Fortunately, I entered widowhood as an avid reader. In fact, reading is my preferred social activity. With simpatico writers like Peter Mayle (breezy and wry) and Paul Theroux (self-deprecating and intelligent), their books provide all the companionship I seem to need in these first months without Carolyn. I tend to get into a jag with an author and read multiple books by him or her before moving on. It’s as if they’ve come by the house for an extended visit. It was that way with Bill Bryson a couple of years back. I miss him. Perhaps he’ll be stopping by again soon. My house is always open.
I’ve recently embraced the transition to eBooks, both from my library and Amazon Kindle. As an old-schooler, I’d resisted downloading books, preferring the look, feel, smell and weight of a worthy tome in my hands. With a library book, you connect with the community of readers who’ve borrowed the book before you. From the water, coffee, chocolate and wine stains on the pages, you learn much of their reading habits. You can sometimes tell when they’ve coughed or sneezed, contemplation of which was one factor leading me to eBooks.
The breakthrough for me was the downloadable dictionary that accompanies eBooks. I used to make lists of words I’d come across in a print book to look up later. I never did, and that’s if I bothered making a list in the first place. With a writer like Theroux, providing a treasure trove of new words for me to look up, my list and look up later idea was underwater by Chapter two. The first Theroux eBook I read, though, where I could click to the dictionary definition instantly sold me. I’ll still pick up a print book every now and again, but it’s more and more like riding a steam locomotive or a horse-drawn carriage. Quaint, but bulky and slow.
There’s no trips to the library (to pick up and return) or late fees to accumulate when you don’t return on time. You either renew with a click, or the eBook drops off on the due date.
There’s no substitute for eBooks when traveling. When I vagabonded in Europe in the 70s, I hauled around the entire edition of Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History (my vagabonding started out nobly as a search for the roots of western civilization, before devolving into a star crossed search for unattached females the moment the airplane touched down in Paris). On my last trip through France by train, I had no less than a dozen eBooks in my phone and tablet to choose from to while away the hours.
I usually have three going at once. I’m partial to non-fiction, but my diverse interests allow for the occasional novel, especially if from the likes of Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse) or Tom Robbins (Another Roadside Attraction; Jitterbug Perfume). I’ll reserve a “can’t put it down” story for my many typical sleepless nights. Right now, that happens to be Mayle’s multiple memoirs on life in Provence.
I can also read an eBook without ambient light, giving me a second preferred activity, along with drinking, to do alone in the dark.
Without Carolyn, I’m discovering just how vital books are in my life. As long as my devices are charged, I know I’ll never be completely alone.