Books? Who has time for books?

by Pete Mazzaccaro

For the last few years, I’ve had a summer tradition. When I packed for vacation, I’d bring a novel by Cormac McCarthy to read. The last three I read were all while tent camping: “The Road,” “No Country for Old Men” and “Blood Meridian.” For McCarthy, the world is a particularly ruthless place. Nature, he recognizes, has no rhyme or reason. Murders natural disasters – the end comes swift and owes no explanation. I can tell you this: reading “The Road” at night by campfire is the way to do it.

Each time I’ve grabbed a McCarthy book, it was a quality paperback. Two I had borrowed and one was bought with a Barnes and Noble gift card.

This year, I didn’t pack a book. And I was in the perfect place for McCarthy – a Vermont cabin in the mountains with no electricity, gas lamps for lights and surrounded by woods where passing chipmunks crashed through twigs and leaves like hungry bears.

The truth was, it hadn’t occurred to me to bring a book. And I didn’t have any handy. I just haven’t had the appetite to read any novels. Even by McCarthy, who in my book is about as good a fiction writer as it gets.

I still read a lot, but when I do, it’s not novels. I read a lot of blogs, news sites and magazines. I’d say that more than 90 percent of what I read, I read online – much of it on a small laptop, which I pop open every morning and nearly every evening. And I don’t feel less informed. If anything, I have too much to read and not enough time to read it.

But back to Vermont. After a few days, I felt the need to read. I found an old copy of “The Watchmen,” a pioneering graphic novel (that’s a semi-serious comic book for those who don’t know) from 1985. It was a fun read, but I polished it off in a day and a half and needed more.

The Book Nook, a small and really well stocked shop in nearby Ludlow, had a good selection of paperbacks, and I went with “Eating the Dinosaur,” a collection of essays by pop culture journalist Chuck Klosterman. His essays – exploring why people submit to interviews or how Kurt Cobain and David Koresh had a lot in common – aren’t exactly Vermont cabin compatible, but the reading would be good.

As I left the store, I realized that “Feeding the Dinosaur” was the first non instructional, physical book I’d purchased in more than a year. The last book I’d read was an e-book version of “In the Plex,” a historical look at the Internet company, Google.

“Eating the Dinosaur,” fittingly, just might be the last print book I ever buy. My days of feeding the proverbial dinosaur of print just might be over.

I’m not sure what any of this means, but I do know this: I used to be sentimental about things like paperback books and CDs, but not anymore. I have shelves of both, but they go largely untouched. I’ve thought of selling them, but the effort seems hardly worth the pennies I’d earn. It’s funny really. I worry about leaving things in my car, but never CDs. Who would break into your car to steal CDs these days? They’re practically valueless.

I’ll enjoy the Klosterman book. And it’ll probably look pretty good on one of my book shelves, but I’m afraid even those shelves, the way we used to decorate homes, are as endangered a species as the print that sits on them.