Reading: Where Polyester Jumpsuits are Optional (so to speak)

Books constitute capital. A library book lasts as long as a house, for hundreds of years. It is not, then, an article of mere consumption but fairly of capital, and often in the case of professional men, setting out in life, it is their only capital.
- Thomas Jefferson

When I hear the phrase “electronic books,” I envision a future of lifeless, cold possessions and fashion: awful polyester jumpsuits and computers that cook your food to spec.

Apparently, I need to adjust my vision because, again, companies are trying to push a “paperless” society sans books. ("Envisioning the Next Chapter for Electronic Books," New York Times, September 6, 2007).

Haven’t they learned their lessons?

Our hearts are in the right places. BlackBerrys and cellular telephones have begun to rid the world of phone books and day planners. Sleek and sophisticated, they have all the information without a page in sight. However, do not ask the person whose machine has met its demise by crashing onto the sidewalk or into a pool. (Further, do not ask how many back up their information as often as recommended by the manufacturer. Or required by the errant hot tub.) (No, I am not writing from experience.)

A book machine sounds intriguing, I have to admit. I am an old-school book person, but how cool would it be to have my entire stack of books in a machine the size and weight of a single paperback?

I would think it cool until I had a few hours to kill. Then I’d rue the day I tossed aside my real paperback for the machine.

Anyone who has spent hours in front of a computer monitor is nodding in agreement. I spend time at home in front of the computer, too, and I am grateful when I turn off the machine and pick up a book.

I love the feel of a book, its heft in my hand: heavier for thicker books or hardbacks, lighter for some smaller and paperbacks. The distinct difference between hardback and paperback is not wholly determined by the difficulty factor in keeping the pages open while the reader is opening the candy bar wrapper. (I nearly wrote “peeling an orange,” but no one would believe that piety from me.)

Books allow for curling up in bed or stretching out on the floor, lying on a towel on the beach or on a blanket under a tree.

Books give something for the cat to aim for (required by Divine Cat Law: Thou shall recline on whatever the Human is reading, or if all else fails, recline on the Human).

During daylight hours, light reflection rarely if ever blinds readers to the words on the page. In contrast, try dialing the phone or seeing a digital photo in an LCD panel when the sun is in the wrong position for reading.

And how often does a reader want to lament the inability to read because the battery is dead? (Unless you’re eight years old and reading under the bedsheets, batteries usually are not necessary for reading.)

I could go on and on about why I prefer books to handheld devices, but it comes down to tactile satisfaction. I want to hold what I read. I want to hold the pages between my fingers as I reach the end of a page, flip the pages, use my hedgehog bookmark, pretend to not read ahead on the page when the tension rises in the storyline…. I want the satisfaction of holding a volume in my hand, seeing how much I have read by looking at where the bookmark juts out at the top of the book.

I am not a Luddite. I appreciate the machine for its uses. I just wouldn’t want to use it for one of my true joys in life: curling up with a book. On this topic, Thomas Jefferson and I agree: I cannot live without books.


Carole said...

You know, Chris, I find myself looking at the book reader everytime I go to Borders. Like you, I think, "Wouldn't it be cool to have oodles of books in one handy device?"

Yet, I don't buy it. I think it would reduce all books to a sort of sameness that I think would be sad. I love the feel of each book--I like to examine the covers and see what the designers have come up with (did they really read the book--often, the answer seems to be 'NO'!)--and I like to choose a bookmark from my collection and match appropriately with each book--and I like being intimidated and challenged by the towering stack on my nightstand.

The book reader would rob me of those experiences, and I just can't let that happen.

Chris said...

I hadn't even considered the bookmark industry, Carole! I jest -- but a good point. Not to mention the Tower of Books experience we cannot abandon. You always have a wonderful way of expressing your thoughts!