A few weeks ago I was in line at Nebraska Furniture Mart, preparing to purchase a book.
The man behind me in line laughed and said, “You don’t see people doing that much anymore.”
I said, “What? You mean buying a book at a furniture store? I know – kinda strange, huh?”
“No,” he said. “I mean buying a book . . . at all. People just don’t do it.”
I just smiled. “Well, I certainly do.”
“So you don’t read eBooks?”
“Not much. I’m rather stubbornly rebelling against the eBook world. I’ll always stick to my paperbacks first and foremost.”
The man just grinned at me and shook his head . . . then kept smiling and shaking his head until I had checked out and walked away. That’s what he did. I’m not exaggerating.
Now, maybe people who live in Nebraska just don’t read as much as people from my State of Missouri, but I doubt it. It could be that this man just has a skewed idea of the bookish world and readers in general . . . I sure hope so!
Whatever the case, it made me ask myself – why do I cling so desperately to my paper-and-ink books? After all, it’s not nearly as convenient to tote around books like Middlemarch or Mansfield Park than it is to simply click it on my tablet and start reading. And let’s not even talk about the difference between having 3,000 books uploaded to your e-reader . . . versus owning 3,000 paper and hardback books that are slowly pushing you out of your own home . . . ahem, not that I have that problem.
Why do I put up with it? What is the superhuman pull of paper and ink and, let’s face it, possibly even spine glue and dust jackets? Because really for me, it is a superhuman pull.
MEMORIES . . .
Nothing has such an insistent tug as childhood memories. At least, not for me. The stories I experienced, the places I journeyed to through them, the places I sat while reading them, the walks home from the library with arms-to-chin piles of books, the feel of my childish hands on a book’s hard spine . . . those memories will be with me for most of my life, I imagine. And they’re incredibly strong, deeply happy memories. Maybe the coming generation will have those memories with their Kindles, too . . . but somehow I just can’t imagine the dearness of those memories ever being quite the same.
SENSES . . .
Ok, this is a big one for me.
A few days ago I finished a chapter of the book I’m currently reading and my husband looked at me and said, “Why do you look at your book like that every time you stop reading?”
“Umm . . . what do you mean? All I did was shut it and put it down.”
“Nope. Every time you get done reading you close your book and give it a strange look. Every single time. It’s kinda weird.”
“I do?” And then I believe I blushed. This is a man I’ve been married to for 12 years. I can’t remember ever blushing in front of him for, well, anything. But this felt . . . strangely personal. Because the moment he pointed it out, I realized it was true, although I’d never given it a moment’s thought before then.
Apparently I get a little doe-eyed with my books. So what? I bet lots of people do. Right . . .?
That beautiful sound paper makes when I flip pages all at once, or the sound when I let a single page slide through my fingers. The fresh scent of new paper, the sharp smell of ink, even the nose-tickling mustiness of an old, dusty book from my Grandma’s shelf. The very sight of a book or, better yet, a whole shelf of books, their motley, mismatched spines like a beacon to something deep within me. The feel of a book’s squared edges against my palm, its heaviness in my hands as I take it from a shelf.
You know, when I first read The Chronicles of Narnia, the whole box set of them that I owned had a distinct scent to the pages. Who knows what caused it – I imagine something as simple as the combination of ink and paper the publisher used. But whatever it was – to this day when I smell the pages of another book with that same scent, I am instantly transported straight back to my childhood bedroom, with Narnia swirling all around me. I even sometimes feel the ghostly twinge of the crick I got in my neck from burying myself in those books for such long periods of time.
“O, there is lovely to feel a book, a good book, firm in the hand, for its fatness holds rich promise, and you are hot inside to think of good hours to come.” – Richard Llewellyn
SLOWING DOWN . . .
Those first two reasons are good enough, for me, that a third one wouldn’t even be necessary. But I’ve noticed that, as I get older, I’ve dug my heels in and become quite old-fashionedly stubborn about my books. After some thought, I believe it has to do with my need for control in a world that moves too quickly and demands too much.
A book in my hand represents a slowing down of life, a focusing of my attention to what is in front of me. By picking up a book I feel as if I’m pulling myself out of the tumult of the e-world (or even, sometimes, the world in general) and giving it an emphatic “no.”
STORIES ARE STORIES
Yet in the end, a book’s truest pleasure comes from the words that are written – not the object from which you read them. Stories – good stories – will always be important in their own right, whether told by mouth, written on papyrus, scrawled with crayons on construction paper (those are the ones my son writes for me!), printed with ink on paper, or published on an electronic device.
There is no right or wrong here. Stories are stories and I will always, always love a well-told one.
It’s just that I’ll enjoy it much more if it’s on paper 🙂
Tell me, do you have strong feelings about the particular form a book takes?