On The Edge

February 1, 2013

Silence is gray in the brave new world of ebooks

By J.P. Devine
Correspondent

She sits there in her comfy chair in total darkness and utters not a word. I don't think she knows that the power went out just as I was really getting into the rerun of reporter Andrea Mitchell's interview with Hillary Clinton.

She's not really in total darkness, I am. Her face is aglow with a weird, soft, gray light from the book she is reading, and I am spooked.

The power went out suddenly, and on other nights, when we might be in the middle of "Downton Abbey," she would have noticed, even though she reads off and on as she watches.

But now she's in a different universe, the universe of THE NOOK.

She received the Nook, not to be confused with THE KINDLE, for Christmas, as a gift from our oldest daughter. The Kindle and the Nook are by now such an indelible part of the urban, suburban and even totally remote outer limits of Maine farmlands, that there is no reason to waste too much time explaining them.

But for those who are totally tone deaf and vision impaired to the new media, the Kindle is Amazon's name for its digital reader, so named to bring to mind the lighting of a fire by which one can read. The Nook seems to be so named after, well, I have no idea what it's named after. It is what it is. You can fill in the spaces yourself.

I thought it was going to be a passing fancy, as it just sat there in its box for more than a month. I was sure that, if it were not a daughter's gift, it would be on our retirement special garage sale in the late spring.

But at some point, when her current spate of books ran out, she decided to give it a try. This was exciting for me, as it gave me a chance to man up. As I am the master of my laptop and brand new Samsung Note 2, complete with pen, she considers me to be her personal "geek." I cherish this notion, feeble as it is, because it's better than being her house boy, which is what I really am.

Alas, after fumbling with it for an entire evening, we had to make a dash to a real geek, or Nooker at the local Barnes and Noble for a tutorial. This took a chip off my coating of geek paint cover, but I'll live with it, as I'm much too busy trying to figure out how to block or unfriend, 16 people from my Facebook page. That's a story for another column.

So now it works, and there she sits silently in her chair, flipping the pages of her new downloaded book by noiselessly running her finger over the screen. That's really annoying. I had long been comforted by the sound of her turning the real, paper pages of her books. For those bibliophiles who remember that sound, you know what I mean.

I remember that sweet sound that calmed me, as I sat in the library at school, trying to keep my eyes from Joyce Goldman's knees at the table across the way. The sound of dozens of students flipping pages at the same time is not unlike the fluttering of leaves on brick walks in October.

What does the future hold, if all the students and readers in public libraries everywhere become Nookers or Kindlers? I've always found the tomb-like silence of libraries to be unsettling. I remember looking forward to the occasional cough, or the sudden jolt of someone dropping a huge art book in the stacks. So the sweet rustle of turning pages comforted me.

At least, in my declining years, I had she, who reads so fast that that whisper was a constant melody, like crickets on a summer's night.

Now what? This is the year of her retirement. Her passion for reading, stunted all these years by paper grading, will explode into all hours of the day.

So the spring and summer will come in our house, to borrow from Carl Sandburg, on the fog like little cat's feet, silently.

She will sit then, on the deck, with her Kindle, I mean, Nook, and run her tiny fingers over the screen, conjuring up literary scenes. I will be in the house looking for a large art book to drop.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

 

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