A few weeks ago I finished reading my first digital book, and after the last page I was hooked. I know I'm a stubborn late adopter and surprisingly I don't have anything to say about missing "the tactile aspect of turning the pages of a good book" in some annoying Public Radio voice. I resisted this long for a host of annoying reasons, but I found myself pleasantly surprised by the advantages of reading a book on my tablet.

First, I loved reading in the dark. Ever since we started using these stupid compact fluorescent bulbs our house is dimmer than a dugout with a votive. It's so dark the knitter I married wears one of those camping headlamps to count her stitches. When she has her neighborhood yarn cult over for their weekly kniturgy, she sets up every lamp in the house until our living room looks like a lighting store showroom inhabited by a tribe of mopey women miners staring into their laps. But with a digital book, lighting is irrelevant. You can even read in bed with the lights out.

Second, I love how digital books don't take up any space. There was part of me that resisted digital because I liked collecting physical books. I imagined one day filling a home library and displaying them proudly. I always bought my own books rather than borrowing from a library. I carted them with their stupid little yellow USED stickers from apartment to apartment, move after move. Sadly, I'm beginning to doubt I'll ever have a home library, and most of my books are spine-worn, unsightly paperbacks that I can't bear to give away. They pile up everywhere, but with an e-reader they could all fit in the palm of my hand and be accessed anywhere.

Third, I loved how reading a digital book prevents others from seeing what I'm reading. At last I might sit in the parlor and finish Lady Chatterley's Lover in peace without the maidservants tittering when topping off my tea. Seriously, I've been out of the academy long enough to admit that for far too long, my choice in reading material often said much more about what I wanted others to think about me than what I actually enjoyed. When I was eighteen I took a cross-country trip by Greyhound, bringing nothing to read but a tattered, un-annotated copy of Ulysses. I was sure that everyone I encountered would be deeply impressed by this young traveler and his commitment to deciphering the genius of James Joyce. Eighteen-year-old me got about eighteen pages into the first chapter before I recognized I'd made a huge mistake, and I wasn't even halfway across Illinois. Somewhere in Iowa in the middle of the night, I woke when a new passenger plopped down in the seat next to me. Before I even looked at him I groggily noticed out a window streaked with drool that we'd pulled up to a state prison and the passengers boarding the bus appeared to be newly-released convicts. The gentleman seated next to me with the Philip Morris cologne was wearing a Canadian tuxedo from that unfortunate era when Levi's incorporated dacron polyester into all their lines of denim leisure wear. I assumed it was the finest garment he had in that shoebox of possessions they return after you serve a full sentence for second-degree manslaughter.

"Ulysses, huh?" he sniffled. "That book sucks."

It would be many years before I realized how right that convicted felon was, and that anyone who tells you otherwise just wants you to be impressed by their formidable taste and erudition. It is best just to humor them.

I didn't learn my lesson, and for many years I continued to choose books partly for the impression they'd make on the people sitting across from me on the bus. Unreadability was a virtue. The woman across from me might be reading a book she plucked from the literary fiction table at Borders called something like The Secret History of Tarragon, but I would be reading Ezra Pound's Guide to Kulchur. I was not alone. There was some guy who rode my bus who pondered over the same copy of The Unbearable Twaddle of Milan Kundera for six months (I think he used it to pick up chicks). My own pretension was all the more spurious given the amount of garbage I consumed on television. To this day I can tell you a lot more about The King of Queens than I can King Lear. But let's face it: a lot of us suffer through books we might not actually enjoy for the sake of smugness. I think liberal arts degrees do this to us. We like to show off what we're reading. What else can explain the success of Goodreads? If smugness was not a factor in certain book-buying decisions, I can think of more than a few successful authors who would not be eating so well tonight.

It strikes me that the most virtuous thing about digital books is that this smugness factor is all but eliminated. I remember reading last winter that e-books have dramatically increased sales of romance novels, and it's easy to see why. The guy across from you at the dentist office could be reading David Foster Wallace or Clive Cussler. Who cares? The books I've been reading lately are ones I want to read without concern for what anyone thinks. I can't believe how dumb I was to spend so many years reading only smart books. I almost forgot how much fun it is to read.

