Close encounters of the iPad kind

Sept. 1, 2011 at 4:01 a.m.
Updated Sept. 3, 2011 at 4:03 a.m.

I've had an iPad 2 for months, and to the horror and disgust of virtually everyone I know, I haven't opened it.

I admit, I felt a little giddy leaving the store with an iPad swinging in the plastic sack dangling from my wrist. That was three months ago. Since then, the iPad has sat in its sleek white box in the plastic wrapping and plastic bag on my dining room table, an alien intruder in an apartment stuffed full of books.

"E-books are one of the only things I would become a terrorist over," I once told a colleague. We laughed. "No, really, I'm serious," I said. And I thought I meant it (so did he).

To me, it was a flat-out betrayal of the written word to boil it down to some intangible thing on a Kindle, Nook or iPad. But the thing is, Apple products are really nifty.

Despite a tendency to shun new gadgetry that borders on being Amish, my dad has never given up hope. Left to my own devices, I would be dialing on a rotary phone, driving a car with "newly added safety belts" and working on a typewriter, but my father is relentlessly dragging me into the 21st century, whether I want to go or not. Hence, the gift of an iPad for his bibliophile daughter.

I love books. Anyone who knows the slightest thing about me, knows I buy purses based on the amount of books I can successfully shove inside them. If I love a book, I leave an imprint - it'll look like a Ford pickup ran over it.

The books I love are underlined, the pages are bent, the spine is broken and, in extreme cases, the back and front cover goes missing, along with parts of the first and last page. I've been known to pull out a book in bars, restaurants, Greek beaches and Disney World. I would spend my last penny on books, and I suck in that starchy, clean bookstore smell of new books the way some people sniff glue.

When people started chattering about e-readers a few years ago, I may have bristled a little. Well, "bristled" is an understatement for the kind of person who emphatically declared e-books to be an evil the likes of which the world has never seen. I was full of visions of a stale, new world, where everything is electronic, and even the greatest works of history have been shrunken down to something invisible to the naked eye without the use of an e-reader.

Despite years of bookish devotion, here I was in a moral quandary with an iPad lurking on my dining room table, ready to lead me astray. Thus I did what any conflicted person would do, concocting all kinds of elaborate excuses for why I couldn't possibly open my iPad today.

Last Thursday, I ran out of excuses. Unearthing the device from beneath a pile of stuff, I slid it out of the plastic bag, ripped off the plastic wrap and eased the box top open. Then I spent a good hour-and-a-half trying to turn the thing on, and another hour trying to make my computer talk to the shiny new thing. But, finally, I reached the screen where the books lived.

Gingerly, I entered the iBookstore and started browsing. The first cool thing I discovered about iPads? Instant gratification. Before I knew it, my fingers had spent way more than I could afford on books that appeared on my screen in seconds. After years of griping about the lack of a 24-hour bookstore, it was well past midnight, and I was book shopping with abandon.

I started sifting through apps and news sites, and it was pretty cool to be lolling on the couch pawing through the news of the day the way I always imagined characters on Star Trek would do it, space-age tablet style.

Finally, I settled down and decided to try out the actual book reading process via iPad, diving into "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," a book I've had my eye on for months but always passed it by in the bookstore, opting for selections that clocked in a little cheaper at the register.

Buying it for my fancy new iPad, I had another fun discovery. Magazines seem to pretty much cost the same whether you subscribe via iPad or print - which seems stupid - but the virtual copy of the book was actually a few dollars cheaper.

With a tap of my index finger, the book opened on the screen. A few impatient strokes to the left of the screen got me to the first page, and I started reading. I read a little, and checked my email. I read a little more and checked my Facebook. I browsed over websites. I looked for a cover of Phil Collins' "Against all Odds" on YouTube (I know). I considered signing up for Netflix. I read a little more. Then I put it down and proceeded to forget I owned it.

Then my friend and coworker Kat pulled out her iPad, and started teaching me the ways of the force. She showed me "Project" the magazine designed specifically for the iPad medium.

A pocket-sized Jeff Bridges strolled across the screen. Propped on my desk, it looked like a six-inch version of the famed actor was actually standing there.

"Jeff Bridges is standing on my desk," I said, eyes fastened on the Dude.

Kat opened a book, "A Passion for Books."

"Look at this. You can see what other people's favorite passages are. You can highlight and take notes. It's really cool," she said, sliding her hand rapidly across the screen.

The thing is, Kat is as big a book nut as I am, maybe more so. I asked her how a fellow booklover can support something that might endanger the book.

She laughed at me.

"The words are the same, dear. That's what matters," she said.

She still loves books, still buys books, she said, but the iPad lets her travel with 400 books in tow.

"Even if you read 'Anna Karenina' on an iPad, it's still 'Anna Karenina'."

Kicking this around in my head, it made a certain kind of sense. Maybe the iPad wasn't the enemy, the alien invader. She had a point.

I downloaded "Anna Karenina" and studied the famed opening line. It's one of my favorites.

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," I read.

To my surprise, even on a screen I wanted to keep reading. I leaned back in my chair and started reading. It was still "Anna Karenina."



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