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Books Are the Secret Places of Our Lives

Article excerpt

There's something about a book. Few are more devoted than this writer to the electronic universe. The wonders of a spell check and thesaurus on any word processing program, the incredible joys of WordPerfect Rhymer for versifiers, the instant copying and duplicating features on even the oldest pc's - these bring sudden laughter and a delicious sense of total control to every aficionado.

And when you are in one of the data banks - Compuserve, Lexis, Nexis, the Internet - the world of information or new friendships is on your fingertips. Aaaah.

So why talk about books anymore? Especially since publishers have now begun to put books on disk? And both computer and environmental devotees are claiming that we will no longer need to take up vast shelf space at home and library, that we will no longer need to strip our forests to make such reams of paper.

Still, there's something about a book. Perhaps it's an old-fashioned hangup. Or perhaps a book is another kind of durable magic that affects all ages and stages of life.

Consider "Pat The Bunny" - a book that has enchanted toddlers for more than 50 years. No computer will allow those small fingers to "feel" the bunny "fur," to hold this small package with ease. There are many, many new and old books for small children that give them - without the "fur," that feeling of delight and control. The tactile ability to handle pages may have something to do with this.

Classic books, "The Secret Garden" for example, will soon be seen on computer - and hooray for that. But not to be able to turn the pages, to decide on a secret place of one's own to read the book, is to be bereft of one of the essential joys and values of books.

Sitting on a grassy hilltop across the street from a hospital in Brookline, Mass., reading that book, gave an 11-year-old a private place while waiting to see her dying mother - and a sense of life's continuity, of the world beyond one's own personal tragedy.

Move on to those periods of pre-teens and early teens when serials absorb most children - "The Hardy Boys" and "Nancy Drew" for older generations; "Choose Your Own Adventure" and the "Baby-Sitters Club" books for today's children. (There is a very seriously negative trend in the serials, the badly written horror books, such as the dreadful "Fear Street" series and the extremely popular "`Goosebumps" for 8- to 10-year-olds. The publishers should be ashamed.)

Of course, these serials are pictorialized and will be computerized. But again, the feel of a volume, the suspense of page-turning even without horror, brings an experience not-to-be-duplicated on a computer or in video of any kind. …