I’m wondering how all those people in New York, New Jersey, and other places without electrical power are feeling now about their Kindles and iPads-as-readers? It’s fantastic to be able to put all kinds of books on your electronic device, but when you don’t have power, where is your library? It disappears — and it disappears at a time when you really need it, too.
My iPad died literally as we were about to board the plane for France. The people at the Apple store in Paris examined it, and said it was an electrical problem. The iPad is well and truly dead. Fortunately, I backed it up the night before I left, so I won’t have lost any books. But all the books I’d loaded on the thing to read in Paris were not available to me. It occurs to me that all the books I’ve bought to read on my iPad’s Kindle app will not be available to my children to read one day when they are grown, or my grandchildren, in the way that all the old books on the shelf at my mom and dad’s house are available to us.
I’m rethinking this whole buy-books-electronically thing.
My mom gave me not long ago a box of letters from my European pen pals, received when I was a teenager, and letters from friends back in St. Francisville when I was off at boarding school, or later, living far away. I treasure them. I didn’t know they still existed, but now I have them. I don’t know when the last time I wrote a letter on paper was. I write tens of e-mails every day, and communicate far more often in writing with friends and acquaintances now than I ever did before e-mail. But I don’t save those e-mails, and even if I did, it’s not the same thing as the handwriting of my friends on those old letters.
The book I’ve just written, “The Little Way of Ruthie Leming,” was largely made possible because my late sister wrote a letter every day, sometimes two times a day, to her true love Mike in the summer of 1986, when he was off at military basic training, and she was working at a law office in town, getting ready for her senior year in high school. Those letters provided a detailed portrait not only of my sister’s mind and heart at 17, but also of teenage life in our town in the 1980s — something I had missed out on, but which recreating in this book was critical to telling the story I needed to tell.
If Ruthie and Mike had e-mailed, would they even have those letters today? Those letters not only helped me professionally, they exist as a legacy for Mike, and for Mike and Ruthie’s children, and for generations of Ruthie and Mike’s descendants not yet born.
I would like to say that I’m rethinking this whole e-mailing-over-letter-writing thing, but I know that I’m really not. I’m too lazy, and my handwriting is too illegible to change now.