Traveling Books – Paper or Electronic?


I’m a reader. I love books. I love the way they feel in my hands. I love the way they smell. I love being able to take them with me wherever I go, although I’m not quite as dedicated as my husband. He tries to have a book with him at all times, in case I want to stop and look at something and he doesn’t, or he has a long wait at the doctor’s office or the drivers’ license bureau. In that case, I’d rather people-watch. I get distracted if I’m trying to read when interesting things are going on around me.

by IslandsEnd via WikiMedia Commons

Whenever we take a trip, though, I definitely pack a few traveling books as well as some magazines. And often bookstores are among the places we visit when we’re away from home. You can find some great “local” books – and bookstores – wherever you go.

When we were in Cape Cod several years ago, we discovered Philip R. Craig, who wrote about Martha’s Vineyard. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2007, but he wrote some great little books set in that area, and they’re hard to find anywhere else. When we visit out-of-town bookstores, we always head for the “local authors” section. It’s a great way to find out things about the area you’re visiting. If we really like the book and the author, we take it home. If not, it joins others on the condo’s bookshelves, for the next occupant to enjoy.

For a while, my husband was a member of a group called BookCrossing. This site is devoted to sharing books with other readers all over the world. You register the book and print out the label from their website, put it in the book you want others to enjoy, and leave the book somewhere for someone else to find and read – restaurants, bars, airport lounges, hotels, etc. Then the new reader finds the book, registers it online, reads it, then passes it along. This way, you can follow the book as it travels.

by Superbmust via WikiMedia Commons

My husband and some of his BookCrossing friends used it to find books by hard-to-find authors, and they shared them through the mail. But the thought is the same – find a book or an author you enjoy, then share with other readers. It works especially well if you’re in the home-base of the author and can pick up a number of his or her books.

Then I began to hear talk about this electronic gadget called a Kindle. I was at a workshop given by one of my favorite authors, who is also a dear friend. He described how a fellow author had carried his Kindle on a trip to Ireland, and rather than pay additional baggage fees for all the books he’d usually travel with, he just downloaded them on this little machine, and the whole thing weighed only a few ounces. An additional benefit my friend liked was that you could change the point size of the type, making it easier for our aging eyes to read. I thought that sounded interesting, especially for extended travels. But I still wasn’t convinced it was for me.

A year or so later, because he expressed an interest, I purchased the lowest-end Kindle for my husband for Christmas. I still didn’t understand why anyone would rather hold a machine and push a button to turn the pages, especially when we weren’t planning any long trips.

And although I seriously tried to read a couple of books on his Kindle (one of which was written by another good friend of ours), I never got into it. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around holding this thing, when I could hold a perfectly good book.

And so I continued to collect books, many of them from thrift shops and yard sales, and the stacks got higher and higher. If a favorite author published something new, I’d buy it. Otherwise, I was perfectly happy reading “throw-aways,” those books that aren’t great literature, don’t have any great moral, and admittedly usually have “happily ever after” endings to them.

After all, life throws you (or me, anyway) enough “reality” that I don’t feel the need to spend my leisure time reading about other people’s struggles, unless they figure out the answers rather quickly. You’re probably exclaiming at my shallowness. And you’d be right, on some levels.

by Ed Yourdon

Then a couple of funny (or maybe enlightening) things happened. We moved from the home where we’d lived for 30 years. And the packing included more books than almost anything else!

We did a minor purge, taking boxes full to Goodwill. There were still hundreds left to pack. My husband doesn’t usually re-read. I do. And so those that I knew I’d want to visit again were carefully packed and moved to the new house. And many of those other boxes went into storage.

By this time, i-Pads and Kindle Fires and dozens of other options for online reading had come on the market. And I got a little more interested.

Since our laptop was ancient, I started looking for a replacement, and after a lot of research and wavering back-and-forth, I decided on a small laptop with a touchscreen that detaches to become a tablet.

It has the actual keyboard as well as a virtual one, so it’s easier for my husband to operate when we’re out of town. We’d (he’d?) made the decision years ago to stick with the Windows format rather than switching to Apple, so that’s one reason I chose the laptop I did. It’s been a year now, and I’m an avid tablet reader.

While I know that many people use tablets and smartphones to do everything from making phone calls, taking pictures, filing their income taxes, watching movies, and, yes, reading books, newspapers, and magazines, we aren’t among them. Our phones are semi-smart and mostly used to make or receive calls.

by San Jose Library via WikiMedia Commons

And I definitely haven’t given up “real” books, but I’ve learned that my tablet is easy to navigate and it takes just a few seconds to download anything I want.

I also realize that our still-full storage unit contains hundreds of books. I haven’t read them (or admittedly missed them) in nearly three years.

My favorites are on shelves in the house, and I smile when I look at them. They make me happy. They’re friends, and I’ll never give them up. But the others, those “throw-aways,” don’t take up nearly as much space on my tablet!

A small addendum here – I think a love of books is the most important thing you can pass on to a child. Children who read love to learn.

I’m not going to express an opinion about two-year-olds who have their own tablets and one-year-olds who can turn a smartphone on and find their own apps – there’s plenty of research on both sides of that issue.

But just like good teachers who encourage their non-reading students to read comic books or anything else that interests them, I believe that reading has many forms. However you can get a child – or an adult – to read, everyone benefits.

Obviously, books and reading have been important to me all my life. And whether our next trip is to Panama City Beach or San Francisco or Beijing, I won’t have to pay for extra weight when I take those traveling books along! What’s your favorite way to read when you’re traveling? We’d love to hear your ideas!

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