I finally did it. This may shock many people, considering how behind the times it seems. Those who know me in “real life” understand that, actually, I can be irrationally old-fashioned. (Hey, it’s charming!) However, being an author and e-publisher, I really should have got with the program by now, if only in solidarity. Yet it took me years and years before I finally gave in to the inevitable.
Yesterday, at long last, I gave in. I bought a Kindle.
At this point you are thinking one of two things: a) It’s about time! What the hell was wrong with you, that it took you this long to get an essential piece of reading technology?! or b) So what?
I bought it for the same reason many people have, for convenience. It will be so lovely to just have my Kindle, stocked with all the stories I could want, long and short. I’ll just be able to curl up somewhere and read them in any order I like, or take them traveling with me, or at the bus stop. I’m especially glad to have it for short stories, because those are so inconvenient in printed form, and the computer, after a while, does hurt my eyes. No doubt, the Kindle will transform my reading life and make it both more diverse and more agreeable.
Way back in the nineties, when Disney’s Beauty and the Beast came out, I was one of those girls who gasped with delight (along with Beauty) when the castle library was revealed. Shelves and shelves, all the way to the ceiling, stacked with books of every color, size, and type. How I longed to be there, surrounded by all those beautiful tomes! That was the moment, really, that Beauty began to fall in love with the Beast…as did all the rest of us wistful readers.
The public library has always been a place of wonder and magic. So have used bookstores. I love holding books in my hands, feeling the texture of the paper, enjoying the freedom of browsing. When I took books home, I amused myself by imagining all the other hands that might have held it, and dreaming of how other people may have felt when reading the very same book. That textural history, the fact that these treasures had come into my hands from someone else’s – who knows how many! – and that somewhere, I was sharing the experience of reading it with a stranger, was fascinating to me. I still love those places, and imagining the people who loved the books before me.
When I lived abroad, books were my consolation and my addiction. The house we shared had an enormous library (not quite as fancy as Beauty’s, but pretty damn nice), with books of all varieties. I read voraciously. I filled my arms with books, carried them heavily as I walked, and took them to my lonely apartment. There, I devoured them, turning pages in near-desperation as my mind swirled in imaginary worlds. I kept a stack of them on my dresser, promises and hopes to keep me going for another couple weeks, before returning to the library to restock. It was not easy to transport so much heavy paper back and forth, but for me it was worth it. Nothing felt so satisfying at the time as a backpack loaded with fresh books. I welcomed the ache and the weight of it on my shoulders; I felt I earned the joy of reading them, through my commitment to them. At the time, I needed this. And only books gave it to me.
I will never be so young and lonely again (if only because – thank goodness – I’m no longer 21), but I will always have memories of that time, and the books that were my companions. There is more to it than that, though.
My love of paper goes even beyond my own personal memories. In Paris, I ended up in a shop specializing in rare antique books. Because of a family connection with the owner, he sat me down and showed me some of his treasures. Into my hands he placed a small, leather-bound volume. A book of prayers. A woman’s signature was scrawled on the front page.
It had belonged to Mary Stuart, the Queen of Scots, who for a short time had also been dauphine of France. I held that book in my hands, reflecting that in 1500-something Mary herself had held it, had run her fingers over the pages. Overwhelmed by history, and the suddenly physical link I had with that doomed queen of long ago, I regarded that book as something close to magical.
Books aren’t magic, of course. But like all objects of personal importance, books retain some of the essence of their past lovers. (As do we all…) Paper can be touched and folded, smeared and creased, written on, stored, revived, and passed on. Paper has a long past, and a future. For a sensual person, there is no substitute. For a person who treasures connections with the past, and hopes to provide such for future readers, it is essential. Paper books have souls and histories unique to each. Paper books can fill library shelves, tumble down, lean against one another. They are a feast.
And so, although I am looking forward to receiving my Kindle and buying books for it, I will never give up my enduring love of paper. If I read a book and love it, I will always buy a printed copy, and tuck it into my ever-growing library like the masterpiece it is. Paper books are the physical manifestation of my passion. No matter how many e-books I read, or how much I type on my computer, I will never give them up. There is no true replacement for the joy, the feeling, the scent and weight and mystery, of holding a true book in your hands.