Syun Kong Ching II first had trouble reading magazines in 1997.
As his blindness from diabetic retinopathy progressed, his wife, Cindy, had to take over paying their bills for a while. By 2001, Ching's right eye was gone and his left eye could see two fingers only if they were within 12 inches.
Since then, he has read about 500 books. Many of them came from Augusta's Talking Book Center, which is on the third floor of the downtown library.
"Reading books is a big part of my life now," said Ching, a 68-year-old Martinez resident and retired Army signal corpsman. "I'm vision impaired, but my mind is still active. Since I can't watch television too much, I turned to books and found I like them even better."
Talking books are similar to books on tape but are designed for the visually impaired. A whole book resides within several Braille-covered tapes or on one digital cassette. The cassette player is filled with buttons of various sizes and shapes, sometimes coded with raised arrows or a circle-shaped depression.
"Just by touch you can learn them," Ching said.
His favorite books are suspense and historical fiction. He recently finished a Korean War book, The Coldest Winter by David Halberstam.
"I had a friend who was a POW," he said.
Last year, Augusta nearly lost its Talking Book Center. The Georgia Public Library Service planned to close as many as six of its 12 centers amid dropping state revenues. Augusta was on the list, but public outcry saved the center, at least for the time being.
Ching said if Augusta's center did close, it would be bad news. Limited vision in one eye means he can download library books from the Internet to cartridges using adaptive computer equipment. But many other people would not be able to, he said.
Thomson resident Henry Drake, who was born blind, said that if Augusta's center closed he could not get books from a computer.
"I'm just not a computer person. I don't know how to use one. I don't own one," he said.
The 59-year-old retired sheriff's office dispatcher has been using talking books for 30 to 40 years. He remembered what it was like before Augusta had its own center and he had to borrow books from Atlanta.
"It took a long time for them to get here. Sometimes three weeks. Sometimes a month. Or sometimes they might be out," Drake said. "I could call there to get a book, but I just hated the waiting."
Augusta's Talking Book Center librarians know Drake and other regular patrons personally. They call him when they spot a new book they think he would enjoy.
Drake likes mysteries, westerns and romance novels -- sometimes reading four to five a week. A recent favorite was Zane Grey's Valley of Wild Horses.
"If a book is good, it's hard to put it down, especially if the person reading it is good," he said. "I'll telephone old school friends and tell them about the books I'm reading."
Last year, Augusta's Talking Book Center checked out 18,000 books to its 1,150 patrons. The center serves nine counties and holds 30,000 books.