Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Aug. 17, 2013, column:

Sometimes print is still better than digital

By Mike Haynes
            In the digital age, maybe people can’t be defined anymore by the books they read. For sure, not the paper ones.
I grew up with the idea that the books you spend time with – voluntarily – can tell someone else a lot about you as a person. For most of my life, that has meant physical books printed on paper. And as much as I think technology is cool, I’ve decided that given a choice, I’ll take a hardback or a paperback over a tablet or a computer screen.
I agree with Pulitzer-winning writer Rick Bragg, who says it doesn’t bother him when someone reads his book on a device that runs on batteries, because that means they’re reading it.
After completing three or four books on a Kindle and an iPad – and reading part of one on an iPhone – I have decided that I’m old-fashioned. Turning a page with an electronic finger swipe is fun, but when it comes down to it, I have the feeling that the book I just read is gone.
With “real” books, I have them on my shelf long after I’ve finished them, and years from now, I can glance at, say, “Elizabeth the Queen,” and recall not only the fascinating monarch and the British history she has lived for 87 years, but something about what was going on in my own life when I was reading that book by Sally Bedell Smith.
I plan for it to be on that shelf for decades because, well, I may be a little self-centered. I envision people visiting my house, looking at my books and thinking, “Hmmm, interesting that not only does he like the Beatles and C.S. Lewis, but he has something about John Wayne’s “Alamo” movie and all the Harry Potter books.”
If my books were made up of pixels on a screen, no one would know what I’ve read unless I told them.
Yes, that’s narcissistic, but I also have the motivation of a journalist that “Someday, I might write something about the Titanic and will need to look up something in Walter Lord’s book about it.”
  I know that, more often, I should share what I’ve read. For example, a decade after it came out, I read Donald Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz” this year. It isn’t a traditional Christian devotional book, but I know it reflects the thinking of a lot of young people in the 2000s. I hope more will read it as well as Miller’s “Searching for God Knows What,” which I took on after one of my pastor cousins, Roger, recommended it.
West Texans should read Timothy Egan’s “The Worst Hard Time” to understand how terrible
the Dust Bowl of the 1930s was and how it affected so many families in our region. The parts about Dalhart, Boise City and Shattuck and President Roosevelt’s visit to Amarillo are enough reason for area people to open Egan’s best-seller.
“The Worst Hard Time” was last year’s Amarillo College Common Reader, and this year the selection is “Wine to Water,” by a young guy named Doc Hendley. It documents the North Carolinian’s progression from self-absorbed bartender to head of a global charity that provides fresh water to people in Darfur and elsewhere who lack that basic life necessity. Hendley, who will visit Amarillo this fall and whose water outreach will be a theme for AC student projects, started out with Christian organization Samaritan’s Purse.
            Of those books, I read the Miller ones on a digital device. Now tell me: If I want to lend one to a friend who I think might benefit from this author’s modern take on Christianity, am I going to have to let the friend have my iPad for a few days?
            On the other hand, last week in Sunday school, it was awfully handy for me to look up some Proverbs from the lesson on my iPhone. A friend loves her electronic device and has read scores of books on it. And my mother probably reads more than she used to because of the convenience of her Kindle.
      Still, I have to side with Rick Bragg, who wrote that he wants to “spend my last days on this Earth arranging and rearranging them on thrones of good, honest pine, oak and mahogany, because they just feel good in my hands, because I just like to look at their covers and dream of the promise of the great stories inside.”