Between you and me, I wish I’d been born much earlier, even long enough ago I’d be turned to dust by now. Because I’d rather not have lived to see all that’s happening. Words can’t describe how much I hate what’s being lost. Call me old fashioned, or backward, or whatever you’d like. Honestly, I don’t care. What I dread is the day I have a grandchild who grows up without need of a bookcase, because all s/he needs is a pouch to hold an e-reader.
I was talking to my dad the other day about the publishing industry, print media, and the like. In response to his asking me if I had any interest in e-readers, I said that I only saw a couple possible advantages to them — they could be useful for voracious readers who have limited living space or those who travel frequently. Being able to download a book instantly is nice, but of course that’s only a convenience, not a necessity. I always have enough to read at any given time that I don’t need that temptation, and I’m philosophically inclined to appreciate the wait for a book to arrive in the mail, anticipation being the sweetest part of acquisition, after all. Until that day comes when certain titles simply aren’t made available in paper-and-glue format, I doubt I’ll ever see the need to own one.
The irresistible force of my bibliophilic appetite runs up against the immoveable object of my slacker ethos, though, so I do buy a lot of my books from library sales and individual sellers on Amazon or Barnes & Noble so as to avoid penury. Personally, I appreciate receiving online recommendations based on my purchases; I’ve found many books that way that I didn’t know existed. But these last couple days, I had business to tend to that brought me within shouting distance of my local B & N, so I stopped in for old time’s sake.
I guess it’s been a while since I last did some serious brick-and-mortar browsing because, let me tell you, I was overwhelmed by how many fascinating books I found that I had no knowledge of. I mean, I read a lot of literary blogs these days, and I thought I was staying fairly au courant with new releases. Not only was I wrong, but my recent abstinence helped throw something into sharp relief for me: there just isn’t any substitute for browsing in the store. I’m serious, I was almost jittery/giddy with emotion. Quot libros, quam breve tempus! I just wanted to gather armloads of them up and scurry off to a corner of the store, snarling at anyone who dared disturb me. Were you ever told those possibly-apocryphal stories about Soviet citizens who would break down in tears upon coming to the land of freedom and encountering their first supermarket, struggling to believe that anything so wonderful could actually exist? It was sort of like that, only weirder, because I’m around books all the time. I guess it was just some sort of harmonic convergence, where I happened to be in the right frame of mind to be receptive to all the stimuli and have a transcendant experience.
What it was, actually, was a stark reminder that I’m one of those people for whom a “book” is a nexus of associations — the beauty of the cover design, the feel of the dust jacket, the thrill of an interesting topic, the smell of coffee, the sound of classical music. I stood there and gazed at the shelves and felt as profoundly moved as I ever have from viewing art. I glanced at a copy of Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists and laughed at the idea that this wasn’t a “religious” experience for being unstructured and private. I made a hastily-scribbled list of what turned out to be thirty-two books to add to my wish list, and I resolved to make this a ritual visit again.
E-readers are great for people who see a “book” as only a horse and buggy for transmitting information, to be unsentimentally phased out in favor of motor vehicles. Sacrificial offerings to the twin gods of speed and compact efficiency. I sympathize with Lisa, but there are too many things I appreciate about the Internet age to wish I weren’t part of it. I’ll settle for prolonging this unsteady balance as long as possible, for preserving some pocket, however diminished, where people like me can continue to indulge in books as something greater than that.