[photo: all our electronic "toys"]
As we prepared to move from our house on land to our boat, family photos were scanned, food-spattered cookbooks were turned into tidy computer files, favorite music cds were ripped to an iPod, half a file cabinet of income tax records were replaced with their electronic versions … I can’t overstate how much of an impact digital media has had on our ability to downsize. What was a long shelf – or an entire bookcase – of music or cookbooks now fits in my pocket.
I think, though, that the most dramatic change in our lives has been from digital books. We both love to read – we’ll enjoy a local history book in the cockpit while relaxing at anchor in a new place; or a rousing mystery to pass the time on a long uneventful watch under way. Of course storage of enough books to keep me entertained for a week or two underway becomes a huge issue; I can finish an average novel in a single afternoon. We can’t possibly store all the books we’d want to keep. When we’re in a slow period we’ll have books everywhere – on every flat surface – stacked on the rails alongside the hull near the bow, on top of the wet locker, piled at one end of the settee. So now all that clutter is gone, replaced with a pair of e-readers.
At the same time, I miss the spontaneity of marina book swaps. When we’re on the move with no fixed address, we don’t have a library card, and even if we did, we couldn’t get back to the library to return the books we’d borrowed- we could be several hundred miles down the waterway by then. Sure, we could buy books, but then we’d get into the storage issue again, see above. Most marinas and major ports have book swaps, where people get to take a book for every one they leave. So you pick up a batch of books in one place, read them while underway, then drop them off at the next port and get a new batch. So you always have fresh reading, but at the same time, it’s really catch-as-catch-can and you never know quite what you’ll be getting. Sometimes it can be very interesting to get a glimpse of the people who’ve come before you at a particular marina – I once found a cache of French novels, another time came away with an armful of political analysis and naval history – and all too often, nothing of real interest or mental stimulation, Westerns or romances or “beach reading.”
Hard to know what I enjoy more – the e-readers have all but eliminated our clutter problem, but they’ve also changed the *way* we read. We can buy digital books anywhere we have internet, don’t have to find a bookstore, and the storage is never an issue. But I’ve really gotten into rediscovering classics, things that are in the public domain and hence available for free. Sometimes I’m rediscovering stuff that was first required reading in high school, but what the romantic in me really loves is that many books old enough to be public domain coincide with the golden age of sailing exploration and pirate ships.
[photo: what I miss - the haphazard serendipity of a marina book swap]