How We Read (part 2)

We got our first set in the early 1950’s when I was eleven years old. Until then we played outside, read books and comics, played board games or cards, went to the movies and listened to the radio. When my dad brought home our first black and white TV, he deposited it with great ceremony in the living room of our home in Mar Vista (West Los Angeles) and our lives changed forever.

A writer's first tv.My cousin, Jack, had a TV in his apartment for a year or so before we got ours. I’d visit Jack and we’d stay up late watching professional wrestling. We especially liked “Gorgeous George”, one of the eccentric characters who wrestled on the tiny screen.

The image on Jack’s TV was so small that my uncle installed a magnifying glass over it. It did make the picture seem larger, but it was also distorted. We didn’t care.

The other place I’d watch TV was at the home of a neighbor. On Saturday nights, Mary Jane, a girl in my class at Mar Vista Elementary, would invite my brother, Peter, and me over to watch with her family. Folding chairs were placed in rows in the living room and Mary Jane’s large, extended clan solemnly filed in to take their seats. We kids would sit on the rug in front of the seated adults. Mostly we’d watch The Spade Cooley Show and Frosty Frolics.

The Adventures of Superman TV SeriesBefore long, my folks moved the television from the living room to the “family room.” My mom bought a TV cart and now, instead of going to Mary Jane’s on Saturdays, Mother would wheel our dinner into the family room and we would watch more “sophisticated” fare such as Your Show of Shows or the Texaco Star Theater. Some shows my brother and I were not allowed to watch . . . shows like The Adventures of Superman (glorification of the ubermensch) or Our Gang (might lead us down unsavory paths).

Fortunately, I still loved to read. Sometimes, after a little TV and “lights out,” I’d take my flashlight and my book and dive under the covers of my bed in the room I shared with my brother. The flashlight under the blankets worked fine. Mother and Dad would stay up watching TV, the sound filtering through the two doors that separated our bedroom from the family room. It was a cozy, warm and secret way to read. I’d fall asleep quickly and would often wake in the middle of the night to find my flashlight pressing painfully into my hip or back.

Fast forward 60 years. I still enjoy TV and I still love to read. And now, equipped with my Kindle Paperwhite with its own backlit screen, I can turn off the lights and read until my hands grow numb and a delicious, warm drowsiness takes over.

By the way, sleeping on a Kindle beats sleeping on a flashlight hands down!

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How We Read (part 1)

Reading New BooksFor the holidays, Luisa and I gave each other Kindle Paperwhites from Amazon. We’d been reading on original Kindles for the past three years. It started when it became difficult for Luisa to comfortably manage heavy books and I bought her one. At the time, we lived full-time on our remote farm in the Coastal Hills of Western Sonoma County and the attraction of hearing a book reviewed on Fresh Air that you couldn’t wait to read and then being able to download that same book in minutes was too much to resist. The inability to delay gratification is not the sole province of the young!

I was glad she enjoyed it so much, but I wasn’t sure that I was ready to relinquish the tactile pleasures that have been part of my reading experience since childhood. I don’t suppose it’s still done, but when I was very young, before I could read, my mother put a drop of honey on a page of one of my earliest books and I was allowed to lick it off. The association between books and sweetness lasted ever since. Come to think of it, Mother did a good job of offering up sweet rewards. Sometimes she put M & M’s at the bottom of our milk cups.

My grandfather, “Grandpa Jack”, collected old books on a small scale. Some were first editions of classics and I remember his admonishments about the care I should employ when touching them; turning pages. To hold one of Grandpa Jack’s gilt-edged treasures was like holding a humming bird. I wasn’t allowed to read the books he showed me, but I could inspect them and appreciate their physical beauty.

Electronic Book EnjoymentSeeing how much Luisa enjoyed her Kindle, I gave in and accepted her gift of one. Immediately, I fell in love. I could change the size of the fonts so I could read with or without glasses. I could look up unfamiliar words without finding a dictionary. Sure, these are trivial concerns but since I was giving up one set of pleasures, I was happy to replace them with ones I’d never considered such as changing the style or size of a book’s type or having the book read to me aloud at night or having a dictionary built into the book. I traveled frequently by air the year I started to read on Kindle and imagined that it afforded me much the same kind of enjoyment that train passengers in the late 1800’s must have felt when paperback books first came on the market.

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One Cure for Stage Fright

Last Saturday night I gave the first in a series of public readings from my non-fiction memoir, Sometimes I See You. I was nervous, but thinking about the questions I had to answer to get the million dollar insurance policy that protected the Sebastopol Center for the Arts facility from damage had an amazing calming effect.

Did I plan to offer “mechanical rides?”
How about “a moon bounce? A rock climbing wall? Trampolines or similar rebounding devices?”
Was I considering a “petting zoo or animal rides?”
Would there be “firearms?” “Fireworks?”
What about “overnight camping?”
“Dunk tanks?”
“Water hazards?”
“Jet Skiing?”

Memoir Author Reading

I wrote on the form that my plan was to stand quite still, read aloud from my book and answer questions from an audience seated on folding chairs. There would be no more than 40 persons, few of whom would be under 60 years old. We would serve one platter of cracker-sized pre-sliced cheeses from Costco, along with 3 bottles of Balletto Zinfandel and a basket of Costco ancient grains crackers. We would use paper plates, paper napkins and plastic cups. I decided not to mention the wooden toothpicks I’d brought so folks could stab the cheese slices. No point in arousing the suspicions of an underwriter.
The evening was great! I enjoyed a very receptive, engaged audience and even got my damage deposit back.

And now, as I start to plan the next reading, I find myself wondering just what it would be like to have a dunk tank . . .

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