For the past 2 months, I've balked at what I see on the tube. Between seasonal "feel-good" schlock, and nothing but reruns of crap, I turned my attention to a form of media that is more stimulating. For me, anyway.
Taking my cue from my online buddy, Florinda, I began devouring the books on my shelves that I had bought - some up to a decade ago - and hadn't read. I found I have enough titles to last me for a couple of years. Still, I couldn't resist walking into a nearby Borders Books (sadly, unless you go into the city, there really aren't any neighborhood purveyors here), where I trawled the aisles looking for something that a.) I was attracted to and b.) I could afford.
The first thing I noticed was a huge amount of their real estate devoted to the Kobo - their own version of the Kindle and the Nook. A fellow I work with whips out his iPad with a studied non-chalance that makes me smile at his junior-high-nerdishness. Although it allows him to do a plethora of tasks, and has the kind of super-shine-beautiferousness of a huge, well-cut jewel, I notice he says "Huh? What did you just say?" at regular intervals over the course of a half-hour meeting. He is, not to put too fine a point on it, distracted.
It seems that people who love to read and learn have begun by sticking their toes into a friendly, meandering stream that very quickly turns out to be a fast moving filed-with-rapids river loaded with with danger and undercurrents aplenty. I mean, WTF is wrong with reading a book? Am I being as obstinate as some stubborn priest from the middle ages who bemoans the loss of the days of the illuminated manuscript?
Of course, authors used to write out their missives longhand; there were plenty of opportunities to to crumple up a page and toss it at the overflowing wastebasket. It makes me think of Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf. The typewriter came along and sped up the process, but still, you did have the option to tear out the paper and hurl it/tear it up as an exercise in rage/dismisiveness. Almost 3 decades ago, the arrival of the personal computer was scoffed at by purists. But today, almost exclusively, writers use word processing programs to craft and hone their output. I know I do. So why do I feel so defensive about the end product?
I like the way books feel in my hands. I like the feel of paper beneath my fingertips. When I turn a page, my fingers skim the page and wind up in the upper right hand corner in anticipation of future turnings. When a new book is mine - even if it's from the library - the first thing I do is open it, bring it to my face and inhale the scent of paper and ink. The time you spend with a book is part of an intimate relationship. Reading a book as a techno-manuscript is, well, it's impersonal.
I love the look of a library, whether public or private. Books lined in colorful rows seem to call out to me in a choir of voices: diverse, contradictory, and full of promise. I feel warm and fuzzy and more excited than I am on a first date. Yes, you might find a book that's a total dud. But the love of your life might be sitting there biding its time, just waiting for you to slide it from its dusty spot on the shelf and curl up with it. Because books take some time to read, it's wonderful to hold them in your hands. They're like people: here's one fat with pages you know will take weeks to digest. How about this succinct, slimmed down volume - it only takes a day or two to read, but packs a powerful punch? I'm sorry, you can't get that swelling feeling of hope from holding an impersonal piece of technology in your hands. Yes, I'll say it: you can't fall in love with metal, glass and plastic.
Perhaps this posting will elicit outrage, or agreement, or both. I'm prepared to be called a hypocrite, after all, don't I love Pandora Radio? (The moment I went to another page to grab the link to Pandora, it began playing "More Than You Know" sung by Billie Holiday.) It's a means to an end that features instant gratification as its prime aspect. I don't know I want it, but, okay, thanks, I'll enjoy it. Very different from walking into a record store to spend an afternoon searching for the recording I've been dreaming of.
The record stores fell; what does that portend for the fate of bookstores? We do have the super stores, B&N and Borders, but not so long ago, we also had Virgin and Tower Records. The Kindle makes me very worried, that's all I'm saying. I don't want something that's the size of a paperback to hold over 1000 titles at the touch of a button. I want something real, dammit.
Maybe instead of using my MacBook, I should just start banging two rocks together.