Category: Feature Stories

This & That

By David Cuin

David Cuin worked in a variety of technical and professional roles in the construction industry in Britain, the U.S. and Canada, and is a successful watercolorist and glass artist. A longtime Evergreen resident, he is the author of a textbook on color in arts and crafts and co-author of the popular “Seasons of Evergreen” book (davidcuinart.com).

Book or Nook

What better way to spend a quiet afternoon than to sit on a deck or patio and read a book—a real book, that is. There’s something about the feel and smell of a real book that is beguiling. Perhaps it’s a generational thing, but turning pages seems to lend the experience more substance than simply swiping or tapping through a series of ones and zeros, something made real only for the instant I read that screen, then gone into nothingness again. Imagine an afternoon of hot sunshine and cool shadows; nascent thunderheads drifting across a cobalt sky, lacing the air sparingly with the residual raindrops of verga; sometimes no more than tiny ones that feel like pinpricks, while others are large enough to oblige you to raise an umbrella, but still not enough to more than dot deck boards with darker spots. Their soft transient patter on the umbrella is comfortable background sound as you are lost again in the secondhand life of the book’s protagonist, escaping to a different world, living another life. I’ve described the afternoon as quiet, but perhaps it isn’t. When I am lost in a book, I am absent from my surroundings; even the mechanical turning of pages and their soft susurration does not interrupt the flow of the story. I am bound as one to the quirks of the protagonist’s character, now sympathetic, now judgmental. Today, books can be searched for and summoned at will in their dozens to be stored on a Kindle, Nook or tablet. 

You can be reading a newly chosen “book” within minutes of the desire. This is the age of convenience and instant gratification—get it and cut to the chase—so why not? Think what you’ve missed in anticipation, looking forward to the arrival of your new book, or spending some quiet time to yourself browsing in a local bookstore like Hearthfire Books in Bergen Park, or in the library, spoiled for choice. “Why not” is because the pace of life is already too fast: social networking, multitasking, proliferating emails, faster texting and messaging, robocalls—constant interruption and distraction. No time to think, just react. If you’re driving at the speed limit, then let me by. The poet, Robert Frost, saw good reason to take the way less traveled. Today, he might advocate the way less speedy, the pretty way, if you will. The way where there is time to think and for serendipity to cross your path. All very well if you have control of your life, you say, and many of us do not, embroiled as we are in today’s helter-skelter world of commerce, where time is money, or even education, where this week’s tests must take priority. Nevertheless, increasingly there are good arguments for slowing the pace. More and more recent research is defining links between stressful lifestyles and cognitive and mood disorders, even physical side effects. Much touted meditation and mindfulness training is not the answer for all individuals since, in some people, it provides a loophole for counterproductive depressive rumination and repetitive negative thought loops.

Books can go either way, of course. It’s entirely possible that written portrayal of violence or horror is also counterproductive, but a feel-good book, however you define that, is one way to transport your mind to another, calmer or at least different, place and time, removing your brain from the stress-inducing pathways it normally faces. We tend to not value books much these days, however the text is presented. In many other countries, they are not even readily available. In Uganda, for instance, a book can equal the cost of a week’s worth of groceries for a family, even if you can get one. International deliveries are iffy at best. More expensive books, perhaps on educational subjects, can cost the same as a month’s salary for a waitress. This makes reading a middle-class activity, leaving the poor with few options. Social media has made large inroads in less developed countries, encouraging people to read small amounts of text, but books, whether via tablets or hard copy, are not easy to find and finance for the average manual worker. In our society, we are lucky in very many ways, not the least of which is the ready availability of the educational or escapist secondhand experiences afforded by books. Whether it’s a slim, quick-read whodunnit, a weighty tome a la Follett, or something on a tablet, it will almost instantly relieve you of depressive cares or a stressful lifestyle, at least for a time—and don’t we all need that these days. I’m sidestepping the debate about whether schools should use tablets or books because there are strong arguments on both sides, but a recent report I read where a school system proposed to discontinue the use of pens and notebooks seemed over the top. There is research that suggests having actually written notes down makes the information stick in the memory rather better than tapping it into a tablet, and that certainly accords with my own experience. I read books both on a tablet and in hard copy, but I find the latter much more enjoyable and convenient, especially if I need to refer back to the text for some reason—an obscure clue in a whodunnit or an interesting fact I lost track of. So, for me, the best nook is a leafy bower where I can read a real paper book, undisturbed. A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only once. —George R. R. Martin © David Cuin 2019