The e-Book Reader: Hot Chocolate Versus Sunsets

From a Plinky prompt: “Would you ever get an e-book reader?”

Amazon Kindle eBook Reader

Imagine if hot chocolate got in a fight with sunsets.

Or if you had to pick sides between the laughter of small children and tender hugs from loved ones. Imagine if great music somehow became the archenemy of tasty food, and you had to choose which one wins.

Can’t we all just get along?

And yet, that sort of quandary is where we are, thanks to the e-book reader.

In this corner — Cutting-edge technology. Oh, how I love you. Oh, how you make my life better. Words cannot express to you my gratitude for my iPhone, which makes me happy in countless little ways. I can’t imagine life without you. You make everything better and faster and shinier and usefuller and awesomer.

And in this corner — Words, printed on paper. Ideas incarnate. Facts and fantasies, information and imagination, captured in physical form. So delightfully visceral. So comfortable. So comforting. So familiar and yet so exciting — my oldest friend, continually taking me to unexplored realms.

How does one choose? How could one be asked to choose?

Yes, I love the idea of an e-book. I love the idea of being able to carry a library in this small portable form; of reading several books at once and always having the one I want to read with me when I want to read it. I love the idea of technology transforming reading; I love the idea of relating to written words in new ways I’ve never been able to before.

But at what cost? At the cost of not owning a physical copy of a book? Of not being able to hold it in my hands, to leaf through it, to feel its heft and know its dimensions? Of not feeling the texture of the dead tree pulp on which its words are printed? Of not having it on a shelf in my home, a proud sign for visitors that this volume is a small part of who I am? Of not being able to go into my library and pull down the perfect volume that a friend simply must read? Of not being able to skim a bookcase for that one book that has exactly what I’m looking for? Of not having a pile in my bedroom of books queued up to vie for my time and attention?

As an author, am I willing to pay the cost of no longer having the overwhelming thrill, the victory, of lifting a bound block of paper, and knowing — like Joyce and Faulkner and Dickens and Hemingway and Dostoevsky and Miley Cyrus before — that I made this?

May it not be.

I imagine it is inevitable. I imagine that in the not too distant future, enough people will have readers or tablet computers or whatever next-generation device they come up with by then that electronic books will gradually become the default, so insidiously that we don’t even notice that printed volumes have joined vinyl records in intriguing obsolescence.

And I imagine that it will be convenient and delightful, and make reading more enjoyable than it ever has been before. And I imagine that when that day comes, I will be happy, and will love reading books electronically.

But, so help me, I will miss real books.

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The Stars, Like Dust

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “The Night Sky.”

“[God] took [Abraham] outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” — Genesis 15:15.

“I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.” — Genesis 22:17

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” — Psalm 8:3-4

“He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.” — Psalm 147:4

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” — Romans 1:20

If you drive just a little ways out of Huntsville, you discover something rather cool about the stars.

They twinkle.

It’s a little ironic, because, of course, they don’t really. They don’t twinkle in real life, and if you’re in space, with a clear view of them, they don’t twinkle. But looking up from Earth’s surface, they appear to, because of the distortion of the planet’s atmosphere. Go into a city, however, where there’s even more distortion — lights, pollution, etc. — and they stop twinkling. The “high-resolution” view you need to see the twinkling gets lost.

I noticed the stars twinkling somewhere I was able to see it a few months ago, and it was amazing. Like discovering that a little bit of lost childhood magic was real after all.

But the bigger revelation still is to get even further away from civilization, to get out into the unadulterated darkness of night and see just how dark it really isn’t.

Get far enough away from the lights of civilization, and there are far more stars than you remember there being. Depending on how old you are, depending on where you live, depending on how much attention you pay when you’re on the open highway, there very well be more stars than you’ve ever seen in your life.

I had that experience, too, not that long ago. And I was awed. Truly, truly awed. I had forgotten how glorious the night sky could be.

And it made me realize something. In scripture, the stars, and their number, are used to point to the awesomeness and power and generosity of God. And as a rule, modern man looks up at the night sky, and sees stars that number in the dozens. But someone living at the time the words were first written would have taken something completely different away from those scriptures than we do today. They would have imagined a sky more glorious than we do, a number much higher than we do, and it would have pointed to a God much more magnificent as a result. The lights of our civilization dilute that for us; they dilute our understanding of the wonder of the stars and they dilute our understanding of the wonder of God.

Our civilization does that in countless other ways. Our comforts buffer us from wonder on a daily basis. We miss sunsets in favor of televisions. We miss the dirt beneath our feet in favor of automobiles. We miss so much magic, because we shelter ourselves from it. And as a result, we miss appreciating the Artist behind that magic.

What simpler way to reclaim that magic than with the twinkle, twinkle of a little star?