got brittle after a few hours in the sun.

Once the Internet took hold, I found I was only buying a newspaper to do the crosswords and sudoku. I'd read all the stories before I went to sleep and I got the latest before I hit the streets.

I wonder if future generations will know the intoxication I feel when I enter a used bookstore and take a deep breath of the intoxicating aroma of mildewing paper and decades-old tobacco smoke.

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