It should probably come as no surprise that I am a book lover. Every room in my house has shelves of books and stacks of various volumes, new and old, appear here and there since the bookshelves have long since run out of space. I am not unaware of the debate concerning the demise of the book. We are headed for a paperless age, I am told. The book is out of date. Look at the children, they read screens, not books.
I know. The other day a good friend of mine, a man who is my same age, excitedly showed me his new Kindle. A Kindle, for those of you who have not heard, is a computer-style book produced and distributed by Amazon.com. I like to compare it to an i-Pod. You buy the hardware, a plastic entity with a screen the size of the average book page. I think it costs something like $300. Once you have this tool, you can download most books and most magazines or newspapers into the Kindle. You pay for each book as you would a magazine subscription or, well, as you would a book. If a hardcover book would cost you $25, the download of the book into your Kindle costs about $10. My friend has already subscribed to the New York Times this way and he has the latest bestsellers queued up for his next read.
He handed me the mechanism and showed me how to turn the page: two touch pads on the side, one marked “next page” and the other “previous page.” I held this space-age book in my hands, weighing whether or not I could tolerate reading a book this way. It felt a little like a book, lightweight, and the page had the look of a book page. Well, no, not quite, more like a computer screen, much like what I am typing into at this very moment. A typeface, probably Times Roman, the letters shaped as we have known them for centuries. So it was familiar. Innocuous. In spite of my cynicism, I felt myself drawn in. At least, I didn’t run screaming from the room. I started to read. I kept hitting the “next page” button by mistake so the page kept turning while I was in the middle of reading a sentence. Annoying. But, in spite of this, I saw the utility of this gizmo. I even saw the possibility that I might someday acquire a Kindle, or something similar (I believe there are other brand names for this same innovation), and download a new book, even before it appears in the local bookstore. It won’t be soon, as I have not even bought an i-Pod yet, though I am attracted to that concept. For me, wheels turn slowly.
Still, I sat on my friend’s couch, turning the pages, reading as I would any book. I began to relax with it in my hands. But I felt like I was holding an object, something foreign to the book itself. I often read until I fall asleep, the book falling to the floor with a thud. Would such a fall ruin this expensive piece of electronics? Many of my books, in spite of my devotion to them, have experienced drops, falls and even a rainwater bath when left on the porch. Recently one of my favorite books was dowsed with ginger ale and it has lived to experience another reading, though the dried pages are a bit tanned.
I am a person who loves touch and smell. The Kindle has neither. I love the feel of a book page, the paper, and the slight imprint of the letters. The hint of ink and the accessibility of the entire work, with the comments on the back cover and the option to skip to the end if I want to. And then of course there is the collage that the book spines make on my walls, the colors and the reminders of the writers I love. Just having their names and the titles of my favorite books broadcast out at me from the silent shelves can inspire me or excite me. Reminders of pleasures past. I know that the Kindle can store a library of thousands of books in its tiny heart. But that will not replace the company I keep with the host of the many pages that share my rooms, pages that continually warm my life.