Recently on the train, I saw someone reading a large, heavy, hardcover book. It looked to be a collection of stories, although I couldn’t make out the author’s name or title.
But this wasn’t just any hardcover book. This one had a familiar-looking sticker at the base of the spine, with a series of letters and numbers denoting what will surely one day be as defunct as cursive writing: the Dewey decimal system.
My fellow commuter was holding a real relic—an actual library book.
I consider myself an avid reader, and seeing that book made me smile. I reminisced about my younger days, the prehistoric, pre-iPad days, when books were friends you spent the afternoon with at the public library or shared a latté with at a local Barnes and Noble café.
I looked down at my iPhone6. I was reading, too. Actually, I was listening to an audio book on Audible. Does that count as reading? When was the last time I read an actual book, let alone from a library?
I looked at my own digital library. Since I started commuting, I’ve amassed 24 titles in my Audible library. Some on my mobile device, some in the cloud. None in my actual hands.
I observed the commuters seated around me. About half were reading real books, the other half e-books. (As for audio books, I could not accurately observe how many). No differences in gender, race, or age marked the groups of readers. The commuter with the large library book looked to be in her twenties, defying the stereotype that younger people prefer tech over paper.
Does the fact that I read—er . . . um . . . listen to—my books digitally make me any less of a bibliophile? I must admit, seeing that book in that young woman’s hands made me long for the days when I folded down the corner of a page to mark my place and collected bookmarks, when I picked a book to read because I was enchanted by the imagery on its cover.
Then I take inventory of what is currently in my oversized and overstuffed commuting bag. In order of importance: laptop, iPhone, coffee mug, hand sanitizer, headphones (Bluetooth and regular), water bottle, laptop charger, extra battery charger, makeup, hairbrush, umbrella, keys, extra jacket, and a half-eaten bagel from this morning.
I really don’t want to add the complete works of Stephen King to that list.
So, fellow commuting bibliophiles, let’s take a poll. Which do you prefer on your daily trek between home and work?
a) regular book
c) audio books
And if you’re a book-lover of the digital sort, is there a part of you, ever so slight, that feels a bit guilty for trading in your old paper-book friends for newer, digital models, all in the name of an easier commute?