Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Identity: Are you what you read? Or collect?

I had the great good fortune to hear live music -- and to sing along -- at the Fox Valley Folk Festival over Labor Day weekend.  A friend of mine, excited about a wonderful performing group new to the Festival exclaims: "Maybe they're on Freegal!  If not, then iTunes."

I still own record albums.  I don't own a turntable, just the records.  I listen to CDs and yes, as much memory as is available on my phone is devoted to iTunes.  I kept the albums for their history, though I understand some people are collecting vinyl again.  [Matt Watroba, a singer from Detroit, talking about albums, said "for you young people in the audience, those are those big black CDs you find in the attic sometimes."]

Mark Dvorak
There are also a lot of books in my living room, some older, some much more recent.  When I lived with my sister in  Chicago, she made several pointed comments about people who always buy books and never buy bookcases.   I bought bookcases. I try to read a lot of library books, but I still buy books.  It used to be a common thing to look at people's record collections or bookshelves for clues to their identity, their history, or to find common ground.  I have a bookcase that's just CD size (though bookcase height), and one brother-in-law who has his whole CD collection also on display, but we both have music we've bought online access only on our digital players.   How do we get those vital personality clues in the electronic world?  The continuing existence of physical books, CDs, DVDs, albums on display are a clue by themselves, either of age or of inclination.  Do electronic devices offer the same kind of footprint?  They do, but to whom is that visible?  How well do you have to know someone before they share their iPOD or smartphone?  I share things on my phone often -- photos, web sites -- but I don't offer to let people page through my 13 folders of apps -- nor has anyone asked to do so.

Obviously, people displayed their best or favorite books in their living rooms, and may have more and different books in non-public spaces.  Library books were never visible, unless you were actually reading them.  I belong to Goodreads, a social networking site for book lovers, so my friends can see not only the books I have read, but also those on my (ever growing) "to read" list.  It also includes author posts and blogs, and book reviews.  e.g. Laurie Halse Anderson's Blog on writing and blogging.  It's interesting to read people's reviews, but neither my friends, nor I, nor all my favorite authors, post often and, of course, not everyone has even signed up.  It is both more information  -- and more accessible -- and less so.

Of course, we still  have older technology available to us.  Another sister started sending email pictures of her newborn when she realized that more than half of the family is not on Facebook.  It does not seem so long ago that we were coaxing staff to learn then new email technology with just that lure "you could see pictures of your grandchildren."   This week, I received two handwritten thank you notes for graduation presents I sent to a high school and a college graduate, respectively. It is still exciting to get mail, especially personal mail, and I'm told my youngest niece also likes physical mail.   If you want to know what your friends and acquaintances are reading -- you could ask, even start a conversation.  Anita Silvey, former editor of The Horn Book Magazine, once said that she thought heaven would be people sitting around under trees, talking about books.  What have you been reading lately?

Fortune Cookie

Information is not knowledge.
Knowledge is not wisdom.
Wisdom is not truth.
Truth is not beauty.
Beauty is not love.
Love is not music.
Music is the best.
Frank Zappa