Book Format: A Matter of Preference, not Perfection

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Who is the “favorite child” in your family? The answer might vary among your siblings, if you have any. (We will presume that it will always be yourself if you are an only child.) Of course, one child might be considered “Mom’s favorite” and another “Dad’s favorite”, depending upon whose opinion is being offered. And then there are those who might respond, “Not me”, as I would. Not that I felt slighted by my parents, but more that I could think of several reasons that one of my four siblings would be so designated and none for myself.

As for who among my own children could be called the favorite, my response would be that I don’t have one. My children would dispute that, of course. But I believe that most of us parents really try hard to not play favorites.  But sometimes there are situations when we must choose among children, and we weigh our choices the best we can.

What does this have to do with books?

I hang around with a lot of readers, writers, and other types of “bookish” people.  Most are very congenial and I love to talk books more than just about anything.  But sometimes I hear someone say something like, “I don’t own a reader” or “I won’t read e-books” or “I won’t listen to audiobooks” and then go on to explain that they only read traditional books, sometimes in a tone that suggests that anyone who doesn’t do the same has faulty judgement, or taste, or intelligence.

My response is always (a mental) “huh?” when I hear this.  It’s like they think they have to choose between their children, for Pete’s sake. But, inevitably, someone will nod their head and the rest of the group will give it up, not wishing to get into an argument.

That’s when I would like to tell them that I agree with them about how wonderful traditional books are for so many reasons, including the following:

Traditional books are enduring.

They have been around for hundreds of years in the form we recognize today and, I believe, will continue to be so. They are like bowls, blankets, and baskets – items that are loved and appreciated for their form and their function. Their value comes not just from their beauty as objects, but for what they can contain and provide for us.

Traditional books are familiar and comforting.

What booklover doesn’t have a favorite reading spot?  Most photos and illustrations that I have seen don’t focus on a luxurious setting, but usually a comfortable chair, some pillows, something nearby to eat or drink, perhaps a favorite reading companion (dog, cat, or human), and a book. We are drawn to that place where we can escape and pamper ourselves a bit and that book is the anchor we seek.

Traditional books stimulate our senses.

Most of us appreciate the crisp fragrance of a new book and the pleasure of being the first to turn pristine pages.  We can also confess a love for older books, with their musty, not unpleasant, scent and yellowed pages. We can also get tactile pleasure from different materials used in binding, and visual pleasure from lovely illustrations, photographs, and typography.

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Traditional books are personal (or can be made so).

They can be inscribed, scribbled, written or doodled in. They can be saved or collected according to our personal preferences.  They can be reminders of people we have known and loved, places we have visited, and days of our lives. They can reflect us as individuals and collectively, through our interests, our passions, our hopes and our dreams.

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Traditional books are user-friendly.

Give a board book to a baby or a picture book to a young child and they will catch on quickly. The baby may give it a quick chew first, but it won’t take long for tiny hands to learn to explore the wonder of turning pages to find something new. The young child will soon understand that what is on one page leads to something related on the next. We master the basics quickly and don’t need to depend upon technology for charging, connecting, downloading, or upgrading.

Traditional books can add beauty to our lives.

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I always feel a bit strange when I enter a home without books.  Even if wasn’t a “ravenous reader”, I would miss their presence – One open here or there to a photograph of the current season, or (in the kitchen) a cookbook open to the illustration of a recipe I might never prepare; a “mini-collection” related titles piled next to my chair; or my shelf of favorite decorating books in the office. Walls of books can be beautiful for the color and texture they add to our rooms, and a home library will always be at the top of my “house hunters” fantasy list, ahead of a home theater, room-sized closet, or outdoor kitchen.

Traditional books can be the perfect gift, legacy, or donation.

Most of us who love books come to a place where we simply have too many.  Some of my most treasured are in line to be given to friends who I know will appreciate them, family members who will understand their personal value, or to organizations, such as our Friends of the Library, that will make sure that they have second lives in readers’ hearts and hands.

For those of you who are still wondering if traditional, bound books are my “favorite” format for reading, I will refer you to the beginning of this post. I have listed the reasons and occasions when they are my preference note, but I would stop at saying they are my favorites, just as I would with my children. I am grateful that I don’t have to choose!

In my next two posts, I will write about ebooks and audiobooks, and why they are sometimes what I would prefer, but not my “favorite” format. That has yet to be invented and I doubt that it ever will be.

Question:  What book format do you usually favor?  Under what circumstances do you depart from it?

