Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Sound of One Old Lady, reading

by Samantha Wilde

I am the opposite of the cutting age grandfather. I am the woman in her thirties who wears cardigans and rompers and occasionally sees a muumuu at the Vermont Country Store that she thinks is "pretty," much to the horror of family and friends who often point out that I ought to have lived in a different era.

I would have to agree. And here's a picture of me to prove it. (Actually, that's Laura Ingalls Wilder, but I think we look alike.)

I am one of many girls who grew up convinced of being Laura reincarnated. Wendy McClure wrote a fantastic book about this called The Wilder Life. As I grew, this translated into some other unusual practices, like being the only person at my graduate school who refused to get an email account. I wanted people to call me, even about official school business.

So when I write about the e-book world, you can know with certainty that I am channeling a curmudgeon and not a professional.

Still, there is something beautiful about a book that you can hold, smell, turn over in your hands. You can listen to the sound of the paper turning, gaze absentmindedly at the cover as you carry it around, flip effortlessly to the acknowledgements and back to cover and back to the page you are reading.

Personally, I don't like to read from a screen. I always print out my manuscripts to read because I find the quality of my attention to the screen is not the same as it is to the page. This holds true for emails and blogs as well. And while I may be unusually old-fashioned when it comes to high-tech gadgets, the negative effects of this "thinking" electronically and with screens is now well documented.

The Shallows is an excellent and highly praised examination of some of the deeper and more worrisome effects of our computer-tech infatuations. One of the first books out on the topic, Silicon Snake Oil, I wrote a passionate paper on back in college. A great line from the book: "Minds think with ideas, not information." Which makes me think of Sandra's post of yesterday and the power of having a premise, a really good idea. In that sense, the medium doesn't matter; the substance is what counts and that won't change. A good story is a good story no matter how or where you read it.

Perhaps what sets me apart in my pioneer, prairie thought processes about the whole situation is a love affair with the slower, truer, and deeper rewards of reading. They say many people now can barely sustain attention long enough to read a short magazine article! And what of a novel, then? Consider Henry James, who wrote epic sentences, sometimes a page long....

Some of the writers I love for their connection to a slower and more leisurely pace of life, Wendell Berry, as well as the slow movement which many of you have probably heard of. In the parenting world there is Simplicity Parenting, a book and a movement, in the adult world, The Thing Itself, a meditation on what is real.

It's snowing here tonight, our first real snow of the season. It is lovely and slowing. You can't go out; you must stay in. No frantic driving, no hurried rushing.

Perhaps I am reacting to the speed and chaos of my own life with three small children and too much driving, as well as to the overwhelming movement towards virtual connection. (Mothers of small children need real people to talk to, look at, hang out with.) But I am a person who goes to a bookstore when I am feeling down because the sight of all those tomes gives me infinite comfort.

When my oldest son was just a toddler he asked me what was "alive." He wanted to know if his bed was alive, if the wall was alive. I told him no and no. Then he looked at me earnestly and said: "But books are alive, right, Mama?"

Well, they are to me, they are to many of us, and probably it doesn't matter the format. I am certainly all for whatever means gets an author's work into the hands of the reader, and in that sense I am not writing this post as a writer, but as a reader, as a lover of books and the sort of sustained, deep attention they require, a quality of being engaged I want for myself, for my children, and for the world.

I think this matters for one important reason; I don't just want to be a grumpy Luddite refusing to catch up with the hip-trends. I want to show that there is some thought behind my outdated choices, and a lingering gaze towards a simpler time in the world. Which probably never existed--in which case, I so hope it is yet to come!

Do any of you find your ability to read deeply has changed with computer use? Any good books on these ideas you've read? Any ways in which you find yourself an old-young lady, too? I do hope I'm not the only one....

Sam Wilde has often wished to be Amish. The author of THIS LITTLE MOMMY STAYED HOME, her second novel, I'LL TAKE WHAT SHE HAS, is due out in early 2013. The mother of three small children, she spends the great majority of her time mothering, occasionally uses her graduate degree and ordination to practice ministry, and teaches a weekly yoga class. She writes rather urgently during nap time with the hopes of completing a single page, and, if not, a single paragraph, before someone needs a diaper change, a hug, or a lecture. Visit "her" at


  1. I loved The Little House on the Prairie Books, too, Samantha.

    I completely understand your love of books--solid ones, you can hold in your hand. I love how everything about a book, the cover, the font, the type of paper, even how the pages are cut, contributes to the type of book it is. I love reading on my Kindle, but I have favorite authors that I just *have* to have their book in my hands when I read. :)

  2. Ah, the notion of snow, right now, sounds delicious. Even the patter of little feet, though when I was in the thick of all that I was unable to put a sentence together for years. Still. I am with you on real books, not for their tactile features as much as that they 'aren't screens.'

  3. When your post popped up on the screen, I immediately recognized the photo. That's how much I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder! Your wonderful post is filled with so many thoughtful and interesting points--I read it twice! I fall somewhere in the middle, never thinking I would enjoy a book on a screen. But, I admit, I do love my Nook. Again, wonderful post, Samantha!

  4. Thanks for the replies, ladies. Your comments make me think of how my kids always want to "see" something and what they invariably mean is "touch." It really is that tactile thing, Sheila, the thing in your hands, like Sara said.

  5. I've never embraced cell phones. I have one but it's really old and I don't even know the number. Also I've never sent a text. That's my old young lady thing. I have a Kindle but I prefer books.

    1. I texted once. Given the hype, it is pretty anticlimactic. I expected to feel something...exciting!

  6. Samantha,

    I read every single Little House book as a child (and being from Wisconsin, I felt really connected to Laura)

    I happily call myself a Luddite.

    I don't own an e-reader and forbid the word in my house.

    I am happiest in a book store or a library.

    I love to sniff new books.

    I watched a documentary on the Amish the other day and wondered if they'd let me sign up to join.

    Thank you for letting me know I'm not alone.

    Oh, and I have 3 kids too.
    Lori L. Tharps

    1. I'm so encouraged! This is wonderful to know! Another faux-Amish, book-sniffing mother :-) Seriously, it IS good not to feel alone.

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  8. Here's to old young ladies everywhere as we say (all together now): Hey, kids, get off my lawn!

  9. Smantha, you remind me of me. I refuse to buy an e-reader and only read physical books. I've even repeatedly told people not to buy me an e-reader, because it would promptly get tossed in the trash. I'm with Sheila on this, in that I don't want an e-reader because of the screen thing; sometimes I get so tired of screens and just want to not look at one for awhile.

  10. Reading books is a best hobby a person can ever have. It reduce your stress and give you freshness all the day. Like you I also go to bookstore and read books out there. I love when people say there hobby is reading.