Saturday, November 24, 2012

Stories in any other format...

Historically we around the Future PharmD household have had long commutes.  It started with the spouse taking a half hour each way by bus, then me with 1.5 hours each way, then the spouse commuting 45 minutes each way and me being a shuttle in the 2 hour travel extravaganza that was taking the kid to preschool last year (how did I think that was a good idea?).  This meant we decided on audio books as a way to fill all that empty time driving alone or with a touchy small child awfully early in the morning.

Esperanza wrote an interesting post about adaptations of books to movies, and of our lives to blog posts, and it got me thinking.

The first book I "read" without ever seeing the text was The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and we listened to it on cassettes driving to visit my grandparents.  I remember it from when I was 5 or 6.  When I got older I read the text itself, and then later saw the movie and then the remake of the movie (and the TV series too, I think).  All these versions of one story mean a multiplicity of views of the characters that's more fully developed than if only one interpretation were available.  Example: in the recent movie, Marvin the brilliant and depressed robot's performance is heavily influenced by the original radio plays while Arthur's performance comes more from the text (of the later books, actually).

Since theater is an interest of mine, I am always thinking in terms of performances and interpretations of the text.  We went to see The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe as put on by a local school recently and I was struck by how little the actors understood how scary living in opression is.  At no time was I convinced the animals in Narnia were really afraid of the Witch.  This didn't bother the kid at all because she doesn't know the story and this play wasn't set in the context of World War II.  It was just fun for her.  The medium is the message, and the message she got was straight from that overly cheery play and not from the story of 4 kids lost in the woods who suddenly have to save a whole nation of scared "people."

Around here, we are considering the merits of books as physical things versus digital things.  I've taken to buying textbooks digitally because they are just too enormous to haul around and I can't have my computer out to take notes and a 5 inch thick book open in my tiny study space.  I can fit the tiny tablet next to the computer though, and it's much more portable AND I can switch between textbooks easily without any hauling or bookmark-finding.

Some (many? most?) people don't read a book more than once.  I am peculiar in that I am almost always reading a book but rarely is it a new book.  I've got maybe 20 that I rotate through and reread.  Since I've been reading some of these for years now, they are starting to get pretty worn out.  Also since they're favorites, a great many of them we also own as audio books in one format or another (some cassettes, some CDs, mostly digital files, shows you how long we've been collecting audio books).  The spouse thinks it's gratuitous to add digital text copies to the two versions we have already.  I think it makes sense to add digital copies to preserve the physical copies either for special occasion reading or just in the name of collecting, and since a few physical copies are already disintegrating, it avoids replacing them.

The current family approach to new book acquisition is: digital books for very heavy or very short-term books (brain candy, read once sorts of things), physical books if we really want to read something, audio books as we see fit but probably for things with replay/reread value.

I just don't know what format I want to show the kid.  She can't browse digital books in the same way she can physical books on the bookshelves.  She can't tell if I'm reading, playing a game, or doing school work if I'm using the iPad.  She can tell exactly what I'm doing if I'm hauling around a book and reading it.

So what do you all think?  Should we add another format of the same stories or should we keep reading the physical copies that aren't in such great shape because someday, knowing what we read over and over has value?


  1. I've been thinking the same thing. I love my kindle and it's great for me to read. I don't miss "the smell and feel of a book" that so many people criticize the kindle for. But, I do wonder how it is changing our reading culture and how it will impact how my son learns to love to read since he can't pick it up in the same way you pick up a book.

  2. Such great questions. I don't mind books on my kindle for times that I'm traveling, but really, I'm having issues walking away from books on paper. Great point that a kid can't tell if you're surfing the internet or reading with an eBook as well. Hm...
    There is just something about the physical book that I love and pray that my daughter loves as well.