I had a baby and got an e-reader. The world is upending itself, I’m trying hard to keep up.
We recently got in a delicious order of new books for the shop that I can’t wait to crack into, waiting for me to breathe in their new book scent, fall always seeming to be the time of year where I collect piles of books I (loosely) plan on reading through the cold months while hibernating and avoiding the outside world as much as possible. While most of my own books have been cruelly imprisoned in crates and boxes as we slog on through this never ending renovation, there are a few (enough? too many?) still floating around. Despite this, I am occasionally sitting here with my e-reader, feeling scandalous, sacrilegious, a traitorous Philistine. It’s often in the dark, with me trying to be as quiet as possible, which only adds to the furtiveness of the reading.
I claim to love to read, although sometimes, some days, it feels like a bit of an effort. When I was younger I remember staying up after my bedtime, laying on the carpet in front of my bedroom door so I could read by the hallway light, having pretended I was scared of the dark in order to get the hallway light turned on in the first place. It was so easy, I entered and exited worlds without a thought. I never felt the pressure of impending to be read lists—or maybe that’s not it, maybe it’s that now, having reached adulthood, I have more of an existential awareness of the fact that you only live so many years, and you can only read so many books, so you better make them count. The world expands even as you realize you can’t read everything.
Over the last several years, it seems the days are full to bursting, and I have to make time for reading, a book propped open while eating lunch with a baby on my lap, or while sitting exposed and waiting in the dentist’s chair, or in the pews between the important bits at church, sacrilegious in a different way. Is this how it always goes? The older we get, the more of an effort it is to make time to read? The better you get at learning how to hide books while you’re reading?
I’ve resisted getting an e-reader for years as I, part and parcel with running a stationery shop, rail a lot against technology, about how screens affect children’s brains, how screens affect adults’ brains, how social media is rewiring how we exist, focus and concentration and deep thinking and deep flow, about the speed of things and the cost of things and the soupiness that comes after a day of emails and zoom meetings and squinting at PDF catalogues. But, of course, we run an online business, and so much of what we do depends entirely on technology.
Here we are, selling tools to slow down and to write by hand and physical tape to tape wrapping paper on gifts or to send mail through the post or to take notes into a notebook at—zoom meetings. And we’re selling it online, or we’re checking you out with a computer and a scanner, or we’re making your shipping labels with our fancy Canada Post printer, or we’re scheduling our staff through an app, or we’re sending you our weekly emails to keep connected. Even behind the scenes, I feel like I spend a lot of my day on my screens, looking at the inventory numbers, writing the blog, uploading or editing photos, ordering things online, investigating my overdue library books on my account.
I’m busy insisting: Write a letter to someone! Keep track of your days in planner! Maybe a Hobonichi! Play Solitaire with real playing cards instead of on an app! Go outside! Don’t get trapped by the powers of social media addiction! Read real books!
And yet when I am loathe to move for fear of waking up the baby, or I don’t want to risk turning on the bedside lamp, the library’s collection of ebooks calls out, a little glowing screen in front of me.
At times trapped with a baby, and I continue to humble myself to the ubiquitous helpfulness of technology. It’s not perfect. The other day I somehow lost my page, having clicked awry, and I spent a void of time swiping randomly to try and find it again, which was not quite the same as the familiarity of slightly crinkly pages that have been read abutting against the pristine neatness of pages waiting to be read. Another time the whole thing froze, and I struggled to reboot it because I’m painfully ill-equipped to troubleshoot technology. But most of the time, it’s a world I can disappear into while I’m stuck, instead of watching the minutes drain past me.
I don’t know if it’s a good or a bad thing, the urge to make use of all the minutes I have, some sort of existential crisis and/or hustle culture gone wrong. This is perhaps a different discussion altogether. And also, added to the pot, someone once told me that the psychology of babies is changing because of the way mothers’ faces look while their babies are breastfeeding. The babies look up and their mamas are zombies, their eyes gloopy and fixed, and the total lack of emotional affect messes with the babies’ brains. I’m reluctant to turn Junia’s baby brain into pudding, and yet I’m grateful that all the hours of breastfeeding can offer sustenance to both of us.
I’m still and always working on finding that balance.
Everyone doing some late night grazing.