Oh, my God! I just heard of the niftiest invention. It's called a print book. It ages well and doesn't get obsolete. In fact, I've heard rumors that the value of first printings, especially copies signed by the author, often increases with age. If you're lucky, your town has a store full of them. You can pick up as many as you want, turn them over, shake them out, glance at this page and that, weigh the volume in your hands, and decide if it's a good fit. If you can't afford to spend a few bucks for a new one, you can go to another place, even bigger than the store, where you can borrow an armload or a bag-load of them at a time (for free!) and take them home with you for a month or two. And if you decide after a few pages that you don't like the one you started to read, it's no big deal. Just set it aside and drop it off next time you pass by the city library.

My friend David claims that last winter the weather turned bad and his town had a long power outage and all his electronic gadgets soon became useless. He saysa lot of people got bored to death, but he simply opened a book, wrapped himself into a quilt, sat close to his candle, and read non-stop until he finished the whole thing and the power came back on. He actually put the book on a shelf afterwards. That's when he discovered books look quite nice lined up that way. Best room decorating trick he ever learned, he told me. Whole walls covered with shelves laden with books of all sizes and shapes and colors. Amazingly real. No batteries required. These days, David loves visiting people and glancing at their shelves. He tells me you can tell a lot about a person by how many books she has in her home, and by reading the titles. And if you're lucky and you find somebody who shares your tastes, he might even let you borrow a few. For as long as you want, David said. .

He tried to convince me that I should get a few real books, too. I saw no reason to switch from my trusty e-reader. It's such a nifty little gadget to hold, so shiny and clean. But then he reminded me about the last one I bought, the one I lost. Even though I looked high and low for it, it never turned up again and I had to buy a new one. Not cheap. According to David, losing a print book is much less traumatic. He even claims real books can become friends. How crazy is that? To cinch his argument, he picked up a mid-sized book without warning and tossed it at me. It dropped onto his marble floor. As I stood frozen, horrified, he walked over, bent down, picked it up, dusted it off, and handed it to me. It wasn't even broken.

Then David pulled out all the stops. Print books, he said, are made out of paper. They decompose. E-readers are made from plastic. The best you can do with a broken e-reader is toss it in a pile of other useless e-readers, along with all the other plastic gadgets the human race is accumulating that won't go away after we do. And, David said, humans have something called a tactile sense. A person is actually SUPPOSED to touch lots of things, hold them in his hands. He said that's what skin is for. And if you don't use that tactile sense any more, it might diminish. Pretty soon you can't feel as much as you used to. Like those bugs the scientists discovered, the ones that live in very dark caves. After a few generations of baby bugs who didn't need to see anything in these dark caves, their bug eyes went away.

Right there David scored a point, but you know what really won me over? I'm a writer. A couple of my books have glossaries in back. You can't access them very well on an e-reader. An e-reader likes to plod slowly from one page to the next to the next. With a real book, believe it or not, all you have to do is flip—quick as a wink—from wherever you are to the glossary and back again. Okay, now I'm impressed. I think I might get one. Or two. Or a dozen. Then David and I can trade. Because, as it turns out, we do have the same taste in books. Among other things.





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When I was in college, one of the hardest parts of any course was the inevitable research paper. Often I danced my way through the process of choosing the topic, finding the material and the collaborating statements, and putting quotes on note-cards. Usually, on the night before the paper was due, I brewed a big pot of coffee and hobbled the note-card information and pages together into one unified whole to turn in the next day. During this agonizing process I frequently discovered my head on the table, jerked myself awake, drank more coffee, and got back on track.

Those papers seemed a cruel assignment to give an already overtaxed full-time student. At the time I considered it a senseless form of torture. If I learned anything from the exercise at all it was that it would have been so much easier not to wait until the last minute before writing the actual paper. It's only lately that I'm beginning to understand the real reason for that requirement. It was simply to get students used to doing independent research.

I am spending a lot of time these days on Facebook and Twitter, making friends, getting into the mix, finding patterns. And one of the patterns I am finding is that a bunch of well-meaning, lovely people latch onto some political or existential video made by someone they don't know and know nothing about, like what they seem to be hearing and seeing, and pass it on as truth. If you ask anyone in this long chain of passing-it-on who the video-maker actually is, what his agenda might be, what he hopes to accomplish, etc., you get a blank stare. Usually these kinds of videos say something like, "You can't believe anything anyone tells you these days so you better start believing me." They hint there is some ominous conspiracy the video-maker has stumbled across for which he might be persecuted if found out, putting his life in danger—which is why he can't afford to leave his name or other means of authentication.

This sounds so right to people these days that they seem willing to swallow it without hesitation. In an age where many news-bloggers bend the truth at will, where the rich and powerful fund social movements and constitutional amendments on the sly, where the line between tabloid and competent news source has blurred and even disappeared, where the only thing we seem to be able to trust is WikiLeaks, most of us are ripe for the plucking.

My take is that anyone can believe anything they want to. Fine with me. But before they pass it downstream as truth they need to do some personal, hands-on research, finding at least five qualified, respected and knowledgeable professionals who agree with the opinions uttered in the video, finding trustworthy independent sources who can shine light on the subject from various angles, either from alternative media in this country or abroad—and verify, verify, verify. For those of us who want to become part of the chain of passing-it-on, that must be the bottom line. Let the video-maker or blogger earn our stamp of approval before we become unwitting parts of some viral propaganda machine we know nothing about.
 

