I am a book Luddite. It is entirely possible that I am in the last .05 percent of the population that does not own a Kindle, a Nook, or some other e-reading device. Others rave, enjoy, applaud the downloadability of literature, high and low. And so forth and so on. But for me, a book is a book is a book. A Kindle is not a book. A Nook is not a book. The only similarity between a book and Nook to me is that they rhyme.
One of the strongest memories of my mother from childhood is of her reading. More often than not, she was so caught up in her book that she steadfastly ignored my sister and I bludgeoning each other in another room. Perhaps that was why she was so engrossed in the book, I’m not sure. And though my mother’s taste in books is very different from my own, she instilled in both my sister and me a love of books. Not just the written word, not just stories, but BOOKS. I still remember how grown-up I felt at thirteen when my mother suggested I borrow Gone with the Wind from the library. This was swiftly followed by Rebecca and the wonderful Mrs. Pollifax series by Dorothy Gilman. Books from the ‘adult’ section, back when ‘adult’ had a different meaning. I remember combing the rows and aisles in my small town library, waiting for something to jump out at me. I remember the weight of books in my arms throughout high school, traversing the hallways from class to class. Textbooks and paperbacks. Judy Blume and VC Andrews (actually I never read VC Andrews, I wasn’t allowed). S.E. Hinton and Paul Danzinger. The dreaded Geometry textbook. Books make me feel grounded. Make me feel safe. They’ve always been there.
Living outside of the US, one thing I most miss is casually looking for and at books. When I was young and penniless, it was the library. In NYC there was The Strand. I was ridiculously intimidated by The Strand, with its 18 miles of books and it’s uber-cool, punk rock, hipster-before-there-was-such-a-thing staff.
It doesn’t have to be a boutique shop smelling of pages and knowledge, tucked onto a side street, though those have their own appeal. Barnes and Noble is just fine too. My first trip to Barnes and Noble was the flagship store on 18th Street to buy college textbooks. This was long before you could get a coffee and
sit down in a reasonably comfortable chair and peruse at your leisure. Before you could catch up on the latest issue of the The New Yorker with a latte and a bagel. But that time came and OH! How I love a book-store. But as much as I love a book store, the store is only the husk. The real love is the actual book.
Oh books! I love the way you feel in my hands, the sharp crack of a spine as you open a brand new hardcover for the first time. I love the inky smudges on my left thumb from holding the bottom of the page. I will bear the frost-bite of my left hand on a cold Danish night just so I can hold you open for one more page, one more chapter, to find out who did what. I love the way you look, in tin soldier formation, on an organized book shelf. But I also love the way you look, scattered about, dog-eared and splayed open on the floor, left open where someone fell asleep or reluctantly put you down to referee a fight between bludgeoning siblings. I love the symmetry of the middle of a book, when it’s weight is just the right balance between right and left. I’m not a snob, I love the yellowed and cracked pages of a well-thumbed paperback as much as I love the starchy whiteness of a new hardcover.
Emily Dickinson, who lived long before Kindles and Nooks, was surely waxing eloquent about content more than vehicle, but in this age of electronic reading devices, the poem strikes a chord with me.
There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!
And while it may not be the most green, environmentally friendly thing to do, to hang onto my paperbacks and hardcovers, to continue to buy and borrow books, I sort of don’t care. You know what? I don’t have a car. I don’t have a clothes dryer. I don’t have a microwave. I recycle and carry reusable tote bags. So I’m holding on to my books. I am an old school hold-out.
I am not ready to break up.