So hope has replaced stubbornness. How incredible is it that it's almost possible to bring every book you've ever loved wherever you go? Google keeps adding all kinds of crazy old public domain books to its archives, and so many of the classics are available for free. Instead of bemoaning the death of the industry, I think it's exciting for anyone who already publishes digitally to recognize a future where something doesn't have to be printed on pulp to be legitimate.

So if you see me at the playground staring at an e-reader, just don't ask me what I'm reading. For all you know, I could be playing Angry Birds.

At Squam Lake

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, June 15, 2011 |

This year we returned to the Squam Art Workshops and my wife spent three days learning new sewing and knitting techniques from some amazing teachers and I spent those days with the kids poking around one of the most peaceful and beautiful camps around. Fortunately, nothing was as dramatic as last year's ill-fated canoe trip across the lake, and we were able to just enjoy our days and take a few pictures. I've just now gotten around to looking at them.


We did climb Rattlesnake Mountain again; my daughter insisted on this the first morning we woke up in camp. This year my 3-year-old son climbed all the way to the summit two separate times all by himself. Whining was curtailed by a long-winded story about a certain ancient hero named Gram the Runner who wanted to climb a giant mountain but no one believed he could do it all by himself.


My daughter was certain that Pegasus would fly up to meet her once she reached the top, and she'd even written him a letter, rolled in a strip of white birch bark and filled with treasures like fresh-water clamshells and small rocks pocked with mica. Slightly disappointed by his failure to appear, she left the gift in one of his "footprints" and then found herself filled with "the spirit of Pegasus." Flapping her wings all the way down the mountain, she terrified other hikers with high-pitched braying:


We love the routine of meals in the Rockywald cafeteria, and falling asleep to books in front of the fireplace at night. 

Throwing Rocks from Docks was this year's favorite activity:

While hiking, my son decided to become a collector, filling his pockets with "beautiful things" he found in the forests.

His collection of beautiful things from the forest was most ordinary. He set each item out on the table and looked through them as though these forest treasures were magical, or somehow special. And of course they were.

The Road to New Hampshire

Posted by jdg | Friday, June 10, 2011 |

So I just dropped my daughter off for her last day of kindergarten. Before you assume I'm going to get all weepy about that, consider how the entire summer stretches before us: I get to be with both these kids all day every day for the next three months. I don't have any part-time sitters. I haven't even signed up for any day camps. I am, apparently, a masochistic idiot.

Oh, whatever. Just a few months ago you could have heard me whining to my wife about kindergarten and its every day demands: I miss her. We used to be able to just take off and have so much fun. Besides, it often seemed like school had torn into my very purpose. I left my career so I could be with them; what am I good for if they're not with me? And despite all my recent kvetching and uncertainty, I have actually been looking forward to this summer. Even if I'm not able to get much else done, I feel my greatest sense of happiness when I am with them doing what we love to do.

All that stuff I wrote a couple weeks ago about the blog changing and all that. . . it will. But this is going to be a fun summer. A summer worth sharing. We have already started working on a lot of projects that I'll be posting about and the other day I sat down with the kids and we wrote down two pages of ideas for stuff we want to do this summer. So things shouldn't change too much around here until September.

* * * * *

Here are a few pictures I took on our drive across beautiful Canada and Vermont on the way to New Hampshire.

The kids got to stay up so late every night on the road.
The front-yard culture of the Toronto neighborhoods we saw was pretty interesting. I saw this crazy garden and it reminded me of what I call "vernacular security" here in Detroit.
When we got to Montreal, we had a picnic on Nun's Island under the Mies van der Rohe buildings.
Then we stopped to check out Habitat '67 before we checked into our hotel.
. . .swimming and Dim Sum before we headed across the border.

I just got a fast new 35mm lens for my camera and I love it.