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Oct 11 2013

Friday Night: If It Weren’t For Shabbat, I’d Never Read an Actual Book

By at 2:39 pm

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Sometimes (OK, so often), I look at my kids playing on their various devices: PCs, iPads, etc., and I want to take a hammer to them and smash them to smithereens (the devices, not the children). I want to see them outside PLAYING. I want them READING BOOKS.

But really–what right do I have to feel this way as I sit at my desktop, writing this piece during the ninth hour of this day spent at my computer?

I used to read like a fiend. That was before we purchased our first personal computer. I could read seven to 10 books a week–fat ones.

Back then I was always in the thick of one high risk pregnancy or another or possibly in the postpartum phase. The used bookstore lady dreaded my husband coming into the story, sent to find me MORE BOOKS. “There is nothing here,” she would say, “that your wife hasn’t read!”

Today, however, the sad truth is that there is only a single day in the week on which I read actual books. That would be the Jewish Sabbath, when computer usage is a no-no for the Orthodox. In my community, we often state not totally tongue-in-cheek that without the Orthodox, those loyal people of the book, the hard print newspaper industry would be completely finished. From sundown Friday until sundown Saturday, when I’m not praying and dining with the family, I can read without surcease, my great Sabbath delight.

Of course, it’s not as if I don’t read during the week. I read all the time. On the internet.

I go to Google News and my favorite news sites and read what interests me. I read postings on my Facebook newsfeed. I read selected blogs. But none of this reading on a screen is the same as settling down with a pint of Rocky Road, a Jane Austen novel, and a box of quality tissues.

And don’t even get me started on the Kindle. What is reading without the ability to dog-ear a page, without the smell of paper and ink, and guessing games regarding the curious highlighted passages of former readers? When I think about all that lost pleasure I want to run away screaming from my computer. Instead, I force myself to sit here calmly and ponder what it means: the loss of reading.

There’s the loss and like any loss worth its salt, there’s also the guilt that enters into the mix to co-mingle sorrow, blame, and cowardliness.

The guilt concerns my children.

They no longer see me reading, so why should they read? They no longer see me anywhere but in front of a screen, so why should they not also sit in front of screens, jabbing at keys and staring at some random web designer’s animated graphic interface like zombies?

I have to prod them a bit toward the end of the week. I might say, “I’m going to the library, wanna go with? Do you have something to read for Shabbos?”

This is crucial because they know and I know that there is nothing worse than getting to Shabbos and realizing you have nothing to read. Mostly because you’ve been piggishly consuming the Internet during the course of the week and couldn’t tear yourself away to make sure you got to the library and picked something up. You didn’t make contingency plans for procuring reading material, but instead played level 122 of Candy Crush Saga obsessively and because of this Shabbos will now be a bummer.

Usually, however, all of us have our reading material in place for Shabbat. We turn to our books longingly after the evening meal Friday night, and on late Saturday evening, as the last pale light of the sun slips away for good, we pretend it hasn’t and refuse to look at the clock, lest we be forced to close our books.

“Thank God for Shabbos,” I think to myself once more, as we all tear ourselves away from the pages and move like lemmings toward our devices for yet another week.

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