Books, ugh, repellent things. The fluttering of pages, the implicit mockery of cold text, the muscle- and mind-straining weight of ideas. Better to corral all those meandering words and their unseemly punctuation into an electron pool, where you can sip from modest, reduced-page cups of their content, where you can make type sizes wiggle to your wishes, where you can search and highlight and transfer and connect and criss-cross and cannibalize and—whew! [Daubs fevered brow.]
Actually, I love books, those creaky old antiques. If you drop hardcover books on eggs, they make a satisfying squish. If you argue with their authors, you can fling them across the room with a cascade of curses and get a resounding “bang!” from the wall opposite. But the reason I’m even blithering about books is that before I left for a recent two-month stint in the Bahamas, I was given a first-generation Kindle, a discard from a fellow who now is proudly armed with an iPad.
The Salt Slime of the Ancient Reader
Taking a pile of books to the Bahamas was a no-no, mostly for weight issues. And because, having lived in the tropics before, I knew that all things material are subject to the insidious insistence from nature that solids return to goo. For instance, my host in the tropics had vast shelves of great books, which I eagerly scanned. But picking one (and another and another) to leaf through—ahhgggh! All covered with that strange salt-slime that adheres to anything that is stationary for a period in the humid climes. Most unpleasant.
Thus, I Kindleized my reading, and I admit to the pleasure of summoning up multiple books for chunky savoring in one reading session. All those good free Domino Project works, Poke the Box, Do the Work, Self-Reliance and more. And because I am a dweeb, Grammatically Correct and Portable MFA in Creative Writing (even more portable on a Kindle). And a mystery story collection. And my own novel, pictured so promotionally in the image above.
The Palm V—Looking Back Through Time’s Cracked Screen
But I’ve never been the Luddite sort regardless, railing about ereaders being the death of the printed word. Publishing is evolving in crazy, lurching ways, but I think it’s mostly to the good. I’ll frequent (and buy in) bookstores till the day I go blind, happy with the serendipity of the shelves, the sense of discovery and promise the stores afford, and the fine feelings I actually get from the fluttering of pages. But I wrote a newspaper piece, sometime around the Ice Age of 1999, about having jolly fun reading Mark Twain on an airplane with my Palm V. Petrol-based ink, soy ink or e-ink—it’s the ideas therein that make one think.
One disclaimer on this particular model of Kindle: Steve Jobs would have had the designer drawn and quartered. You can barely hold the damn thing without accidentally turning pages, backwards and forwards. Set it down at an angle, set it down on something soft, lift it to move it—your place is whisked to the next electronic edge. I know the newer models have corrected this egregious inelegance, but I can’t callously throw this thing against the wall like I might the printed Portable MFA.
One small coda: today, we renewed our subscription to the Sunday paper. I read a lot of news online (discounting whatever mind rot news-noodling provokes), but no matter the readily available onscreen/Kindle/iPad/ version of the paper, there’s still something about flipping through the physical sections of the newspaper, in bed with a second cup of Sunday coffee …