What We're Missing

Every summer, my family rents a beach house in Connecticut. The cottages have changed over the years, but they are always within the same three block radius.  The past two years we’ve rented the same place, and in my eyes, it’s a keeper.  It has old, faded furniture neither the kids nor the dog can do much damage to.  It  has an adequate supply of wine glasses and a wide front porch.  And it has books in every single room.

It’s the first house we’ve ever rented — in over twenty years — with such a big supply of reading materials.  The owner’s taste seems to run toward mysteries, but every year we find a new treasure — a wonderful children’s book, a magazine we haven’t heard of, a small collection of poetry — and I get a small surge of pleasure from just holding it.

I’ve met the owners, but even if I hadn’t, I could guess quite a bit about them based on their book stash.  They’re well-read, intelligent people. (Economic magazines and the New Yorker.) Someone enjoys tinkering.  (Back issues of Popular Mechanics.)  They’re less into popular culture than most. (Not a single fashion or celebrity magazine to be found.)  Their books definitely aren’t decor statements, as they’ve been in some cottages we’ve rented.  (None of the book bindings match, and all of the books are well-thumbed.)

Browsing through the mysteries stacked by my bed, it occurred to me one night how much less personal my experience in this house would be if the owners had an electronic reader.  Books tell so much about those who read them, and I’ve really enjoyed ‘getting to know’ these people, discovering that they are of my tribe. (That would be the  tribe of people who read too much and don’t dust enough.)

But on the beach itself, my experience was the opposite. I noticed more and more people with electronic readers.  There was no way to tell what they were reading, no way to strike up a conversation over a copy of The Help or The Affair or a sense of kinship over a quiet, less well-known book.  No way to be surprised that the distinguished looking older gentleman is absorbed in Twilight, and the young, bleached blonde preteen is devouring The Sun Also Rises.  No way for the lifeguard to approach the babe in the bikini with a pickup line about the novel she’s holding. If reading is a solitary experience, the anonymity of the E-reader’s cover makes it even more so.  Depending on your point of view, that can be a good or a bad thing.

What’s your feeling on E-readers? Do you relish the privacy they provide, or see it as a loss?

Liz Michalski

Leave a Comment