Monday, July 19, 2010

To me a book will always be paper and ink

Today on the nightly news, there was a report that said that Amazon is now selling more electronic e-books than the paper kind. Despite the fact that I absolutely love the ads for Kindle, it weighs heavily on my heart that "e-books" are starting to outpace book books. I may have to take this back years in the future when you can't buy a book unless it is prefaced by an "e", but right now I can say I hope to never own a Kindle or a Nook or any other device that sucks the soul and life out of my second favorite world next to the real one. This is a world of characters and dreams and fantasies, a world containing an infinite number of worlds within it, and a world I believe cannot exist without ink and paper and dust jackets.

A book is something with weight. A book is something you hold in your hands with a cover that you can trace, alternately glossy or sandy or matte. A book is that moment right before you open the cover, when the intangible world of the book is closed but yet you still have that tangible world of the book, that physical doorway linking you and your everyday life with any number of beautiful, strange realities hidden within. And I don't care how fancy a Kindle is, you can't replicate that. You can't replicate the physical being of a book, the way it smells, looking down on it before you open the cover for the first time, that first rustle of delicate, crisp pages, the dark ink clear and firm against soft, cream white pages.

You can't replicate a shelf full of books, crouching or sitting down and letting your hands move from one title to the next. I keep all of my books. My mom is continually trying to get me to narrow down my collection, but I just can't bear it. Because every book I read becomes a part of me, a part of my own personal history and the thing is it's not just about the story within that book. It's not something that retains its meaning or impact in electronic form. It's about that real, solid collection of pages, remembering the way that book looked sitting on a bedside table in Paris or peeking out of a duffel bag on a train in India. It was the way a row of books looked the first time they were set up in a freshman dorm room, when almost everything was new and terrifying, so anything familiar, even a book, took on all the comforts of home.

If I like a book I will read it at least twice. But if I love a book I'll read it again and again and again. My favorite books are worn and crumpled. Half the pages have been folded down at some point. There are smudge and spill marks. Some lines have been underlined. If it's a book from a high school or college class, there's usually a lot of half-hearted annotation. I love it when books are this way. They're not supposed to be these static, immovable, formal things. Books are supposed to be a part of your home and your life and your heart. Every time I open the third Harry Potter book, I get the scent of Clementines, because the first time I ever read it was at Christmastime. I would sit in the chair in our living room next to the Christmas tree, and read for hours as I sat peeling Clementines and popping the sweet, juicy pieces into my mouth. And I love that. I love that I'm not just re-entering that familiar fictional story, but also being taken back to a certain time in my life.

I use books as security blankets. I never do long term travel without my three favorite books. Quite simply, they make me braver. I know that no matter how new or strange a place is, all it takes is opening a cover of a book, and I'll be somewhere safe and familiar, whether it's the 1930's Manhattan of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay or the stone hallways of Hogwarts.

I love books first and foremost for the stories they tell. But I also love them simply for their own medium, for the way they tell those stories, for the cover art and the artist bios on the back inside cover. I love every detail about a book, the way I can hold it in my arms when I finish reading, and be able to hang onto the world it contains a little bit longer, even as I'm returning to the world I live in.

You can tell me a Kindle is efficient and cool and sensible. You can put one in my hands and point out all of its high tech features. But there's nothing about a Kindle that will move me the way that paper and ink and thread does.

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