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In an effort to start the summer with a clean slate, I bravely went into the library with a family’s worth of cards and cleared up all our overdue fines. I left there feeling the full freedom of knowing that everything in the county’s entire library system was once again at my fingertips. By happy coincidence, I also went to confession that week. All the grace a soul could need settled into my forgiven soul. To celebrate, I tweeted. Nothing heavy or especially insightful, just a lighthearted, “That feeling when you pay all your library fines and go to confession in the same week.” A handful of people appreciated the similarities. And one person helpfully offered, “Shorter confession if you return library books on time. Ha! (Which is why I mainly do e-books. Due date arrives and POOF! The e-book magically returns itself to the library.)”

And there I was. Pondering the sinfulness of overdue library books. Ah, Twitter, you have an unsurpassed capacity to transform the simplest things into tangled knots. My friend Micaela compares Twitter to Russian roulette. You scroll and scroll and encounter something that brings you joy or feeds your spirit. Scroll some more. Now, you see something that vaguely annoys you. Scroll some more. And there is the thing that so infuriates you that you carry it around all day. Why did you keep scrolling?

And so it is with all things digital. As I re-read her tweet — all sinfulness in late returns aside — I am reminded of an article I recently read about the exorbitant cost of e-books to library and how maintaining an electronic public library is really unsustainable. Perhaps analog is not dead, after all. Perhaps we are bound for a course correction — one where we begin to recognize that living so much of our time in the digital world, for all its advantages is but a few clicks away from being unsustainable in more than an economic sense.

I admit I prefer a book made of paper. I love the smell of a new book. I love the smell of a collection of carefully curated old books gathered in a library with a history of sheltering scholars who have studied there throughout the ages. I found joy wandering the stacks of Alderman library in Charlottesville many years ago, a joy I recognize in my young daughters as they gleefully “waste” a summer morning moving ever so slowly along the length of shelves stocked with endless possibility. Could they do this scrolling a digital catalog? Sure they could. But they’d miss the feeling of being small in a big room of books. They’d miss the ability to pick up a book and browse through its pages and even read the ending ahead of the beginning if they want, something I’ve always found tricky when navigating my Kindle. 

Choosing a book with printed pages is a particular joy on a spotless summer morning, when all the choices are mine and grace opens me wide to the wonder of the world. I can take that book outside into an unseasonably cool and breezy day, and I can notice. I can notice the someone before me has tabbed this corner and that one. I can notice and appreciate the font and the spacing of the lines and margins. I can appreciate the cover art. I can be aware of the perfection of a glass of sun tea, freshened with mint grown in my garden. My phone is far away. I’m not wondering if the woman who called out my sin was kidding. Did her eyes crinkle into laugh lines as she chided me? Or was she serious? I don’t know, and as I sit with a book in the sunshine, it’s the farthest thing from my mind. 

It’s a digital world. I’m an analog being. I want to be here and now. Give me more paper, more ink and the satisfaction of spines to crack open. Give me more time in the sun without the glare of the screen. But mostly, give me something to read that I am likely to set aside when a human being enters into my presence and speaks to me. It’s so easy to keep scrolling, to keep engaging with the addictive Russian roulette of the news feed even when someone else is in the room. But with a book? It’s altogether simple to place it face down on my lap and look up into her eyes, knowing with all confidence that I can pick it up right where I left off. No fear of missing out at all here in my analog world. And chances are good I’m going to happily tell her all about my book.

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019

@elizabethfoss