Will no one speak for the book? Since the release of Amazon’s Kindle, I have followed discussions of features, e-book pricing, piracy, and the Orwellian weirdness saga. Yet, I have seen nothing that touches on my primary concern. Books – I love books. I love the feel, the smell, the sound of pages flipping, the thump of a closed cover. I like to hold them, to feel the comforting heft of a hardcover or the breezy frivolity of a paperback.
From a rational standpoint, I would be the ideal Kindle owner. I read compulsively, eclectically, and with disturbing speed. My purse doesn’t leave the house without a journal, pen, and a book. (My wallet has been known to remain at home on the desk under a book.) A landscape without trees is pointless; I have been known to literally hug a tree. I recycle everything, yet every flat surface in our house holds a potential avalanche of paper-wasting books. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Granted, packing for trips or even a “me time” run into the City would no longer require the use of a pack donkey or llama. (At least I could carry a smaller purse.) And, I would no longer be forced to cart home kilos of “absolutely necessary” volumes. Though, this isn’t as much of a problem as it used to be. What happened to Stacey’s books??
But, I love books and bookstores. Shelves of books intoxicate me in a way that on-line catalogues never will. How can I know what titles attract me without picking them up, fondling them a bit, taking them out for that first drink? Selecting a book electronically has all of the romance of picking a hooker out of a database. (No, I do not speak from personal experience here. Hyperbole, people, hyperbole.) Amazon gets my business only when searches of mainstream, independent, and used bookstores fail.
We live in a world where the use of our senses is becoming increasingly (and to my mind dangerously) obsolete. Once, children played with Legos as basic sets. You remember -- the little interlocking bricks that could be made into castles, airplanes, boats, or dragons. Then, the sets became specialized; yes, my children can make a realistic Millennium Falcon, but heaven forbid one piece crawls beneath the bookcase, or the pre-schooler colors on the instructions. The next, and apparently obvious step, was the invention of Lego video games -- all of the joy of Legos without the hassle of those little pieces. Right. This is where I step off of the ride; I don’t understand the attraction of moving Lego shaped characters around a video screen. My techno-geek, gamer husband points out that the fun of Lego video games has nothing to do with construction. I counter with the notion that since we used to build the Legos and then play with them, a vital step is being lost. Where is the satisfying click of assembly? Where, for that matter, is the pride of assembly? Where is the cooperative search for the long, skinny blue piece? I can’t help wondering if books are going the way of Legos.
A Google search of the effects of electronic media on the brain produced 1,520,000 hits. Most of these hits involved visual media such as movies and television, and the effects on the developing brain. I was unable to find (in a short time and with a lap inhabited by a 4 year old) a perfect reference to support this point, but I think the mind interprets words differently on screen than on paper. I know that I cannot adequately edit my own work without printing it out in hard copy. If truly stuck, I will shut down the computer and break out the pen and paper. I know that I read the news in more depth in a print form than from an online version of the same periodical. I can’t put aside the feeling that the electronic format robs us of the essence of the book experience. We are not all visual learners. Personally, I tend to be a kinesthetic learner. My brain processes information better when I use my hands as well as my eyes. What provides the more complete kinesthetic experience: flipping through pages or scrolling?
I may be a victim of early conditioning. My mother was a school librarian. Thanks to her frequent trips to author signings and sales events, I treasure autographed copies of books by Avi, Beverly Cleary, Gordan Korman, and others. How can an author sign a Kindle?
The internet may house the definition of every word ever coined, but when dinner table linguistic debates arise, we trek to the living room and heave the appropriate volume of the out of date OED from its case, and delightedly break out the magnifying glass. The sense of treasure hunt through the OED’s irritatingly miniscule type cannot be replaced with a quick electronic search.
I will be the first to admit that my relationship with books is messy and imperfect. I leave them on tables, chairs, desks, bed, and floor. They overflow the shelves and block the entrance to my closet. Bookmarks in my house disappear into the void that houses paperclips, matching socks, and pens. As a result, books in my care are often dog-eared and occasionally (don’t tell my mom) propped open face down. I post-it note, highlight, underline, and write intermittent notes. Pages of my favorite books are smeared with samples of my favorite foods. I am a book slob. Yet, I wouldn’t trade my messy, imperfect house for a sterile white-walled, stainless steel habitat. I wouldn’t trade my messy, imperfect family for a Stepford husband and children. We may be dysfunctional, but my family and my books understand and love me.
So, I’ll leave it to others to debate e-book pricing and sales, to agonize over privacy and copyright implications. I’m going to the bookstore. And when I finally fill the house with books, well, I’m sure we can find somewhere to put the kids. They like their grandparents.