Today, I spent a fair amount of time sitting at my dining room table doing some research for work in progress. I put a half-dozen books on my Amazon wish list so I can keep track of them (handy little things, those wish lists). I have one hard cover book sitting on the table that I am reading in sections, highlighting things as I go. As I switched gears to do some writing, I found myself thinking about summers when I was a kid, before cell phones and computer games and Facebook, when I would spend hours curled up somewhere reading a book.
My mom had to shove me out of the house on nice days.
But books went with me everywhere, including on our road trips. When we drove across the Great Plains on endless highways, I would slink down in my seat until I could no longer see the scenery flying by in my peripheral vision and then I would read. Mysteries were my favorites for a long time: Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Robin Kane. Then I graduated to the mysteries and romances my mother checked out from the library. Anya Seton. Phyllis Whitney. And I read Gone with the Wind in seventh grade, all 1,000+ pages of it, fascinated that my mother had seen the movie when it came out in theaters in 1939.
Once we came to a rest area or a tourist stop, I would close the book, hop out of the car. But whatever characters I had read about came with me like some kind of imaginary entourage.
Research doesn’t quite offer me characters that come with me as I move through other parts of my day. But doing research with books that I can hold in my hands instead of doing everything on the computer screen has felt solid, pleasurable in a way computer research never does.
I’m torn about which form of reading will go with me when I travel this year. I have some stunning books on my iPad, but my tendency to unplug when I vacation makes me reluctant to take the iPad with me for that time. So I also have a stack of paperbacks waiting to be chosen as travel companions. I still like mysteries, but now read a broader range of things. The current stack includes a short story collection by David Foster Wallace, a Chuck Palahniuk novel, and a memoir about farming and food. But I also downloaded Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee onto my iPad this morning – couldn’t resist.
What about you? When do you read? Where? In what format? And does that format matter?
Last night, I read part of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen before going to sleep. In this case, once I sunk into her words, I no longer noticed that I was reading it on my iPad. This doesn’t help my dilemma about which books are going on vacation with me in the least.