Don’t Read the Fine Print

Nearly everyone will tell you that you always ought to read the fine print. And most of the time they are right. When it comes to contracts, credit cards, and commercials, it usually pays to squint as much as you have to and read that tiny two-point type. You can save yourself from giving up too many of your hard-earned dollars or otherwise being bamboozled.

But there are other times when it’s not necessary to read the fine print. Take books, for example. Now, I’m a lifelong reader, the sort of child who read under the covers at night. (Also the sort who once almost set her aunt’s davenport on fire when her reading light fell against the Naugahyde. We thought it was a sofa, but my aunt called it a davenport. But I digress.)

Lately, however, most books seem to be printed in smaller type than they used to, and on flimsier paper. I can only assume this is the fault of the publishing companies and their desire to make every book as short and lightweight as they can, to save on printing and shipping costs. But I began to despair when it became clear – or unclear – that reading most books was increasingly beyond me.

Then God said, “Let there be e-readers.” I bought my first e-reader, a Nook, based on the fact that it had a backlit screen and a port that would take a micro-SD chip. Nowadays I value it more for the ease with which I can bump up the type size. Yes, I have to turn the page a little more often, but that’s a small price to pay for the joy of indulging in my favorite pastime and for the satisfaction in the way I glean most of my information. I am now on my third or fourth generation of Nook and wouldn’t be without it.

Not only does it allow me to read effortlessly, it allows me to carry my books with me effortlessly. In years past, I always kept a book by the bedside, one in the bathroom, one in the car, and several in my oversized purse. Just in case. Then I injured my back. Twice. (The second time was my own stupid fault. For anyone out there who has the idea that someone with a bad back could get away with riding an Arabian horse bareback, let me assure you that’s not true. Again, I digress.)

Suffice it to say that I could no longer carry around a purse stuffed with three hefty paperbacks. But I can carry around an e-reader, which is now stuffed with a lightweight 635 books and magazines. There are still stacks of “dead-tree” books all over my house, in bookshelves, on windowsills, piled in the bottom of closets where most people keep their shoes. But it’s rare that I take out my spiffy Sherlock Holmes-style magnifying glass and read them. Just as I replaced my audio CDs with mp3s, I have replaced all my best-beloved books with little electronic ones and zeroes (or whatever).

Many of my friends recommend audiobooks and I have dabbled in them as well. I used to listen to them as I drove to work. But now I work at home and it seems rather pointless to cue one up for the trip from the second floor to the first, to read a whole book one sentence at a time.

Physical books still have their undeniable charms. I do love the smell of books. I fondly remember as a child going to Dennis Used Books in Lexington, KY, and breathing in the heady scent of paper, cardboard, dust, leather, and the radiant heat that warmed the place. Bibliosmia (enjoying the scent of books) is a real thing, though it sounds like something featured on the latest episode of Mystery Diagnosis. My e-reader can never replicate that heady scent. But I can walk into Half-Price Books and get, if not the actual childhood experience, a fair facsimile. Then go home with my e-reader and enjoy the reading experience.

In essence, what I love is not just a book, but the act of reading, of stuffing words into my willing, voracious brain. How they get there is less important. My e-reader is my best friend.

As long as I keep it charged.

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