One day last winter, I was in the hallway of my son's elementary school, waiting. I do this every day during the school year – arrive five or ten minutes early to avoid fighting for a parking spot and then wait, sometimes talking with other parents, but mostly just watching the kids shuffle off to school buses or to cars with engines running. The first graders, one of whom I was going to take home, are usually among the last to emerge from the classrooms. (I think this is because it takes them a while to don their gear -- jackets, gloves, hats, boots.) As I waited, I noticed an older kid (elementary school age, so fifth grader at the most). He was leaning against the wall, reading.
This was interesting.
First of all, it's not like the school hallway is a quiet, tranquil place conducive to reading, especially at pick-up time (having tried it myself, I can testify to this). In the fall and spring, non-school-bus kids wait outside, in the school courtyard, but in the winter they are just inside the front doors. Frankly, it can be a bit of a zoo. The kids congregate on the benches in front of the principal's office and there is much merriment, bickering, jostling, and whatever other kind of socializing kids that age do. This happened to be the week just before winter break and there was much excitement in the air, making the book-reading kid stand out even more amongst his brethren.
Secondly, he was reading a Kindle.
The kid, as is right, was blithely unaware that others might hold strong opinions on tree books, e-books, mega-bookstores putting independent bookstores out of business, online retailers threatening to put mega-bookstores out of business, e-readers, traditional publishers, new publishers, the Nook Color, on-demand-printing, self-publishing, e-book rights, audio rights, et cetera.
(Disclaimer: in our house we own a Kindle and also buy a lot of paper books.)
Like the protagonist of Regarding Ducks and Universes, Felix Sayers, who grew up with e-readers and only met paper books in Universe B, I'm becoming aware that many of our preferences are based simply on what we're used to. I am not the Kindle-reader in our house, my husband John is. I say that I like to read paper books because it's easier on my eyes and gives me a welcome break from electronic screens... but even I'm not sure if this is true.
I read a lot as a child -- I walked around at home with an open book in my hands. I don't remember doing it at school, though.
Now, I'm always interested in what people are reading: at the YMCA, I see parents with kids in swim lessons reading novels on the uncomfortable and moist pool-side benches; at the coffee house, textbook and work-related materials seem to be popular; on planes, I see a lot of bestsellers hastily grabbed at the airport bookstore.
Can't tell with an e-reader, though.
I didn't ask the fifth-grader what he was reading on his Kindle. Why should other people know what you're reading anyway?
I left that day thinking, I would have liked being that kid, knapsack at his feet, back against the wall, nose buried in his e-reader. I think I was that kid.