Summer Fun at the Library

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Summer Reading Programs — Still Going Strong!

For many of my working years, summer was the busiest season, with preparations beginning months ahead.  As a librarian for the Pioneer Library System, I understood that the months when school wasn’t in session were a wonderful time to bring children into the library and nourish the “reading seed” that would be so important to their success in school and in life.

We knew and appreciated all of the hard work that school teachers did during the other nine months, but we also knew that some of what was gained in reading skills would be lost if the vacation months were spent without books and reading.

So it was our task to plan a summer reading program with activities that would draw children into the library and would result in the children checking books out to take home. We were supported by materials and planning assistance by the state department of libraries and and supplemented their resources with local and state financial contributions, sponsorships and volunteers.

Those plans often included driving to other locations where there were children who couldn’t get to libraries, such as very rural towns in our service area, or taking the programs to places where children congregate, such as swimming pools or community centers.

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And we succeeded! The libraries were overflowing with children during those months. (Some older and more sedate customers spread the word about the best times for their own library visits.) We challenged ourselves to entertain the children while we expanded their curiosity and helped develop their minds.

We met other challenges too, of the “if something can go wrong, it will” variety. (One of my most vivid memories includes several thousand “dormant” ladybugs waking up early and escaping the film containers that we had packed them in to give to the children.)

We also managed long lines of children with books to be checked out before and after the programs, plus the occasional child who needed to go to restroom during the activity.  It was always a team effort and everybody pitched in to make things go smoothly.

It’s still happening in libraries across the country and today, I would like to congratulate my fellow librarians who are in the middle of their summer reading programs. It will soon be over for another year, but you will have the opportunity to do it again next summer. (I know that you’ll need a little breather before you begin thinking about that!) Then when you are retired, as I am, you can look back and remember all that you did, all the fun you had doing it, and how important it was for the children of your community. Hooray for summer reading at the library and those who make it possible!

Book Recommendation for June 2017

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This month’s recommended title, By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review, is one from a subcategory of books I collect about reading, writing, libraries, bookstores, book collecting, and related subjects.  Many of these books reside on my shelves at home while others are in the branches of our Pioneer Library System.  (Yes, I understand that I don’t personally own the library books, but I consider them mine just the same.  I just don’t have room for all of them to live with me.) The books about what other readers and writers enjoy are among my favorites because they give me insight on their choices and preferences and because I inevitably discover new titles to add to my “must read” list.

I understand that I don’t personally own the library books, but I consider them mine just the same.  I just don’t have room for all of them to live with me.

It took me some time to read By the Book, but that didn’t diminish my pleasure in it. It’s the kind of book that is best taken in small bites; to do otherwise would be, for me, like eating the entire Thanksgiving turkey in one sitting. (I do like turkey and look forward to leftovers. Any perceived implication that authors’ opinions should be compared to helpings of turkey is entirely coincidental).

The layout of the book lends itself to reading about three, four, or ten (the reader’s decision) author responses to many of the same questions. Some typical questions include “When and where do you like to read?”, “What were your favorite books as a child?”, “Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel you were supposed to like and didn’t?”, “If you could require the president to read just one book, what would it be?”

I found that reading about three authors’ responses was what I could absorb without getting them confused. Of course, it helped when an author like David Sedaris followed someone like Colin Powell.

Special sections included compiled responses on subjects such as “My Library”, “On Poetry”, “On Not Having Read”, and “Laugh-Out-Loud Funny”. Sixty-five authors were interviewed for the book, including several of my favorites: Elizabeth Gilbert, Anne Lamott, Marilynne Robinson, Hilary Mantel, Khaled Hosseini, James McBride, Ann Patchett and others.

I will end with my favorite response to the question “If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be”? from Gary Shteyngart: “Definitely Don’t Bump the Glump by Shel Silverstein. It’s about how a great many creatures you encounter will try to eat you, even if you start acting all bipartisan.”

Added Note: Pamela Paul, who edited By the Book, has recently released a new title: My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues. Bob is Paul’s journal, her “book of books” in which she has recorded every book she has read from high school forward. Those of us who record our books in journals or on Goodreads will be interested in the long list of titles, but even more so in the relationship between the Paul and the books she has read.  I have added this title to my own “must read” list.

Reading Resource of the Month: Shelf Awareness is a website and newsletter that helps readers discover the 25 best books of the week, as chosen by booksellers, librarians and other industry experts. They also feature news about books and authors, author interviews and more of interest to readers and book lovers.