I had an interesting idea. I’m trying to make a list of all the different devices on which I’ve read a complete story.

See, right now I’m reading a Star Trek novel on my Kindle — which is super-weird, because I’d also read these as paperback books when I was a teenager in the 1970s. They’re stories set in the distant future, but now I’m in the future — 30 years from the 1970s — and I’m using a real futuristic reading device…to read about a fictitious future!

And meanwhile my screensaver’s showing me a picture of the Gutenberg press…

So over my lifetime, I’ve read stories on lots of different devices. And as an exercise, I tried write up a complete list of them all. I mean, the first thing I ever read was a “See Dick Run” children’s reader. And when I was six years old, my parents bought me a comic book about two squirrels. So here’s how that list would begin…

A picture book
Comic books

I thought about also including “The titles of cartoons on TV,” but realized it would take too long to list everything I’ve ever read. (Billboards, valentines, medicine bottles, the instructions on parking meters…) So I tried narrowing the list to devices on which I’ve read a complete story.
Even then, I still ended up with…

Bubble gum comics

Technically, a Bazooka Joe comic strip is still a story. (And for that matter, so are the four-panel “stories” that you’d read in a daily newspaper.) But still, most of the stories I read were published as books. Until the internet came along and added new ways to read stories…

Online eTexts from Project Gutenberg
Short stories posted to Usenet
A type-written manuscript that a writer sent me…

Someone in Hollywood also once sent me a PDF file with a TV show’s script. And I think that completes my list of every device on which I’ve read an actual story.

But it’s a very challenging exercise — try it! (Because I’d love to know what other story-reading mediums I’ve missed…) And it’s also a very satisfying experience. It’s like tallying up an entire lifetime spent reading, while also highlighting the moments when new technologies came along. And of course, the exercise has to end by adding one final item.

Reading stories on my Kindle

“I love reading history,” writes Barbara Strauch, “and the shelves in my living room are lined with fat, fact-filled books.

“The problem is, as much as I’ve enjoyed these books, I don’t really remember reading any of them.”

She’s the health editor at The New York Times – and she’s written a book about the problems of an aging mind. It’s something I’ve worried about: will I still be able to enjoy reading as I grow older? I have fantasies of retiring, and finally having all day to read. (Maybe then I could finally tackle Remembrance of Things Past or War and Peace.) One reason I bought my Kindle was to increase the font sizes on books — so I wouldn’t need spectacles or special Large-Print editions. And with WhisperNet, I’m now invisibly connected to all the literature I could ever want to read.

The problem now isn’t the reading technology — it’s the physical problems of the reader! Will reading be a different when you’re doing it with a differently-aged brain? Strauch apparently answers the question in her upcoming book – but there’s reason to be optimistic. The book’s subtitle is “The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind,” and according to the blurb on Amazon, “the middle-aged brain is more flexible and more capable than previously thought.”

And in the New York Times this week, Strauch informs us that “The brain, as it traverses middle age, gets better at recognizing the central idea, the big picture.” So I won’t lose my ability to enjoy the great works of literature before I die. And in fact, if I’m understanding her correctly, our ability to literature may actually improve with age.

“If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can…”