Thursday, May 15, 2008

Coffee and the papers. Yes, papers
By Anita Diamant

Monday, May 12, 2008
For me, the morning begins with the newspapers, which arrive somewhere in the vicinity of my front door, every day of the week. This fact brands me as a bit of an anachronism, and certainly a demographic cliché: middle-aged, middle-class, blahblahblah.

According to a 2006 survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, only about 4 in 10 Americans get their news this way anymore, down by 18 percent since 1993, a trend that continues. I am not among the 57 percent who watch TV newscasts. And while I am glad to know that between 1993 and 2006 National Public Radio nearly doubled its audience from 9 to 17 percent, I will never quite forgive "All Things Considered" for what I swear was a 20-minute segment about Indian cooking that included a lingering sound-clip of garlic hissing in a frying pan.

I have friends who long ago canceled their hard-copy subscriptions and pick up the news from a laptop. My reluctance to join them has something to do with the fact that I already spend far too many hours staring at a screen. The computer is my work station, a place where I frequently pull at my hair and wish I could be somewhere else. The last thing I need is to start my day there, too.

I know that my morning newspaper is on its way into the museum, along with the model T and the whalebone corset, perhaps within my own lifetime. And while that prospect makes me a bit wistful, I am not convinced that the end of newsprint signals the death of literacy, reporting, language or civilization itself. The daily paper is, after all, only one of many news delivery systems. And some of the new systems are way cool.

Recently, I have taken to reading novels and works of nonfiction from the screen of an ebook - an electronic book - a paperback-sized, 10-ounce wonder that enables me to lightly lug a whole library in my carry-on luggage and to change the font size if I misplace my reading glasses. In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I acquired this nifty little reading device as payola for taping an endorsement of the herein unnamed product. That said, I do love my new toy, which means I'm never stuck for reading material. Well, almost never.

I get all peevish when a title I want is not available in electronic form; what's the matter with that publisher, that writer? Are they quill-and-parchment Luddites? Get with the program already.

But when I settle into my airplane seat and fire up my ebook, I am one very chill Cheshire cat. The young man who sat beside me on recent flight admired it and asked if I worked in high tech. I glowed, feeling a good 20 years younger than I am, and precisely the sort of person who gets her news online, too.

And yet I cling to my paper. I'm biliterate, and proud. If I lost my ebook, I'd buy another. But cellulose is part of my morning ritual, a song-and-dance that starts when I open the front door to make sure it's been delivered. Will I need to put on shoes to retrieve it? Is an umbrella called for? Generally, I just sneak out in my robe and slippers, regardless of weather, studiously keeping my eyes on the ground, which makes me invisible to the kids walking past on their way to school.

Back at the kitchen table, I inhale the reviving aroma of coffee and open her up. First, I peruse the headlines and check in with the presidential campaign. But after that, it's pure chance what catches my attention. I flip through the sections: city, business, arts, sports. I wander and meander, finishing my grapefruit over a movie review. I pour a second cup and sigh about the situation in Israel, or Zimbabwe, or in a local public school. I glance at the ads and wonder who buys those "Sex for Life" books. I read all of the comics.

My husband wanders in and I say, "You've got to see this."

Anita Diamant's most recent novel is "The Last Days of Dogtown."