The Joy of Books

By Susan Estrich

May 1, 2021 4 min read

First, there was the gas leak. That I could smell. What I should have done that very minute was charge all my devices before the power went out. Remember that. It didn't occur to me.

When the internet went down, I thought there was something wrong in my house. I turned my iPad and other things on and off. I tried the computer, went looking for the router.

It was when I tried to turn on the light that realized there was no power.

I found the alerts from the gas company and the electric company. A private contractor installing fiber optic cable had hit the city's main gas line. The entire area around the leak — which was one block away — was supposedly closed to cars. Residents had to show ID to enter; two families were subject to mandatory evacuation; and for the rest of us, it was a voluntary evacuation.

I say supposedly because I wasn't in a position to really find out. I couldn't open the garage to get my car out. I have two old dogs — going on 14 and 16 — who would not do well in an Uber, much less a hotel room.

We toughed it out — Irving (age 13) and Molly (age 15) and me. It was not so tough. I love candles, which was convenient. I live in earthquake country, so I had little flashlights around the house, most of them with batteries. I had dog food. I had dry goods including crackers and peanut butter, oranges and apples. What more could I need?

I needed something to do.

The power went out on Thursday. It was supposed to come back early Friday. Early Friday, they said late Friday. Late Friday, they said for sure Saturday at 1 p.m. At 1 p.m., they stopped giving estimates altogether. Late that night, or early the next morning, the lights came back and the hot water worked. I almost took a shower right then but decided to wait until morning.

Besides, I was in the middle of a good book, which I was reading by flashlight.

A real book.

In a necessary effort to conserve battery, I couldn't read on my iPad, which is how I've been reading in recent years. Before I read on the iPad, I read books, and for the dozen moves I've made in my life, I always brought my books with me.

So there they are. My house is full of books, including many I can't remember reading. I read a book and a half a day, five books in four days.

There is something about holding a book in your hands (along with the flashlight at night) that is very different than double-clicking. A book has heft, and real pages. It won't disappear if you touch the wrong thing on the screen. Maybe that's why, when I'm reading an actual book, I feel like it's really mine, that I have a "real" connection to the person who wrote those pages.

Maybe it's because I'm sick of virtual everything. At the beginning of the pandemic, virtual events were something of a novelty. The novelty has worn off. But I still have the bookcase behind me whenever I'm zooming, and it's not unusual for people to remark on what a good "background" I have. My assistant arranged the books by color, since I had no system, and frankly, I thought she was nuts. Turns out it looks pretty.

I was almost disappointed when the lights went on.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: Marisa_Sias at Pixabay

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