GRACED

10/15/2011

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Graced
My little mountain town has been occupied by deer. They started appearing after a couple of years of hard drought, enthusiastically eating the roses, nibbling on landscaping, crossing Main Street during rush hour. Since then, they have sent thought-mail invitations to all their friends and relatives, so we have quite a crowd. In fact, we now have fawns born to does who were born to does who have never lived in a forest. Sometimes I am tempted to produce a coffee-table book entitled, "Decorative, custom-made deer fences." I've admired some beautiful and functional barriers designed to keep deer out of the garden. And I've admired many a massive stag, standing tall and proud on a front lawn, posing with his magnificent rack. A couple of days ago I saw two tiny, still wobbly fawns just where a side street empties into Main. They were weaving in and out of traffic, blinking at cars and looking for their mother.

At peak breeding season, anyone who is walking their dog down a quiet street is asking for trouble. It happened to me. Alex and I sauntered along an empty sidewalk when a doe appeared across the street, looked at us funny, crossed over, and started following us with a fixed and determined expression. She didn't care about me, but kept her glare firmly centered on Alex, who was leashed and was getting increasingly nervous since he had no idea why she kept getting closer and closer while looking incensed and confrontational. We couldn't shake her until a lovely couple volunteered to distract her long enough for us to make a clean getaway. Since then, there have been several "incidents" where deer, their newborns hidden in nearby bushes, clashed with leashed, owner-walked dogs in some peaceful alley. I hear the does are mean boxers.

We have all learned to replace gnawed plants in front of our houses with new flowers that are guaranteed to be deer-proof. We have learned to drive extra-slow so we can stop on a dime whenever a deer tribe decides to run in front of our wheels. Do we want our town back the way it used to be? Not me. Lyme disease, cougars and coyotes notwithstanding, there are no body-lines as graceful as a deer's. There is no family tableau as precious as a doe, a couple of aunties, and twin fawns cavorting on the sidewalk and then making impossibly graceful jumps over a high fence into some pasture land or somebody's treasured garden. Most of the human population of this little mountain town has learned to accept sharing our space in the same way the deer used to have to share theirs with us. The rest  grumble more or less quietly where no one is watching.

 
 
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THE ZEN OF NOVEL-READING

When I was a child, my favorite day of the year was Christmas Eve. At dark, my mother sent us to our room to give the Christ-child all the privacy he needed to decorate the waiting spruce and put our presents under it. And when the spirit was done, he would ring a silver bell on his way out. That was our cue to come into the living room, where the tree was aglow with lighted wax candles, plenty of silvery ice cycle strands, shimmering ornaments, and the one delicious chocolate decoration we would be allowed to snip off once every day until January. Mother passed out our few presents and we ripped them open and exclaimed over each coveted item. From the shape of things, I knew at once that one of mine was a book. While my sister started playing with her new toys, I would sink into a chair, open the book, and begin reading. Within seconds, the world dropped away and I was transported to a magical, timeless realm. On this special night we were allowed to stay up for as long as we wanted. I would lounge in that chair until I had consumed every word of my perfect new present, cheeks warm, bothering no one.

I have seen the same kind of dedication in children who received a Harry Potter book. They would take it to a quiet location, sit, and devour. And J. K. Rowling gave them increasingly more to devour. Those small fans knew how to read.

Contrast that scene with what I frequently see in the privacy of the bedrooms of many of my adult friends. Stacks and towers of books crowding nightstand and dresser, gathering dust, each of them with a bookmark near the beginning. Ask these good people what they are currently reading and they look confused. They're not reading—they're novel-surfing. A little of this one, a little of that one. Sometimes they confess with a laugh that it wasn't until they were finished with a particular book that they realized they had forgotten that they had actually read it before. Ask them what it was about and they will look at you blankly. It seems the plot of one book segues comfortably into the plot of the next.

This is not necessarily the fault of the author. It takes a good novel writer at least five years from conception to final edit—frequently much longer. In the process they spend countless days and evenings, week in, year out,  isolated in front of their computer screen, sacrificing most social opportunities in the meantime. The writer's first word, image, idea materializes in a black void, and slowly, cell by cell, brick by brick, letter by letter, image by image, a world is built, designed to surprise and delight you. Every description of this imaginary world, every bit of dialogue, every character, piece of action, motivation—all thought up for you. A good writer will build deftly, subtly, toward the climax and resolution. A hint here. Another one there. Clues  you won't miss if you pay attention—though they will slip right by you if you're distracted with ten other plots in other books. This slow buildup to a crescendo is what careful novel-crafting is about. And if you miss a couple of pieces, you don't get the impact the author intended.

Some years ago a "slow food" movement spread across the globe. I think it's time we started a "slow read" movement. Stay in the moment. Savor each word. Let it sink in. Allow yourself to enjoy the unfolding. And then reap your reward—the aha moment when the entirety of the author's finely honed vision becomes your own.
 

    Author

    Kris Heywood lives and writes in a small mountain town of Oregon.