This admission feels wrong to write or say out loud: I haven’t bought a print book in … almost ten years. Yeah, I feel dirty even writing that. I feel like I should be judged and that you should judge me and that I should think hard about my choices in life if that’s where I am.
But, let’s go back and build some context for why that admission seems so surprising to me.
I’ve always been a reader. My mom would tell me that I was trying to read books before I could read. She said I would make up my own stories while pretending to read the book.
I was fortunate that my mom read to me when I was young. She was a young mother and this was back in the late 60’s and she didn’t have much formal education. Certainly, there were not ready resources to teach a young mom how to teach a child to love reading, but somehow, despite the challenges, she undoubtedly deserves credit for turning me into the voracious reader that I became.
I tore through anything and everything I could from my school library to the point where it was clear that I needed more raw material to feed my brain and imagination. By the time I was probably 10, I was told by my local school librarian to “Get thee to a Public Library!” and so I did. I was fortunate that we had a public library, the Heath branch in Spokane, only six blocks from my home. I was additionally fortunate that my mom and dad became very tired of hauling me to the library and gave me permission to ride my bike, by myself, to the library to get my fix!
To this day, that building holds a special place in my heart. It looked like what a Library should look like. This was my library.
When I started going there, the Heath branch was set up so the kids section was on the ground floor. I was not even considered old enough to go up the 16 steps leading to the library’s adult floor! I was relegated to the kid’s section. The ignominy.
But, you know how you get access to the adult stacks before you’re supposed to? Irritate your Librarian by taking out a dozen books a week, bringing them back, and then doing it again. And again.
I read everything, starting out with the entire Hardy Boys series, trying a few Nancy Drew, but they weren’t for me. My attention turned quickly to the Science Fiction and Fantasy. I recall finding anything related to Mr. Bass and The Mushroom Planet.
Did you know that there was a series of Boy Detective books that was hosted/sponsored by Alfred Hitchcock? It starred the Three Detectives, three boys who solved mysteries from their secret clubhouse which was, as I recall, hidden inside the junkyard that was owned by Jupiter “Jupe” Jones parents? That part is a little fuzzy.
There was also Tom Swift Jr, who was the star of a whole run of books with great titles like, “Tom Swift and His Space Solartron” and “Tom Swift and His Polar-Ray Dynasphere”. Couldn’t tell you then and can’t tell you now what a Polar-Ray Dynasphere is or was, but I read them all!
Eventually, I consumed all the age-appropriate literature that was available to me and my Librarian introduced me to YA (Young Adult) Science Fiction and Fantasy. That was when my brain started to explode. So much to read! So much to imagine and so many lands and places to escape to!
Of all the Science Fiction to capture my fancy, the ones that I really craved were the Heinlein YA books. There were a number of them and I read them all! And wanted more. My Librarian introduced a few others and as I recall it, I read pretty much everything in the kids section that I could. But I wanted more!
I don’t recall what the specific age was, but by 12, I was still not allowed in the adult section of the library without a parent and I was without a parent at the library, so that was a problem. I think I basically irritated my Librarian to the point where she gave me tacit approval to go up the inside stairs to the main floor and find the adult Science Fiction and Fantasy section.
So, around age 12 I found adult Heinlein and Asimov and Niven and Andre Norton and Tolkien and so many more! Now, to be fair, one could argue that unleashing a world of “adult” literature onto a still impressionable youth had some risk, but in my Librarian’s defense, I had to have been pretty irritating to deal with, whining for more and different material to read at a rate that had to be exhausting!
I recall hauling my backpack full of a dozen books back to the library as a summer storm was rolling in, thunder in the background, knowing that I had only a little time to get there, get more books, and get back home. I rode with purpose!
By the time I was 14, I started to make money and I could start to buy my own books! There was a used book store where I could buy used paperbacks and that became my drug of choice for most of my spare money. Yes, I still had the library, but there I would own my own books and that meant something to me.
Later, by the time I was lining up to leave home for college and needed to pack up my stuff, I had around 500 books. I could identify the title and author with just a glance at the cover. I can only recall two cases where I inadvertently purchased the same book twice and in both cases, it was due to a publisher changing the cover design.
But, fast forward a decade or so and I was working and I had a family and I had a dozen or more boxes full of paperbacks that I didn’t really have space for and they didn’t represent the same thing to Darrin in his 20s that they did to Teen Darrin. I eventually took them back to a different used book store and I sold them. Life moved on.
I still bought books, because I could afford them, but I didn’t collect them in the same way that I did as a kid. I read them and put them back out in the world. I was no longer a collector like I used to be.
Based on looking at Amazon, it looks like my reading life started to go digital around 2010. I would have said further back, but as I think about it, I don’t know what I would have been reading on much before that. The first iPad didn’t come out till 2012, so the only way I would have been reading digitally before that was via a PDF reader on a computer, I suppose.
Today all my reading, with very few exceptions, is done digitally. I still get or buy a few books a year and I enjoy those. Some things you just want to hold in your hands. I have the complete collection of Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side because there are times I just want to hold those big books in my hands and get lost in them for a while.
According to my Kindle library I have over 500 books and I probably have another 200 digital copies that I have acquired via various sales and collections outside Amazon and the Kindle. Given that I’m highly unlikely to go back and re-read a book in most cases, this seems like a reasonable trade-off.
So, there it is, my unclean admission that I, an avowed bibliophile, a lover of all books and the smell of an old paperback really don’t have very many physical books anymore. To be fair, I don’t miss hauling around a dozen boxes of books from place to place, so that’s a win. But, there are occasionally days where I miss just being able to look at all those books I once owned and recalling enough about each to know the author and the title and maybe a little bit about the story that once carried me away for a day or a week into a different place or different time or a different space.
Several images generated by MidJourney