Reading books

I haven’t read a great deal in the last few months and my statistics show a sharp drop this year. I couldn’t be defined a chain reader, but I still had a yearly average of about 20 books, which is a notch above most people I know. But lately, like everyone else, I’ve been lured by the entertaining power of the internet, which has not only supplanted television, but has also undermined the position of favour that reading enjoyed within the scope of my cultural recreational activities.

I took a liking to reading in my mid teens. I don’t know what sparkled the passion, but something must have happened that made me suddenly sensitive to the world of books. Before that, whenever I had been given novels as present, I had placed them orderly on a shelf without ever falling into the temptation to read them. I occasionally come across these volumes when I tidy up the basement and they make me feel slightly guilty.

All of a sudden I became a fan of Agatha Christie’s mystery stories and in the matter of couple of years, I read her entire production, nearing a hundred books. Then I got to know about the existence of her autobiography and I went up hill and down dale until I found it in a Council library. I borrowed it and read it, feeling it was the coronation of a period during which I had avidly turned page after page of all her stories, simultaneously gaining an insight into a (somewhat outmoded) facet of English culture which was then starting to fascinate me. All along I kept a record of the books that I finished, and although that sheet of paper is now lost, the habit is not, and I still keep track of authors and titles.

I remember my first English book. I saw it in a bookshop window in Triest and it was the original version of a whodunit I’d already read. I asked my mother for permission to buy it with my own money, as if owning it was a shameful deed that required confession before doing. I suppose reading in a foreign language set me apart from all my family and the people I knew: I needed a grownup’s approval because it revealed a desire of escape.

I religiously kept the paperback in a cabinet, waiting for the time when I’d judge myself sufficiently qualified to tackle the task of reading it. Somehow I didn’t want it to be a wasted occasion to learn. When I broke the ice I made sure that I not only understood every single word, but that I’d remember them and possibly use them one day.

The list of my readings got longer and longer, and as the years went by foreign titles outnumbered, and then practically replaced, those that had once been only Italian. Now by principle I read books in my language only if I really want that particular title and I can’t find it in another language.

The first six months of this year I’ve been focused on learning Chinese, that’s why reading has given way to study. When I set my eyes on an ebook reader and considered buying one, I wondered if it would be any use in the present circumstances. In spite of being fully aware that it might be a wrong purchase at this specific time given my indifference to reading, I bought one ten days ago.

Before I set about using the gadget, I first had to wind up reading the travel account that my aunt had sent me from Spain. I was in Africa when I received her email announcing she had shipped a book she had liked and had reminded her of me. Upon my return I slit open the yellowish padded envelope and extracted Arabian sands. I was pleased to receive it and know I had been associated to tales of exotic lands!

The ebook reader has great potentialities. True, gone is the thrill that I experienced browsing among the library shelves, but I can accomplish tasks that formerly were much more troublesome and carry many titles without effort. In their drab monotony, ebooks all look pretty much the same, but I have already gathered tens of novels that wait to be read at the flick of a finger, just as the books that once lay on the radiator shelf in my sitting room.

The lack of a hard support entails a loss of charm. I won’t be able to give or receive books with a chain message, exchange them in guesthouses, or wait with expectation until I open a mail parcel and extract the contents. But times have changed and books have too, and at least I have recovered my relish for reading, thanks to an ebook reader.