Gen-X Book Sniffers Of The World, Unite!

by April Brown Pulliam
Originally Published: 

The Kindle and eBooks generation? Yeah, no. They are not my people. My people are the ones who browse paperbacks at Books-A-Million while flipping the pages within prime sniffing distance of their noses. My people are the folks you see carrying bags of books out of used bookstores just because they couldn’t pass up the Buy One, Get One Free sale. You see, we (my people and I) love books. We truly do. Books. Real ones. We love the way they make our thumbs ache as we try to prop them open for hours at a time when we get caught up in a really good read. We love the feel of the pages between our thumbs and forefingers, and we cannot say enough good things about the smell of book pages, both old and new. Kindles and eReaders? So much nope.

We ’70s and ’80s book-sniffing babies aren’t exactly afraid of technology. We have Androids and iPhones, iPads and netbooks. Shoot, we are so far advanced and hip to the technology jive that we actually own tablets that don’t feature the characters from Peanuts and are filled with sheets of paper with dotted lines. Those jokers smell pretty good, too, but I digress. We are just, well, we are sort of caught in that awkward gap between people who abhor anything that comes with a charger and a Geek Squad recommendation and the hipsters who are virtually tethered to their devices via their ear canals and eye sockets. We will see your technology, but we will raise you a paperback.

You see, we just can’t get with the idea of reading books on a screen. As elementary students in the ’80s, we checked out books with that stiff card tucked away in the back. We scrawled our little names in pencil on the line below our best friend, our worst enemy and the boy we would one day drool over at the high school prom. The hardcore readers among us would likely see our own name printed above several times as we had renewed and reread our favorites throughout the school year. There was nothing quite like writing your own name on that card and walking away with that book for a two-week adventure on your own private island inside your head. Sitting hunkered in your bed and reading a well-worn paper copy of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret under a blanket at an hour deemed far past your bedtime is high on the list of childhood accomplishments for some of us. For those two weeks, those library books—real ones—were ours.

We are nostalgic, and by golly, we had some darn good reading as kids. We knew what good books were, and we loved to carry them until their covers wore off and the pages had begun to separate from the binding. From the Trixie Belden series to the mysteries of Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, we had the clue-gathering genre covered. As we ate Cheetos and drank Tab, we all sketched images of Encyclopedia Brown in our minds and just knew that if he could do it, we could. What we couldn’t do was wipe that orangey Cheetos thumb print off page 45 before we returned it to the library chute.

Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective was not the only character whose pages entranced us into turning them one after another while riding the bus, eating breakfast and sitting on the floor of our less-than-tidy bedrooms. Any books by Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume were bound to be on our list to re-read over the summer. The complete series of Bunnicula books was more than satisfying to our paperback palate. I couldn’t count myself as faithful to my people, the readers, if I didn’t mention just how good holding a tattered copy of How to Eat Fried Worms made us all feel back in the day—our day.

Time marched on for those of us raised on Reading Rainbow, which is probably 90 percent of the reason we are stuck like glue to the written word and whose comeback is the subject of an entirely different post full of love and adoration. As we hit middle school, we, the eBooks-haters (yes, I went there), appreciated a good Sweet Valley High dilemma. Entering high school, our teachers began to assign paperbacks for us to read. Yes, really! We checked out copies of The Catcher in the Rye and slid our fingers over the pages of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. We wrinkled the pages of “The Lottery” between our fingers as we tried to identify with the characters and feel their pain of loss and of regret.

Our shelves began to fill. Now, we were finding the books we didn’t want to give up. We could buy our own copies of The Color Purple and To Kill a Mockingbird. We didn’t have to take them back to that metal library slot or slide them across the counter to sign a card once more. We made space on an ever-filling shelf for brand new copies of Death of a Salesman and Of Mice and Men. Our favorites now belonged to us and would one day find their way onto our own children’s shelves. Little did we know in 1992 that our children would never know the feeling of examining the penmanship of a dozen other strangers as they signed a library card from the back of a book. And we had no way of knowing that our sons and daughters would better know the smell of something called an OtterBox than the smell of book pages that had passed into and out of the hands and homes of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of voracious readers before them, each one loving the same book for different reasons.

No, you can keep the eBooks, and I will keep my dusty shelves of books, both new and old. You can have your Kindle with the charger you can never find, and I will keep my disintegrating copy of The Call of the Wild. If you want, you can even keep the iPad. You may have an app for reading books in your iTunes files, but there’s no app for holding a book and smelling the pages as they turn between your fingers. Yeah, you keep that old app. I’m my own app for that.

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