I went back to my B&N and spent a half an hour with a patient and knowledgeable salesman. I finally felt comfortable using the touch screen and I felt the speed of the Nook was adequate. In short, I decided to buy the wi-fi version, along with a padded cover (the Dillane).
So now I have an excellent 60th birthday present (next Wednesday) that my wife can give me.
Thanks to everyone for your help.