Tuesday, October 26, 2010

That darn iPhone

I just finished a short book called "84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff." It's a collection of real letters between Helene, a script-writer in New York City, and the staff of an antiquarian bookshop, Marks & Co., in London beginning not long after WWII and ending in the late 60's. Most of the correspondence is between the witty and irreverent Helene and straight laced yet warmhearted Frank Doel (pronounced like noel,) a bookseller at the shop, but eventually many more staff members and even Frank's family get involved. "84, Charing Cross Road" is also a movie that came out in 1987 starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins and by all accounts is just as good as the book. While their relationship initially begins as a business transaction, it quickly develops into a friendship as Helene sends packages of hard to get food and toiletry items to the staff. (Britain was still under rationing at the start of the book.)

I was thinking a lot about reading and technology as I zoomed through this book. Obviously, the practice of letter writing has fallen off quite a bit (unless you consider email letter writing) and reading is not the major form of entertainment that it was 50 years ago, though you wouldn't necessarily know that here at Booksmith on a busy Saturday afternoon when books are flying out the door. But Ms. Hanff expresses such a love of words and stories that it got me yearning to read more. However, I often choose technology over reading. I've got my iPhone loaded with crossword puzzles and word games, and you can even watch Netflix movies on that thing now. I love it. And...I sort of hate it. It's major book competition. Sometimes I impose "No iPhone Games Week" on myself, and I enjoy those times, but there is part of me that doesn't really want to go much longer than a week. I don't like that part of me. But I think it's something a lot of people, and readers, struggle with.

"84, Charing Cross Road" got me nostalgic for the time when I would read every night before bed and finish a book every few days because I had a long commute on the bus. While crossword puzzles are a worthwhile endeavor, I really hope to regain some balance in the way I spend my free time. I really want to spend more of my time like Helene Hanff, with a cup of tea and a great book. Come to think of it, "Mad Men" is over for the season. Maybe now I'll have some extra time.

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