Every year on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, WPLJ radio in New York broadcasts its morning show from Jenkinson’s Pier in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. There are bands playing live, the atmosphere is festive. I used to listen every year I worked in baseball as I drove from my apartment in Manhattan to the ballpark in Staten Island. And every year, the highlight of the broadcast was the same: The traffic guy, Joe Nolan, would get up on stage and tell a long story about his father taking him out to the shore in the summer, and how now, as a father himself, he marveled at his own life. Then he would pause, yell “1, 2, 3, 4!” and bust into a highly emotional, slightly off-key but marvelous Born to Run. I once found myself feeling oddly choked up on the New Jersey Turnpike as I yelled along with Joe Nolan.
I feel like every summer I write a blog post about the day my girls go to camp. It has to do with being a dad of daughters who are still little but grow more worldy and somewhat more inscrutable by the day, even as they are still willing to hug me and still cry when they get on the bus. Only now it’s for seven weeks straight, and that’s a long time.
And every year I talk about what they read, and what they read on, as technology changes and they become more sophisticated and plugged in. Which is why it was fascinating to me that this year they went without e-readers at all, and simply took their books with them the old fashioned way—weighing down their backpacks and crammed among the lip gloss and the illicit granola bars and the sunscreen, in hardcover and paperback.
Now this is not a judgment—I’m not proud that they’re reading print books or disappointed that they aren’t reading on machines (or vice versa, if that’s even logical). Rather, it was interesting, and I was thinking about why. And I came up with a couple of answers:
The first is that a couple of years ago, when I first started chronicling the kids’ adventures in reading, they read shorter books. Therefore we could load, say, 117 My Weird School books onto the Kindle and send them on their way. Now that they are older, they read longer books, but fewer of them, and with more words per page. And they mess around all evening when they might be reading, doing things like talking to their friends and (ahem, girls) writing letters to their parents, who miss them. They’ll get through the books they bring, but don’t need as much of an inventory.
The second (although the first was more than one point), is that they are fundamentally indifferent to the platform on which they read. They have so many options at this point, and they are all “normal” now, as opposed to a couple of years ago when it was cool to read on a tablet, that they go with the most convenient (and frequently best looking). And in this case, the one they don’t need to plug in or keep safe from, say, getting wet.
So this morning I stood with a hundred or so other parents (around a third of whom were crying at any given time), waving vaguely at the tinted window where we think we saw our particular kid’s face flit by, though it could be Maya. My son, who just started a writing program and is now going to have my wife and me to himself for a couple of months, was waving frantically saying “I’ll miss you, I’ll miss you…heh.” Several of the other parents were people I went to school with myself, now with dogs on leashes and smaller children who haven’t yet started day camp holding on to them. I stepped back for a minute, looked around, and started humming Born to Run.