For the ten minutes before my children sleep the internet has not impacted upon my reading habits in the slightest. Tonight’s book is a treasure. Behind its thick crème cover, its pages, also crème, are stiff and square with sixties-vintage pictures. Chapter One, Down the Rabbit-Hole, begins on page eleven.
‘Why not page one?’ a son asks.
‘If you flick through and count,’ I say, ‘it’s page eleven.’
But he’s forgotten what I’ve said, absorbed in the blurred edges of Alice’s golden hair once painted with watercolours or pastels.
We tried ebooks over the summer (kindle on iPhone). The pictures were ordinary, the numberlessness was disorientating and the text too small on that piddly screen. It was decided. For the nightly family read, we will stick with tradition.
The wonders of television, that strange medium that revolutionalised the twentieth Century. The joys of colour, thinner televisions and going digital. What did it do to theatre? Whilst movies and plays can be an expensive treat, neither is extinct nor threatens to be. Not in Melbourne anyway.
I’d like to think that an artful city rewards plays like Arnold Zable’s Café Scheherazade. FortyFive Downstairs is to run a second season, through winter too. That iphones and internet are gimmicks taking over our lives is possibly true. The consumer ultimately chooses. For myself, I’ve been downloading e-books of late. They’re just so convenient.
Strike me down for not supporting my local bookshop. I’m reading more online extracts than book covers. I’m sampling first chapters via kindle (on PC and iPhone might I add, not iPad). If I’m sure I’ll read chapter two, I download the whole to my laptop in a heartbeat, at a measly $7 a pop.
At my kitchen sink I savour twenty-to-forty minute New Yorker Podcasts. From my mobile’s iPod modern laureates read short stories from the magazine’s vault. Last week I listened to Tobias Wolff, Cynthia Ozick, Junot Diaz and Paul Theroux. Via the Guardian Books Podcast, Jeanette Winterson and Peter Carey speak of deviate lives and thorough research.
In the car on the way home from coffee with friends, I indulge in ABC Radio’s BookShow Podcast. Last month, after reading ‘While Not Writing A Book: Diaries’ in The Monthly (print version), I searched out Helen Garner. It was the way clusters of elegant font had spilt down the white almost-square page like rivulets. I kept visualising the text’s shape on the page as I read it. This kept feeding me, pushing me to want more.
On hearing Helen talk I wasn’t satiated, so on cutting out details for a discussion on truth at the University of Melbourne (yes, The Age is still thrown on my lawn at 5am every morning) I organised a babysitter so I could sit on a plastic seat in an auditorium and see her in person for free.
Once an e-book consumes me, usually mid-way, I itch to flick pages and sense the novel’s bulk. I walk into a bookstore or click through an e-store. Soon the paperback is in my hands and I can see its form more clearly. Essentially, I am buying the same book twice. What a lovely reward for an author who has kept the ball of my finger slipping across the screen when Facebook, kids, the dishes and sleep are calling me.
Throw tomatoes at me for not being a scaremonger. Paper won’t lose its fascination. Nothing can replace thumbing through a book that has been loved and is well worn. No wonder shelves are full of outer shells whose insides haven’t been touched for years. Relics of our pasts, their spines are as good as photos, showing us where we’ve been.
Only after seeing Alice through Tim Burton’s kaleidoscope was my oldest son remotely interested in the book. Finally, I was able to tell him how drawn I had been to modern/antique pictures on crème, the hardback bought before he was born so that we could read it together. For the first time he looked at what I yearned to show him for eight years. Tonight we continue an adventure my second-cousin likens to a trip on LSD.
When moving pictures and written word come together to feed and inspire each other I rejoice for an opportunity to live in the 21st century. If a movie can interest boys in a book they might not otherwise read, then Alleluia. Two more literate children.
If an iPhone provides a mother with twenty more minutes reading a day, doubling last year’s intake by this year’s May, then bravo kindle for luring her into gaining a little more intellectual and psychological prowess.
I walked through Borders last night. It was like being at a wake of a person I never kind of liked but visited anyway.
The demise of the local bookstore? I wonder how it can fight for my dollar now Book Depository can mail books to me at a fraction of what I used to pay. I’m still fronting up. I will pay for an experience by buying what I like when in store. I hope I don’t have to drive to the next suburb for the privilege soon. That paper won’t become my expensive treat.
My greatest fear is that publishing houses will not be able bring out paperback, hardback, audio, e-format and whatever else our future fancies. I dearly hope that support for telling stories in a myriad of mediums grows rather than diminishes; that stories, in all their forms, thrive.